»Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back«

»Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back«

Heidi Lundgaard Sørensen started her career as a quantum physicist. On May 8th, 2023, she delivered her first project as a project manager in Netcompany, delivering a societal-critical case-management system for the Danish Road Directorate. Today, she reflects on her journey: the importance of thinking long-term, taking a step back, and embracing failure.

Learn to think long-term 

The difference between being a team lead and project manager was surprisingly significant. When I served as a team lead, I felt like a project manager. To an extent, that was true. But in hindsight, I realise my perspective was somewhat narrow. I was familiar with the solution, the client, and was poised to shoulder others’ responsibilities, to oversee projects, and ensuring we hit our targets. But at the same time, the work was very local and short-term.

As a project manager, my perspective shifted significantly. I had to ask different, longer-term questions like, ‘Have we reached our overarching goals at the end of these sprints?’ or ‘Do we have the right people on board to solve the necessary tasks?’ This experience was an eye-opener. Particularly surprising was how my relationship with the client evolved, especially in terms of project management and steering groups. The political aspect of the project became much more prominent. As a team lead, I could focus on the solution, the technology, business experts, and end-users. But stepping into the project manager role, I suddenly had to navigate a complex political landscape, crafting narratives and reports on timelines, go-live dates, relationships, organization, and other vendors in entirely new ways.

Moreover, I had to manage the team and ensure their well-being, which occupied a greater part of my role than I had anticipated. This was a dimension of leadership that, as a team lead, I was somewhat shielded from.


»As a project manager, my perspective shifted significantly«

Heidi Lundgaard Sørensen, Manager

Know when to engage and when to step back 

It’s tremendously challenging to relinquish control, but it is crucial. Ideally, as a project manager, you want to reach a point where your plate is almost empty, allowing you to be more present. I haven’t quite achieved that yet, but it’s a goal. 

On the other hand, I’ve also learned when to engage. During the TRACÉ project, one of my team members grappled with stress. We deliberated on reducing his tasks, but he said that he could handle the workload, and I accepted that. In hindsight, I should have been more assertive and said: ‘I understand you might see me as an ineffective leader right now, but there’s a rationale behind my actions, and I’m putting you off this task for your own good.’ That’s where I learned a vital lesson: sometimes, you need to make tough decisions, even if they lead to conflicts.  


Monitor behavioral shifts 

People have their habits, like some preferring to dine alone in the canteen. But it doesn’t have to be a signal that something’s wrong. My advice is to monitor behavioral shifts instead of behavior per se. Ask yourself: ‘Does this person normally always deliver on time, but now suddenly no longer does so? Why might that be?’ I think it’s crucial to spot those changes.



Encourage mistakes 

I’ve found that it’s important to let the people you manage learn from mistakes. Sometimes, you foresee a mistake they’re about to make, but then let them discover the mistake themselves. But it’s also essential to not let them stumble so much that they lose motivation. I try to cultivate an environment where the team can make mistakes and permit myself to make mistakes as well. Over the past year and a half, I’ve made my fair share of blunders. I’ve faced conversations that didn’t go as planned. Instead of wallowing in self-doubt, I try to rectify and think, ‘I’ll give it another shot.’ 


The social aspect is important 

I aim to hold regular update meetings. What challenges lie ahead? Are we gearing up for a hectic phase? Are we on track? Being proactive helps. For instance, if I foresee a busy month, we might decide to put in some extra hours one day a week, which often ends with a communal dinner. We also do board game evenings, have Friday drinks and Friday breakfasts. Anticipating workloads in advance and doing social activities help create a good working environment.