Being a Project Manager with a Mental Illness

Being a project manager by definition means you are in a position of leadership.  Your job is basically to lead the assigned team to project fruition from a time, scope and financial perspective.  This reputation of being a leader means you are expert in resolving issues and risks and in motivating people on your team to supply their best work even if you only have influence and not direct control over these resources.

Being in a position of leadership means your supervisors put complete trust in you for your management techniques and your perceptions on what needs to be managed by the team and what may need to be escalated up the chain for management to handle.

In short, being a project management professional means your superiors trust your ability to cognitively manage the project or projects in front of you.  This puts a person with a behavioral health diagnosis in a difficult spot.  By definition of having a behavioral health diagnosis there will be times when that person’s cognitive ability is impaired for a period of seconds or hours, best case scenario, to a period of months or longer, worst case scenario.  

When there is a break-down of this “trust” when a behavioral health event is exposed either voluntarily or involuntarily, all trust in the project manager diminishes to nothing.  There is no in-between in that as a project manager when you have a break-through event, you are trusted a great deal less or not at all.  It is all or nothing with no in between.  As a project manager you are riding on your good reputation at handling people, handling scope, handling time and handling money.  If any of these is less than perfect, the project manager loses face at being a project manager for that employer.  A behavioral health event – exposed – at any time in my experience means the trust in the impacted project manager is reduced to nil.

This is difficult and complicating and may lead that project manager not to be open about his or her behavioral health diagnosis in the long-run.  This compartmentalization is something I have experienced and sadly found to be much more effective than being honest about my bipolar illness to my employer.  During the times that I have been able to compartmentalize my illness, I have had much more success in the workplace.  Sadly though, this success in the workplace is not matched at home with good management of my bipolar illness and its ups and downs (quite literally). 

Rare but not unheard of is reassignment of a project manager to a position that is no so dependent upon constant team leadership.  I have not experienced this transfer of responsibilities but I have seen it happen once while in employment with a big corporation.  The person in question was experiencing panic attacks and was treated somewhat more fairly than myself by being transferred to a new position that was intended to help relieve the panic attacks.

Do you feel your behavioral health diagnosis was or has been accepted without stigma in your workplace? If so, what do you think the important factors were? If not, what would you have liked to have gone differently?

PMP Risk Management as Applied to Behavioral Health

This is a blogpost detailing the use of PMP risk management techniques to help manage mental health disease symptoms:

During the last 20 years or so, I have been applying risk management techniques learned as a Project Management Professional to help manage risks associated with my mental health and mental illness characteristics.  What I learned as a technical skill as a project manager to manage risks can be applied to illness management as a person with bipolar illness.  Typically in risk management, the project manager identifies with the team all the risks associated with the particular project in hand.  After recounting the risks, the team goes through the process of assigning probability of occurrence and level of impact associated with each risk to the project.  After the severity and likelihood of the risk is captured, the team then works to develop mitigation strategies for each risk and to indicate whether mitigation strategies are sufficient to address each risk recorded. 

How can this be helpful to a person with mental illness?  The idea of risk management is characterizing the probability and impact of the risk and then creating risk mitigation strategies.  This same scenario can be applied to managing risks associated with bipolar illness.  This risk management may take place with the patient’s care team including the prescribing doctor and the therapist.  For example, say I have extreme anxiety about leaving my home and have an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-type set of checking routines I do to mitigate this anxiety.  The risk would be the anxiety condition and the mitigation would be the checking routine.  This is a largely effective strategy for managing this form of anxiety unless the OCD ritual becomes ever-present and ever-pervasive.  In this instance with the OCD mitigation it might be said that the risk mitigation strategy is becoming non-mitigating.  It may be time to revisit that risk or anxiety and re-evaluate what an effective new mitigation strategy might look like.  This might include self-talk about the probability of the risk occurring based on the prior number of years the risk has been managed and self-talk about the impact if ever the risk or anxiety has manifested itself in an actual real event during the course of tracking the risk.

All in all, assigning probability and impact to behavioral health management risks helps set priorities for what is a big risk to manage versus what is a smaller risk to manage.  Key is the development of effective risk-management mitigation strategies to use to address the risks.  Also key is the reassessment of risk mitigation strategies when the risk mitigation is no longer effective.  At that time, new measures of risk mitigation need to be developed and put into place.

All in all, risk management learned through the Project Management Professional lens can prove helpful in the management of unwanted behaviors associated with bipolar illness.  Different risks can be catalogued and associated with different mitigation strategies.  When these mitigation strategies no longer are viable, new mitigation techniques are developed and applied.   

What tools – either from your professional life or not – do you use to help mitigate your illness symptoms?