What to do when people don’t ‘get’ what you do.

I was watching a program on TV and one of the character’s lines both resonated and felt like a punch in the stomach.what you do

Two cops were standing over a body and one says to the other: “the victim was a project manager, whatever that is.”


Can you relate? I can.

In some circles, the profession of project manager is an everyday thing.  But to others, it’s not a typical, mainstream job that they’ve heard of and you’ll get a “what’s that” when you tell those folks what you do. You would think the two words ‘project’ and ‘manager’ would be self-explanatory but bewilderment is an honest and frequent reaction.

So how do you handle it?

  • Don’t get defensive. You know your profession is legitimate and normal even if some people don’t understand it
  • Use a reference most people can identify with. If you get a blank look when using your job title, go on to give an example they can relate to, like building a house. When you describe managing the phases (pouring the foundation, framing, wiring, etc.) as part of the overall project of building a house, it’s easier for people to understand the concept.
  • Lead with an exciting explanation of what you do, not a job title. Start with a benefit statement such as “I help companies manage their business ventures and get things done.”

If you are a project manager struggling to have your role understood, what new and inventive name would you give to what you do?