I wrote some time ago about the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In a nut-shell, this effect suggests that less experienced people tend to exhibit higher level of confidence in a subject area than people with higher level of expertise. Another way of putting this could be that ignorance results fairly frequently with over confidence and self certainty, even in the face of evidence and body of knowledge suggesting otherwise.

Focusing on the expert end of the scale, the Dunning-Kruger Effect will result on experts demonstrating a more balanced level of certainty, taking into account considerations and view points not readily available or known to those with lower levels of subject matter expertise.  There is, however, another dimension to this behaviour, and this is represented by the Impostor Syndrome.

The Impostor Syndrome is a condition characterised by the “self-doubt that many people, particularly high achievers, experience. It’s that sense that you don’t fully know what you’re doing and that you have fooled other people into believing that you’re more competent and talented than you really are. This self-doubt can plague people who are in a new job or who really are incompetent, of course, but it can also plague those who truly are at the top of their professions” (from “Do You Have the Impostor Syndrome” by Judith S. Beck, Ph.D.).

As a project manager you should be aware of the possibility that one or more of your team members are experiencing this syndrome. If the attitude you see differs markedly from the experience demonstrated in their CV it is possible that that their confidence is low and they require some level of re-assurance and support to get over the hump.

Be careful not to confuse the Impostor Syndrome symptoms with those associated with the Dunning-Kruger Effect. If your expert team member is showing some signs of self-doubt it could be that he or she are genuinely evaluating the options and that the outcome is not clear-cut obvious. They are not suffering from a confidence break-down and rather applying their due judgement and require some more time to come up with the best advice.

Alternatively, it is also possible that the lack of decisiveness is a result of self-doubt. Your role, as a project manager, is to probe into the decision making process applied by your team members and, using your own experience and judgement, determine whether their contribution to the project success is an evidence of this effect or that syndrome and if required, take corrective action.

Think about it!

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