I was mountain biking recently along a lovely canyon path when I rounded a
curve and suddenly found myself on a tricky bit of trail. I realized (or so my brain told me) that if I didn’t keep moving I would probably die. But if I put a foot down and stopped moving, I would fall over and certainly die. (The challenge was a narrow, curved, downhill crossing with steep rocky falls on either side.) Losing focus on the trail — i.e. on the goal of of the crossing — and putting a foot down would mean a nasty tumble.
Although I wasn’t thinking much about project management at that moment, when I was packing up later it dawned on me that a common bit of wisdom in mountain biking is directly applicable to project management: Focus on where you want to to go, not on where you don’t want to go. When biking it is very easy for riders to get distracted by hazards they want to avoid — and by doing so head their front wheel right for them and into the rocks.
Similarly, project teams can get so wrapped up in the potential threats and distractions to the ultimate deliverable and value of their project that they run their project right off the critical path and into risk.
You as project manager steer the ride. Although you must be aware of distractions and negotiate hazards you must keep it pointed in the direction that you want it to go. As project manager you are responsible for risk analysis and mitigation but you must not let that activity consume the project.
You will have project stakeholders — project customers and team members alike — who will lose confidence and want to “put a foot down,” but you must manage them, keep them calm and keep them moving forward.
You will have daily distractions and tactical demands, e.g. to maintain project methodology documentation most likely with the weight of an insistent PMO behind them. But experienced project managers know that you cannot simply turn the crank and expect the project to go in the right direction automatically. You have to stay focused, and you have to steer, and you have to help the rest of your team stay on the path forward.