Your passions outside of engineering will make you a better Project Manager

Nick Walters softball team at NCS Slowpitch Championship in Las Vegas 2023

Nick Walters is many things: an engineer, a Project Manager at Atwell, a husband, and a dad. But it’s his most recently acquired title as MVP and National Championship Sports (NCS) Slowpitch World Champion that emphasizes the unexpected yet exciting ways your passions can influence your work, and vice versa.

Nick Walters, Project Manager at Atwell and NCS Slowpitch World Champion

Walters, who joined Atwell in 2022, works primarily in land development as a Project Manager in the Bonita Springs office in Florida. In his free time, he’s a shortstop for his co-ed softball team in Naples, Florida, which was undefeated against 80 other teams in the 2023 season. His team’s talent, commitment, and connection were key in obtaining this impressive World Champion title. The work Walters puts on the softball field is a reflection of how he works in project management.

“This softball team was really special because we actually never met before playing together,” Walters explains. “The coach selected us from various regions; we played in separate leagues during the week. When we got to the championship in Las Vegas, it was the first time most of us had met each other, but we were still able to come together, work towards this major goal, and succeed.”

As a Project Manager, Walters has to instill the same values into his work and team that he does in softball: cooperation, communication, and strategy. He’s experienced the exhilaration of celebrating successes, the quick-thinking needed to suddenly pivot on a plan, and the humility that comes with learning from mistakes. The best part for him—both in softball and project management—is the people you get to be with. “In softball, I try my best to relate to my team, and I do the same as a Project Manager,” Walters says. “It’s one skill that has helped me in my career and beyond.”

The psychology behind hobbies enhancing one’s career

Research shows that your hobbies outside of work have an effect on your career progression. A seven-month study found two key situations in which a person’s outside hobbies and career positively enhanced each other: When the hobby is unrelated to their work, yet they are passionate and serious about it; and when the hobby is related to their work, but requires less dedication or effort than their job.

Walters falls into the first category. As a lover of sports, he grew up playing baseball until after high school, when he transitioned to softball and playing with various adult leagues. Although the sport and his current job seem unrelated, it turns out that the passion and dedication he has for it is what matters most in professional development.

The benefits of pursuing passion projects outside of work include:

– Leadership skills

– New ways of problem-solving

– Teamwork

– Discipline

– Working through failures in a healthy manner

– Increased confidence in your abilities

Additionally, there is a term in psychology called self-efficacy, which is the belief a person has in their capacity to achieve goals and accomplish tasks. It can bring about therapeutic changes in behavior in a number of situations: from overcoming addictions, to taking better care one’s health, to managing anxiety. It’s a trait that can be recognized in many successful project managers, such as Walters, and can be learned and strengthened through recreational activities such as sports.

The parallels between preparing for a sports championship and growing as a Project Manager

With Walters’ engineering degree and six years of experience, he feels comfortable in his role as a Project Manager but also recognizes that he still has room to grow. Here’s how he applies his passion and skills in softball to his responsibilities and goals as a Project Manager:

1. Learning who your teammates are is vital to success

Understanding the strengths, weaknesses, and motivations of your teammates shapes how you work with them and accomplish goals together. “At Atwell, I get a lot of face-to-face time with my team,” Walters states, “so connections aren’t as challenging as it is for those who work remotely. Still, it’s important to use that time to learn who these people are: What are they good at? What keeps them going if they feel they made a mistake? What’s their communication style? You’ve got to know how to talk to them and learn how they react to things. It takes time, but that’s really part of the fun of working with others.”

2. View challenges you face as a PM as goals that you can accomplish for your team

Attitude is everything when it comes to working on a team. Walters has seen that first-hand as an athlete and as a PM. He’s seen his coaches emphasize the importance of overcoming challenges as a team, and he tries to emulate that same attitude as a PM. “Being a PM is not about ‘being a boss;’ it’s about relating to your team,” Walters affirms. “This can be a challenge as a PM, but I view it as one of my top goals. To achieve it, I make sure to show that I care about them as people, I care about their everyday lives, and I show that they are important to the team.”

3. Trust and lean on each other

For a team to run like a well-oiled machine, they’ve got to communicate when they need each other and trust each other to pull through. Having faith in each person’s talents and abilities levels out the weight of responsibility and lets you know that you’ve got support.

Walters says, “When I lead projects, I always look around and think, ‘We’re all smart. We all know how to do our jobs. So let’s figure out how to get it done effectively, efficiently, and as a team.’” Having a reciprocal flow of trust has helped in tight situations in softball and as a PM, because everyone is aware of how their actions affect those around them, and how another person’s decisions affect the rest of the team. “When that trust is in place, the belief that ‘They want me to do well, and I want them to do well, too’ solidifies,” Walters adds. “You realize you can’t get to your goal without the rest of your team.”

4. When you have the chance to make work fun, do it!

Even though softball is something Walters loves to do, it still requires an intense amount of work and dedication to attain the level of skill that he’s reached. While he admits that winning is fun, he points out that the process of practicing and working together was what made winning even better. As a Project Manager, which he also enjoys, he’s learned that the journey to completing a project may be difficult at times, but the challenges can always be overcome.

“I’ve seen situations where people’s thoughts or contributions aren’t considered,” Walters recalls. “They get passed up or overlooked. But what I love about my softball experience is something that I love implementing as a PM: giving everyone the space and attention they need to show up and have a voice and do their best work. No one gets disregarded, and hopefully everyone has a positive experience.”

5. You must know when to focus on what’s in front of you now, and what lies ahead

A strong softball player is attentive and can anticipate different outcomes of different decisions; Project Managers share the same trait. However, it can’t be done alone—having a team you can depend on helps everyone keep their eyes on the prize. “I’ve learned how to delegate to my teams at Atwell and to trust each member to take care of the smaller details,” Walters says. “This gives me time to deal with the  big picture of projects and move us all forward towards a successful end.”

Overall, the goal is to enjoy what you do and the people you do it with, and apply those experiences to your personal and professional development

While Walters has goals of continuing to excel in softball, as well as in leadership within Land Development, he’s comfortable where he is and enjoying the opportunities he currently has. “I believe in just focusing on what you’re doing in the moment,” Walters explains, “and the opportunities will follow.”

“For now, I’m just trying to grow as a Project Manager first—that’s always been my approach,” he adds. “In softball, I focused on being a better shortstop, and, well, it turned out pretty well!”

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