Awareness here refers to three things: self-awareness, awareness of others, and situational awareness. As a highly aware person, you understand the importance of organizing your own thoughts and feelings, and being able to admit and navigate your personal strengths and weaknesses for your personal and professional betterment. Not only do you listen to other people when they’re talking, but you listen to their tone, body language, and facial expressions, reconciling not just what people say but how they say it. And you also know keeping an eye on the ever-changing context of the projects in your organization.

Though the word “awareness” might sound to some as if it’s referring to something “soft”, and that it is too abstract to affect anyone’s bottom line, awareness is one of the single most important skills a project manager can possess. Mastering awareness is the first step to mastering the remaining Six Disciplines. For example, it's hardly useful to be persistent if you aren't aware of what's going on around you. Without proper awareness, acting on many of the other Six Disciplines could do more harm than help

A high score in the Awareness category indicates that you actively exercise the three kinds of awareness in the workplace: self-awareness, awareness of others, and situational awareness. You may do this by taking time out of your day to check in with yourself via an organized activity like meditating or journaling, or by something as simple as scheduling time in your day for yourself to relax, review and fully digest the day’s events.

This discipline focuses on self-awareness, awareness of other people, and situational awareness. These three categories can also be simplified into internal and external awareness. The important part to note is that the discipline does not refer to a strong focus in one area, but a holistic understanding of what’s around you, and how your biases may affect your perception of it all. Below are some examples of exercises to improve your awareness:

  • Expand your field of vision. It’s easy to go through life focusing only on what is affecting us in the present. This is especially common when people are overworked and overwhelmed. However, when we’re concentrating on just the few details directly in front of us, we miss out on the wealth of surrounding context. We can miss out on the why of the day’s events, and can even fail to realize how our personal thoughts and actions could be shaping our day. As you go through your work, remind yourself to take a one or two minute mental break every so often to take in more details than you usually do. Intentionally look for details in your environment you generally wouldn’t give a second thought, and check in with yourself mentally and emotionally. This may be uncomfortable and feel unnatural at first, but it’s a reliable way to exercise your external and internal awareness.
  • Ask yourself ‘why?’. Have you ever interacted with a child who, in response to seemingly everything, just loves to ask “but why?”? While this could be anything from endearing to distracting, it’s good for your awareness to practice this with yourself. Before acting on a decision, pause and ask yourself “Why?” Think of a solid response that you would agree with if someone else relayed it to you. Then, ask yourself again – “but why?” Provide yourself with clarity on the importance of your decision. For a third and final time, ask yourself “but why?”. Think about your own emotions and biases that may be influencing the decision. Being self-aware means knowing and understanding your motives, acknowledging when they are or are not reasonable, and having clear-headed confidence in your actions.
  • "The next time you go into a meeting, leave time to be aware of the people in the room and the situation. Focus on verbal and nonverbal behavior of the people in the room. Do not focus only on the content of your report. It may be too difficult for you to focus both on your presentation and on the people in the room. In this case, ask someone else to deliver your report while you scan the room for any details about how the people are receiving your project. This exercise will help you turn awareness into a habit. It will train you to dedicate part of your consciousness to focusing on the people and the situation while the rest of your consciousness continues to execute the work plan.” A Sixth Sense for Project Management, Tres Roeder.

For more information about how to improve your awareness, see A Sixth Sense for Project Management, pg 43.