Dear Proposal Doctor,
You must help. The senior proposal manager has gone on emergency medical leave, and the big and long-anticipated RFP is in my lap. This is hugely scary for me. I have never managed something this big and complex. So much is riding on a winning response—my heart is racing, and I am escalating into panic mode as I type these words. Should I just tell management that I am not up to the job? What to do?
Worried and Panicked
Only you can make the determination as to whether or not to throw in the towel. If you do, it will be hard for your management to promote you or assign you to increasingly challenging proposals in the future. You will have taken yourself out of the running for advancement. So, unless you have a personal situation that precludes your taking on the assignment, I encourage you to go for it.
If you are a runner, you know that most runners can actually run twice as long as their longest run. So, often people training for a 10k never run more than 5k. They do just fine on race day. The same applies to proposals—you can probably manage a proposal twice as hard as the hardest one you have managed to date.
My advice comes with two caveats—if you can’t do these two things, you should tell your management to find someone else. First, get a mentor who will be willing to talk to you and guide you through this experience. Every day if necessary. If you don’t know of someone, go through the discussions on LinkedIn that relate to proposal management and see if you can identify someone whose opinion you trust and respect. You would be surprised how many people are willing to help someone in a situation like yours.
Second, never let the team see you sweat. When you are with your proposal team, you must exude confidence, even if you don’t feel it. Strong leadership will unite the team behind you, and they will support you if they are convinced they can win—and they will be convinced if you are convinced.
Do whatever you have to do behind the scenes to reduce anxiety. If you can manage those two things, this will be an excellent growth experience and one that might not come along again. Welcome it and jump in. I am sure you can swim, and you will soon be advising others to do the same.
Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor