Top 3 challenges to overcome when managing creative workers

Managing creative people is a bit like overseeing a game of tug o’ war. It takes a special kind of manager to motivate creative freelancers or employees to produce excellent work that is also commercially viable — all on a timeline, with a budget in place.

If you’re managing creative people, you’ll often find yourself up against the following 3 challenges. Solving these is the key to success in a management role where creative people are involved:

1. It can be difficult to establish clear expectations from the start

Perhaps your business needs a new website. There are countless details to be determined — style, layout, colours, fonts, graphics and more. If you aren’t knowledgeable about any of the above, it could be tempting to give your web designer complete creative freedom in figuring out each detail.

That would be a mistake.

For starters, creative people often work best when given some constraints to work within. Also, you’re unlikely to be satisfied with the results of the work if you do not establish some clear expectations for what you want the finished website to look like.

This means you will have to invest some effort in determining what you want your finished website to look like; and then you will have to invest even more effort in communicating your wishes to your web designer. All of this is your responsibility as the project manager. It is perhaps the most critical challenge to overcome when managing a creative person or process — but if you conquer it, you will find that your creative projects will tend to resolve faster, less expensively and with less friction.

2. The results of creative work are not always easily measurable

When you’ve told a salesperson, “Your goal is to sell 6,000 widgets this month”, it is easy to determine whether the salesperson has succeeded or failed in meeting the goal. Such a goal is straightforward. The number of widgets sold is easily measured.

When you’ve told a web designer or other creative person, “Your goal is to design a yacht sales website that conveys luxury and prestige,” what standards will you use for measuring the designer’s success or failure in meeting the goal?

With many creative jobs such as web design and photography, it can be hard for a manager to convey exactly what a successful outcome would look like. This is an area where opinions are likely to differ.

However, certain aspects of each creative project are, indeed, measurable. The team at has suggested 4 key performance indicators (KPIs) that creative teams can, and should, track:

  • The actual lead time for each project
  • The estimated time vs. the actual project completion time
  • The estimated budget for the project vs. the actual end budget
  • Customer satisfaction ratings

3. Tight deadlines can stifle creative risk taking

Time constraints are one of the greatest obstacles to creativity. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with web designers, copywriters or any other type of creative worker; forcing unrealistic deadlines will most likely result in work that is formulaic and uninteresting. Build time into each project to allow for creative exploration of possibilities. Set deadlines that allow for both risk-taking and failure before success is expected.

Excellent management of creative people and projects will require you to overcome these 3 challenges. Success at this will not be easy. However, an investment of effort in overcoming these obstacles is likely to result in creative project results that will meet your organisation’s goals.