Defining Skills Every Good Project Manager Needs
Many times, organizations will knight their technical experts as project managers. The skill and expertise that made them stars in their technical fields are mistakenly thought to translate into project management skills. This is not necessarily so.
Project managers are generalists with many skills in their repertoire. They are problem solvers who wear many hats. Project managers might indeed possess technical skills, but technical skills are not a prerequisite to project management. Your project team will have technical experts, and they are the people whom the project manager will rely on for technical details. I have seen project managers with many years experience in the construction industry successfully manage multi-million dollar information technology projects. This is because project management techniques apply across industries and across projects. Understanding and applying good project management techniques, along with a solid understanding of general management skills, are career builders for all aspiring project managers.
Project Manager’s Tool Bag
Project managers have been likened to small-business owners. They need to know a little bit about every aspect of management. The various skills in a project manager’s tool bag can be broken out in a more or less declining scale of importance. Let’s discuss each of the skills in a bit more detail.
One of the single most important characteristics of a first-rate project manager is excellent communication skills. Written and oral communications are the backbone of all successful projects. Many forms of communication will exist during the life of your project. As the creator or manager of most of the project communication (project documents, meeting updates, status reports, etc.), it’s your job to ensure that the information is explicit, clear, and complete so that your audience will have no trouble understanding what has been communicated. Once the information has been distributed, it is the responsibility of the person receiving the information to make sure they understand it.
Organizational and planning skills are probably the second most important skills a project manager can possess. Organization takes on many forms. As project manager, you’ll have project documentation, requirements information, memos, project reports, personnel records, vendor quotes, contracts, and much more to track and be able to locate in a moment’s notice. You will also have to organize meetings, put together teams, and perhaps manage and organize media release schedules depending on your project. Organizational Skills
Closely associated with organizational skills are time management skills. Take some time to attend a time management class if you’ve never attended one. They have some great tips and techniques to help you prioritize problems and interruptions, prioritize your day, and manage your time.
Planning is discussed extensively throughout the course of this book. There isn’t any aspect of project management that doesn’t first involve planning. Planning skills go hand in hand with organizational skills. Combining these two with excellent communication skills is almost a sure guarantee of your success in the project management field.
Project managers establish and manage budgets and therefore need some knowledge of finance and accounting principles. Especially important in this skill area is the ability to perform cost estimates for project budgeting. There are different methods available to determine the project costs. They range from estimating individual activities and rolling the estimates up, to estimating the project’s cost in one big chunk. These methods will be discussed more fully in later chapters.
After a budget is determined, you can start spending. This sounds more exciting than it actually is. Reading and understanding vendor quotes, preparing or overseeing purchase orders, and reconciling invoices are budgeting skills that will be used by the project manager on most projects. These costs will be linked back to project activities and expense items in the project’s budget.
Show me a project and I’ll show you problems. All projects, in fact much of everyday life, have some problems. Isn’t that what they say builds character? But I digress.
Problem solving is really a twofold process. First, you must define the problem. Often when defining problems, we end up just describing the symptoms instead of really getting to the heart of what the problem is. To avoid that, ask yourself questions like, “Is it an internal or external problem?” or “Is it a technical problem?” or “Are there interpersonal problems between team members? Is it managerial?” These kinds of questions will help you to get to the meat of the problem.
Next, after the problem has been defined, you have some decisions to make. It will take a little time to examine and analyze the problem, the situation causing it, and the solution alternatives available. After this analysis, the project manager will determine the best course of action to take and implement the decision.
Negotiation and Influencing
Effective problem solving requires negotiation and influencing skills. We all utilize negotiation skills in one form or another every day. For example, on a nightly basis I am asked, “Honey, what do you want for dinner?” Then the negotiations begin, and the fried chicken versus swordfish discussion commences. Simply put, negotiating is working with others to come to agreement. Negotiation on projects will be necessary in almost every area from scope definition, to budgets, contracts, resource assignments, and more.
Influencing is really convincing the other party that swordfish is a better choice than fried chicken even if that is what they want. In other words, it’s the ability to get people to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise. It’s also the ability to change minds and the course of events, and to influence outcomes.
These skills will be utilized in all areas of project management. Start practicing now because, guaranteed, you’ll need these skills on your next project.
Leadership and management are not synonymous terms. Leaders impart vision, gain consensus for strategic goals, establish direction, and inspire and motivate others. Managers focus on results and are concerned with getting the job done according to the requirements. Even though leaders and managers are not the same, project managers must exhibit the characteristics of both during different times on the project. Understanding when to switch from leadership to management and then back again is a finely tuned and necessary talent.
Team Building and Human Resources
Project managers will rely heavily on team building and human resource management skills. Teams are often formed with people from different parts of the organization. These people may or may not have worked together before—so there may be some component of team-building groundwork that will involve the project manager. The project manager will set the tone for the project team and will help them work through the various team-forming stages to become fully functional. The project manager may take on a variety of roles during this initial team-building process.
An interesting caveat to the team-building role is that project managers many times are responsible for motivating team members who are not their direct reports. This has its own set of challenges and dilemmas. One way to help this situation is to ask the functional manager to allow you to participate in your project team members’ performance reviews. Use the negotiation and influencing skills I talked about earlier to make sure you’re part of this process.
A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep
Project managers are an interesting bunch. They know a little bit about a lot of things and are excellent communicators. Or, as one person said, he’s “a mile wide and an inch deep.” They have the ability to motivate people, even those who have no reason to be loyal to the project, and they can make the hard-line calls when necessary. Project managers can get caught in sticky situations that occasionally require making decisions that are good for the company (or the customer) but aren’t good for certain stakeholders. These offended stakeholders will then drag their feet, and the project manager has to play the heavy in order to motivate and gain their cooperation again. Some organizations hire contract project managers to run their large, company-altering projects just because they don’t want to burn out a key employee in this role. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen often.
Now that you’ve been properly introduced to some of the skills you need in your tool kit, you’ll know to be prepared to communicate, solve problems, lead, and negotiate your way through your next project.
The project manager skills discussed in this article is part of PMI PMP Certification training courses. You may also want to check the top paying project management certifcations and hiring companies of 2020.