Most Essential Skills for Professional Project Manager
The skills that a good project manager possesses are many and varied, covering the entire spectrum of the human personality. These skills are divided into a number of specific categories as below:
Project Managers must be able to motivate and sustain people. Project team members will look to the project manager to solve problems and help with removing obstacles. Project managers must be able to address and solve problems within the team, as well as those that occur outside the team. There are numerous ways, both subtle and direct, in which project managers can help team members.
Some examples include the following:
- Manage by Example (MBE): Team members will be closely watching all actions of the project manager. Therefore, project
managers must be honest, direct, straightforward, and knowledgeable in all dealings with people and with the project. A good
manager knows how to work hard and have fun, and this approach becomes contagious.
- Positive Attitude: Project managers must always have a positive attitude, even when there are substantial difficulties, problems, or project obstacles. Negative attitudes erode confidence, and a downward spiral will follow.
- Define Expectations: Managers who manage must clearly define what is expected of team members. It is important to do this in writing get agreement from the individual team members. This leaves no room for problems later, when someone states “It’s not my job.” Performance expectations must be defined at the start of the project.
- Be Considerate: Project management is a demanding job with a need for multiple skills at many levels. Above all, be considerate and respectful, and give people and team members the time and consideration they deserve. Make people aware that their efforts are appreciated and the work that they do is important, because it is. A letter, personal word, or e-mail of appreciation goes a long way.
- Be Direct: Project managers are respected if they are direct, open, and deal with all types of problems. Never conceal problems or avoid addressing them. If a problem is bigger than the project manager or the team can deal with, escalate it to senior management. Never make commitments that cannot be delivered.
- Finally, a favorite and personal rule of the author: “Under- promise, then over-deliver.”
There are two schools of thought about the level needed for technical skills. Some project managers prefer to have little technical knowledge about the projects they manage, preferring to leave the technical management to other junior managers, such as programming managers or network managers. Others have detailed technical skills of computer languages, software, and networks.
There is no hard and fast rule. It really depends on the type and size of projects, their structure, resources available, and the project environment.
Questions that project managers should ask include the following:
- What types of technical problems require management?
- Who will solve them?
- Is it done with quality and satisfaction?
- Who can I rely on in my project team?
- What outside resources, if any, can I draw on for assistance?
As with all employees, project managers should have the technical knowledge and skills needed to do their jobs. If managers lack these skills, training is one option; being mentored or coached by a more experienced individual is another. Senior management should ask the question, Do your project managers need more technical skills than they already possess?
On larger complex projects, such as systems integration projects or multiple-year projects, there are frequently too many complex technologies for the project manager to master. Technical training that provides breadth may be useful. On smaller projects, the project manager may also be a key technical contributor. In this case, technical training may enhance the abilities of project managers to contribute technically, but it is unlikely to improve their management skills.
One thing is abundantly clear—the project manager is ultimately responsible for the entire management of the project, technical or otherwise, and will require solutions to the technical issues that will occur.
Project managers need other key skills besides those that are purely technical to lead and deliver on their projects successfully. A good project manager needs to understand many facets of the business aspect of running a project, so critical skills touch on expertise in the areas of organization, communication, finance, and human resources.
The following are examples of the management topics used in training effective project managers:
- Project planning, initiation, and organization.
- Recruiting people and keeping them.
- Effective project negotiation.
- Software tools for project management.
- Accurate estimating and cost control.
- Project execution and control.
- Developing powerful project presentations and reports.
- Personal and project leadership.
- Managing risk and making decisions.
- Effective problem management.
- Performance management.
- Managing the projects within the organization.
- Project management professional (PMP) exam review.
- Growing and sustaining a high-performance team.
- Managing change within an organization.
This last skill cannot be over-emphasized. Although we worry about whether the technology selected is the correct one for the organization and will lead to success, projects do not generally fail because of lack of adequate technology. Statistically, most projects fail because the “soft science” portions of the project have not received enough attention the human factor has not been adequately addressed. Change, whether for good or for bad, is stressful on an organization and its personnel. The ability to manage this change is one area in which any good project manager would do well to hone skills.
A good project manager has to acquire a number of skills to cope with different situations, conflicts, uncertainty, and doubt. This means:
- Being flexible.
- Being persistent and firm when necessary.
- Being creative, even when the project does not call for it.
- Absorbing large volumes of data from multiple sources.
- Being patient but able to differentiate between patience and action.
- Being able to handle large amounts of continuous, often unrelenting stress.
Additionally, good project managers have high tolerance for surprises, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Projects rarely progress the way that they are defined, and managers need to manage the uncertainty that comes with that.