The best project managers today have taken years learning and honing their craft. This understanding comes from learning to balance the structure and framework of a recognised project management methodology like PRINCE2 with an innate ability to adapt to the environment they find themselves working in.
There are a number of so called soft skills though that can often be found in project managers. Whilst these can’t always be learnt, they are often honed through years of experience. Today I want to look at five of these.
Being able to demonstrate good leadership is an absolute must for project managers. Often thought of as a single skill, leadership is actually an amalgamation of soft and acquired skills, including empathy, emotional intelligence and knowing when to listen and when to lead. Good leaders can inspire loyalty from their teams, something that can help keep challenging projects on the rails. Diplomacy is also another aspect of leadership and project managers will be required to apply a fair bit of this, especially when there are competing interests and agendas at play.
Good leadership also includes more technical skills such as good managerial acumen and knowing what to prioritise and when.
An organised mind is another fundamental skill great project managers will exhibit. An organised approach ties in with the fundamentals of most project management methodologies. One of the seven fundamental principles of the PRINCE2 methodology for example (the most practiced in the world) is for PMs to always manage projects in stages. This allows project managers to break projects down into constituent interconnected tasks and delegate these tasks to appropriate team members.
Keeping projects on track and to deadline is nigh on impossible without breaking them down into smaller parts but managing and overseeing these individual tasks, whilst keeping a watchful eye on the bigger picture, requires a naturally organisational mind.
Good communication is both a skill and a tactic when it comes to effective project management. The ability to talk to different people, at different levels and departments within the organisation, requires insight and empathy. Not only do personalities come into play here, but so to do individual agendas and external pressures. What’s pressing and urgent for one, might be an inconvenient distraction for another. Good communication can go some way to bridging these divides, allowing PMs to bring people with them.
Communication is also about the creation of effective feedback and reporting processes that create an environment of transparency and openness. These communication channels must travel both up and down the project hierarchy from the PM up to the project board and down to the project team. These processes must be informed and strike the right balance. Too much information can lead to confusion around priorities and too little can leave people in the dark.
Project management isn’t a by-the-numbers kind of job, regardless of any pre-defined project management methodology. This need to adapt to your environment is built into PRINCE2’s methodology for example, and is one of its core principles. This requires project managers to be strategic thinkers as well as process and management driven.
In today’s unpredictable and fast moving business landscape, external and internal shifts can throw projects into turmoil, pulling the rug from beneath the feet of all but the most experienced project managers. It is these experienced PMs that have learnt to think strategically and plan for the unpredictable. This forward thinking is complimented by a high level understanding of the business, allowing for informed decisions that can keep projects on track when times get tough.
We end on a less obvious but arguably one of the most essential characteristics for project managers and that’s integrity. Project managers worth their salt realise that the buck often stops with them and taking on this level of accountability means having the integrity to face down criticism, justify the project and even take the rap when things go wrong. All this required a sense of loyalty to the project, the project team and the benefits of the end product or products.
Unlike the other skills (except maybe some of those associated with leadership), integrity isn’t something that can be honed over time. It is more to do with personality and in that sense it is less about practical skills and more about personality fit. Whilst some individuals may have all the skills required to do the job, if they’re seen by others as self-serving, opportunistic and disloyal, they’ll never make a truly inspirational project manager.
About the Author: David Baker has worked within the training industry for many years with PRINCE2 Training. Working on courses such as PRINCE2, ITIL, PMP, Agile, Scrum, Lean Six Sigma. PRINCE2 Training delivers world-class accredited training solutions to thousands of organisations and individuals throughout the world. You can connect with PRINCE2 Training on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.