Project managers are as diverse a bunch as projects can be themselves. Perfect project managers don’t exist, any more than perfect people do. However, some project managers are undeniably easier to work with, better at what they do and ultimately more successful and in demand.
So, what exactly distinguishes these project managers from the rest? In this article, I want to explore the skills and aptitudes that make a good project manager. But before we do any of that, I want to take a look at the importance of methodology and structure when it comes to project management; and indeed managers.
An Appreciation of Methodology
Many new project managers have found that there’s a lot more to managing a project than having certification and qualifications, such as those provided by PRINCE2 or Six Sigma. There are some essentials that no course can teach – influencing, leadership and negotiating skills, for example, all of which project managers have to employ, to get things done.
Nonetheless, adherence to a tried and trusted project management methodology can guide even inexperienced project managers towards best practice in running projects. No matter how talented an organiser your project manager is, without a methodology to guide them, they will quickly become unstuck. Whilst methodologies like PRINCE2 allows for flexibility when it comes to things like defining roles and responsibilities, it also provides that all important framework upon which a skillful and experienced PM can shine.
Leadership is an amalgam of skills that are both innate and acquired. These include emotional intelligence, empathy and understanding how to listen effectively. A good leader has to exercise judgement as to when leadership is required and giving people the space to learn and develop independently. Gifted leaders will be able to boost morale during tough periods and inspire loyalty in project teams, which can help the project to succeed when there are challenges. Finally, good leadership also involves good management and knowing how to prioritise.
Diplomacy is also important as project managers need to know when tact and discretion are required. This is particularly the case when there are competing agendas and interests. Projects will often involve bringing together people from across an organisation that aren’t used to working with each other and a good project manager will know how to marshall these competing interests in check. This will often involve explaining processes or technical systems that some are unfamiliar with.
Good organisational skills
With many project management methodologies, including PRINCE2, staged planning is required, which requires the PM to analyse the project and break it down into its constituent phases. Connections and dependencies between tasks will need to be defined, so that clear delegation to team members can take place. This requires a great deal of organisational skills and the ability to juggle different people, tasks, budgets and systems.
Communicating effectively is both a tactic and a skill, as far as effective project management is concerned. The ability to communicate with people in different departments and at different levels in the organisation requires both empathy and insight.
External pressures, individual agendas and personalities come into play in this context. What one person finds urgent and pressing may be an unwelcome distraction for another. Good communication can bridge these divides to some extent, allowing project managers to take people with them.
Communication is also concerned with effective feedback and a reporting structure that creates a context of openness and transparency. The channels of communication must move in both directions through the project hierarchy, from the project board to the manager and down to the team. These processes must strike the correct balance. Too little information leaves people in the dark and too much leads to confusion as to priorities.
It’s also important to communicate outside the project with the wider business and potential users. This is especially the case if buy-in from users is an important goal.
Project management is not a one size fits all discipline, even though a project manager may be using a structured management methodology. One core principle of PRINCE2 is the need to adapt the project method to the environment. As well as being management and process driven, project managers need to be strategic thinkers.
Experienced project managers will already have learned to think strategically. They will be able to plan for unpredictability and have the ability to keep the project on its course, even when the business environment is challenging.
Project managers must be able to demonstrate both integrity and accountability. Loyalty, objectivity and honesty all contribute to this quality. In some ways this overlaps with good leadership, but is more of a personality trait that cannot be learned but instead is ingrained in the PM. Trust can be a rare commodity in large organisations when internal politics come into play, so being seen as honest and willing to take the rap when things don’t go to plan, will give others confidence in the project manager and invariably put them in high demand.
About the Author: David Baker has over a decade’s worth of experience leading project teams in global projects for infrastructure and internal IT projects. He now works within the training industry for PRINCE2 Training, who provide courses and certification in PRINCE2, Agile, Lean Six Sigma, ITIL, PMP, and Scrum project management methodologies. You can connect with David and PRINCE2 Training on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.