Max earned his project management professional (PMP) certification in 2013. He holds an MA in communication from U of I.
You need to be equipped with a very broad set of skills in order to be a successful project manager. A project manager needs to be able to be able to lead, build a project plan, communicate the plan, manage her tasks, manage everyone else's tasks, help people understand the vision, communicate with individuals at all levels of the company, and so much more. And to make matters more confusing, you often need to do this for multiple projects. This article walks through all of the skills you should possess if you're considering pursuing a career in project management.
Above all else, the most valuable skill a project manager can possess is the ability to be truthful and not sugarcoat things. While telling the truth can sometimes be incredibly painful, it's best to put problems forward and start working toward a solution as soon as possible. An especially challenging place for a project manager to tell the truth is the weekly project status report. Senior leadership on some projects will apply extreme pressure to falsely indicate that a project is doing better than it actually is, and a good project manager will accurately deliver the project status, regardless of how bad it may be.
A project manager will be expected to keep meeting notes, plan meetings, track action items, build schedules, forecast resource allocation, and much more. Everyone on the project team will look to her to steer them through all aspects of the project process and hold everyone else accountable. Additionally, new project managers will likely find themselves in the position of managing multiple small projects, and if they don't have the ability to keep all of the plates spinning in the air, then everything will come crashing down around them very quickly.
You can be the most honest and organized person in the world, but if you can't communicate what the project team needs to do and how they need to do it, the project will invariably end in disaster. Additionally, project managers don't just need to be able to communicate what direction team members need to be headed, but they need to be able to give regular updates on the status of the project to individuals at all levels of the company, from the C-suite down to the lowest-level stakeholder, in a way that's appropriate for that individual. Some stakeholders may just want to receive a status update by email every week, while others may expect you to walk them through the details in a weekly meeting. You need to understand what level of communication your stakeholders need, and give that to them.
The Skills You Need as a Project Manager
Because the project manager serves as the point guard of the project, the rest of the team will key off of her actions and leadership style. The project manager needs to be confident, think through all of the decisions she has to make, and not flip-flop between decisions. Additionally, she needs to be fair to everyone involved with the project and treat everyone with respect.
Every project is like a unique puzzle that will comes with its own challenges. As a result, the project manager needs to be able to think creatively about how to work through those issues. It's important for the project manager to drive the project team to think of all possible solutions to a problem and then determine which solution will work best given the situation, rather than implementing the first solution the team comes up with.
A good project manager will work with the stakeholders to lay out a clear vision for the application they want to build, and then work to help the development team understand that vision as well. This is especially hard when a project is just a pile of written requirements and wireframes, and it can be hard for other individuals on the project team to understand some of the functionality. She will have to be patient enough to talk through the same functionality multiple times and explain it in different ways before some people understand her vision.
What to Do When a Project Goes Bad
The negotiation component of project management can be uncomfortable for some people, but this is a critical skill for a project manager to come in with. One area a project manager may have to leverage negotiation skills is in negotiating with vendors. You need to feel comfortable identifying and highlighting the weak areas in a bid, and then going back and asking for a significant reduction based on the issues you just called out. Additionally, you have to be able to negotiate internally, with both stakeholders and other teams for resources. One scenario where you may have to negotiate with internal stakeholders would be if a stakeholder comes to you and wants to expand the scope of the project beyond what was asked for. One option to talk him out of doing that is to recommend that he propose a second phase to the project with that specific piece of work as the focus. With regard to negotiating with other teams, you may find yourself in a situation where a developer or business analyst on another team has experience that better suits your project, and you work out a deal with their functional manager to swap them with someone on your team for a defined period.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2017 Max Dalton