Project managers are in the frontline when it comes to developing a range of multidisciplinary skills to ensure both teams and their peers are in tune with company and client needs. Mastering these skills will help managers lead and stay in control of their projects.
1. Be a Positive People Manager
Many project managers come from technical or specialist backgrounds and end up managing people almost by accident. Being a good manager is just one more skill to learn among all the others within a department, balancing the needs of the business with the wants and needs of a team.
Project managers are driven by the company roadmap or a project schedule but can take the time to balance processes and people. If the processes are fixed, you need people who can excel at or tolerate the tasks involved. If people are the key aspect, you need to shape the processes around their skills, while keeping them motivated and developing new skills for future projects.
Hiring, shaping your team and providing sufficient incentives must all be done with a positive approach, leading from the front while not being afraid to get your hands dirty to understand the fine detail and where problems can arise, focusing on the technical or functional cause and solution to any issue, not who is to blame.
With the team alongside you, changing processes or preparing for new projects becomes less of a battle. Owning the process and the team while displaying emotional intelligence are all signs of a positive leader and manager.
2. Scheduling and Risk Management
Any project is dependent on good timing and delivery. Project managers need to ensure that the time required and processes match the people and skills available, with enough leeway built in for teething issues, new hires to learn their role, new technology to be mastered and so on.
Risks are inherent with all change and the project manager needs to anticipate and mitigate points of failure across the supply chain, partners, development and production, with backup sources or plans and making critical decisions before any red flag or problem derails the project.
Recommended article: 6 tips to identify project management red flags
Modern time and project management tools make this so much easier than for previous eras, especially for iterations of projects. But the project manager needs to remember the human aspect and not just focus on the numbers, even if that is all that is passed up the chain of command.
While company leaders expect their project managers to deliver on time, budget and business value, being an effective personal leader and helping teams grow are modern values that progressive business leaders seek.
3. Pitching and presenting ideas (up and down)
Project managers need to inform teams and upper management of new projects and their progress. Learning to pitch ideas or present information is a key skill, especially when it comes to digital business or product changes, where abstract concepts or new IT skills (like Internet of Things devices, chatbots or augmented reality) may be alien to some.
Learning and refining your presentation skills, using some insightful presentation design advice will help keep your message on track during a meeting and provide attendees and those who couldn’t be there with the crystal clear advice you need to get across. With a good presentation, everyone gets the message without ambiguity and with no excuse for missing the key information.
Recommended article: Presentation Design Guide: How to Summarize Information for Presentations
4. Managing Networking and Communication
Good project managers must be aware of the chain of communication from all sides, including end-users or customers, business leaders, stakeholders and partners, and their own teams. Chains of communication both formal and informal exist and should be used to maximise the impact of any message or issue.
Good managers work best and achieve outstanding results by working with people in an open and accessible fashion. Clarity in communications that are concise and correct is a key part of any message, but being able to listen and respond to queries or criticism in a useful and courteous manner is also part of mastering communication.
In the communication era, hiding away from bad news or relying on slow and outdated networks for information are all unforgivable sins. A good project manager should identify those that stick to old ways or deliberately ignore key communications and use training or new solutions to ensure they remain at the same pace as everybody else.
5. Collaboration and Managing the Load
Project managers should not have to bear their burden alone, and no one person is indispensable in modern business. It is essential that any department or project be able to continue if the PM is sick or leaves the business. So, skills, knowledge and who to talk to up the chain to are all essential factors that deputy managers or subordinates must be primed with should a gap appear in the chain.
Project managers should also identify key individuals with specialist knowledge and ensure they share it around to avoid silos that could bring a company or process grinding to a halt. Use collaboration tools to share knowledge, build up a repository of useful guidelines and support, and encourage questions and answers.
Similarly, ensure that the project workload is not resting too heaving on one or two key people, providing them with backup and encouraging delegation to ensure that stress and strain do not take their toll.
6. When the Project Team Wins, You Win
Many experienced project managers have all the answers, through their own history and skills. But they should not dole out the answer to every query or request from the team. Instead, encourage others to figure out the answer or research a problem or issue to help everyone build up confidence and knowledge for a team win.
The true list of skills required for a good project manager is endless, with few hard-and-fast answers in any given situation. Being flexible and courageous, with a sense of humour and decency, are just as essential as the ability to be constantly right and know what to do in any given situation. Leaning yourself, and encouraging others to learn are vital parts of making any project and team run better.