Ten ways to succeed as a world class project manager – part four

In part three of our article on what makes a great Project manager we continued on with a close look at the soft skills required to excel at project management – here we’ll complete our top 10 skills that PM’s need to master.

7/ Be political

Senior stakeholder management requires a key understanding of two things – influence and personal/departmental objectives. Obviously for a project the more senior support obtained the better – this can help to quell resistance within the wider workforce and add much needed credibility and mandate to your task. Obtaining this senior support requires a systematic approach and an analysis of those senior decision makers (and their peers). Typically an action plan is constructed, in line with the communications plan, in order to turn these influencers into project advocates.

8/ Encourage criticism

Nobody likes being told that they could be doing things better – criticism can be hard to take. In the realm of Project Management however the ability to both accept criticism and use it as a learning tool to better shape the project is vital.

Incorporating regular peer reviews of project plans, critiquing risk registers, discussing deployment techniques can provide potential insight into areas that the project manager may not be familiar with. The consideration, and this does happen, is that the PM has simply got it wrong or there is a more effective method of executing the activity.

Being open to ideas from the project community and being willing to adapt does not only help foster an open relationship with stakeholders but also provides a robustness test of the existing plans and where possible enables the PM to incorporate good ideas and best practice.

9 Excel at multitasking or juggling

One of the day to day challenges of Project management is being able to run with a variety of tasks at any one time. While any form of management requires this to a certain extent – the ability to juggle tasks is ever present in project work. I’m often reminded of the analogy that Project management is akin to spinning plates – consider team management, scheduling, stakeholder management, risk management, budget responsibilities – all concurrent tasks that require close attention and control. One of the biggest problems that project managers fall into is micromanaging – combining micromanaging with a heavy workload is a recipe for getting nothing done (or getting things done but producing poor quality output). Great PM’s no what to do and in what amounts to support the successful delivery of their project.

10 Experience of failure

Finally, I firmly believe that experience has a huge part to play in producing excellent project managers. Experience of failure in particular can teach a tremendous amount – even by following the most ardent project methodology can still fail to protect you from the unforeseen. The more difficulties that a PM faces the more skills they will develop to cope with these and when the same issue arises again they will be better positioned to cope.

The most obvious way of shortcutting this is to utilize lessons learned logs and establish robust peer reviews of projects. Allowing PM’s to learn from each other – what works what didn’t – what unexpected issues they came across can make a huge difference without the PM needing to suffer the issues first hand.

The key thing in all of this is utilizing failure to build on management processes and techniques – it often falls to the PMO office to carry out continuous improvement tasks on project methods (templates, documents, skills etc). For those organizations that don’t have a PMO office available this should not be a barrier for utilizing past learning within future projects however.

Summary

The increased use of formal project management within business has seen an explosion in project managers, many of which have taken advantage of the formal training and certifications that is now on offer. However it has to be recognized that as well as many of the formal skills such as planning, risk management etc that are required – excelling at PM relies on a substantial level of soft skills that whilst can developed over time, can make the difference between a good PM and a great PM.

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