Today's business environment is hyper-focused on efficiency, and the job of a project manager is quite different – and a lot harder – than it was just a decade ago. According to the research advisory organization The Standish Group, only 39% of all projects meet their goals, and the PM plays a crucial role in their success (or failure).
But what makes these project managers effective and what skills should you nurture to ensure your PM practice is successful? Brushing up on the following 6 soft skills will help a PM become more efficient.
Every business magazine and leadership coach talk about the importance of communication. Even though as much as 90% of a project manager's time may be spent communicating, this mission critical skill is often overlooked. Almost every area of a project will require good communication skills, from pitching ideas to stakeholders or explaining processes to senior managers, to keeping your team on track, assigning tasks or boosting morale.
PM communication can be improved, by making sure messages are conveyed clearly, concisely and completely, in a form or format that is familiar and easy for audiences to understand. Perhaps surprisingly, good communication also requires excellent listening skills, where PMs are able to absorb what others are trying to communicate back to them.
The most effective PMs adapt their communication style to fit their audiences. For example, while peers and team members may understand Project Management terminology, clients and executives will find it difficult to follow our industry jargon and our methodology. One technique to overcome this is to provide simple visuals such as graphs, charts and timelines that will communicate high-level information to non-technical audiences in an appealing, easy-to-understand manner.
Networking and Politics
Great project managers cultivate and rely on informal networks, both inside and outside the organization, to identify problems or solve critical issues. They understand the political dynamics of an organization and are aware that not everyone across the org may want the project to succeed. Project Management requires savviness in relationships and the ability to anticipate such dynamics. A project’s success or failure can sometimes be attributed as much to managing politics as to managing the actual project implementation. Project Managers need to develop their ability to read and anticipate the intentions and motivations of all parties involved or influencing their project.
The requirements for managing a project end-to-end are extremely broad. This means PMs will depend on excellent organizational skills in order to manage these broad responsibilities effectively. An effective project manager should have clear visibility on all the required pieces and processes at all times, as well as an understanding of how each piece or process contributes to the success of the project. Setting objectives and deadlines, creating milestones, putting together viable schedules, making timelines and tracking progress are pivotal to the successful delivery of a project.
One significant lapse that can threaten successfully achieving a project’s objectives – or even rendering it impossible to deliver – is the failure to foresee risks and the failure to develop appropriate risk mitigation strategies. An experienced PM should exercise a risk anticipation process that identifies potential issues which could arise over the course of the project, assesses the adverse effects they may have on the project, and develops mitigation solutions in advance. Most importantly, effective PMs take these risks and mitigation strategies into consideration before creating plans, project schedules, resource requirements and budget projections.
Expertise in the Subject Matter of the Project
It has been said that a good PM can work in any field without specific experience in that particular industry. While this may be conceptually true, in reality, having some degree of PM knowledge in a vertical or sector is a key success enabler. Having vertical project experience immediately gives a PM authority, but, more importantly, they will add value to the project based on their insight and experiences. This doesn't mean, for example, that PMs working on a software development project must learn how to code software, but that they do need to understand industry methodologies, how development teams work, and what the critical pieces are for successful software development.
A mandatory skill in becoming an effective PM is knowing how to delegate tasks to the right individuals. This requires a deep understanding of each project team member’s capabilities and limitations. Good delegation skills will free-up a PM’s time and enable them to focus on other important areas of the project that require attention. Effective delegation also demonstrates to the project team members that the PM is confident in their skills and accountability. It empowers team members, who may now feel trusted, responsible and not micro-managed.
Project management is a profession that implies constant learning, practice and commitment. Nurturing the skills presented above by incorporating them into a daily practice and supplementing them with other techniques will help aspiring project managers become more effective.
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