6 Essential Skills for Project Management in 2017
Project management, by all accounts, is still a fairly new profession to follow, and as such, it often gets a bad rep. As a project manager you’ll often encounter the misguided assumption that all we do is hide in our offices, leaving only to bark out orders or take credit. However, anyone who’s been in a project management role knows that there is far more to it than just telling people what to do.
In fact, simply directing people shouldn’t be considered as a ‘skill’ in any good project manager’s top drawer. Whilst handing out orders can get things done in the short term, it does nothing for your teams, or project's, development; leading your team however, is an essential skill, one we’ll come back to later.
As a project manager, it is our job to manage the execution of knowledge, tools and techniques over project activities, to meet project requirements. To adequately do this, we need to possess a number of competencies; we must have experience, knowledge, the right tools, but vitally, we must have the correct skills to apply all our techniques to our projects.
In order to become an awesome project manager, we need to not only read the proper methodology, develop experiential tools and techniques, but also understand the key skills required for their proper application. Through honing the following essential project management skills in the areas we’ve picked out below, you’ll be on your way to ensuring more efficient management, successful projects and happier teams and clients. Winning all round!
6 Project Management Skills to Master
The following list covers the six areas we think are essential to mastering project management.
Any experienced project manager knows that great leadership is the most important part of the game, and whilst leadership is subjective across the board, each style and strategy influenced by multiple factors spanning industry and business specificities, good leadership is connected by a few universal truths.
Good leadership is like the rousing speech at the end of 80’s sports film, it isn’t just about directing the play, but creating a vision, and motivating and inspiring your team to ‘buy in’ to it.
As a project manager, it’s important to lead from both a strategic and operational perspective; alongside organising the tools, money and space to ensure your team can get things done, it’s equally as important to communicate the vision, resolve conflict, set goals and evaluate performance.
Moreover, whilst it’s imperative to understand the importance of getting your team to buy in to your project, and subsequently create an environment where they can thrive, it is essential that you remember that ultimately, the final responsibility of whether the project succeeds or fails lies with you, and as such, it is your responsibility to keep your team, and the project, in check. If that means going above and outside of your designated role to ensure that the project gets done on time and on budget, that’s what you have to do.
As much as you are there to lead, you are also there to support, with a dual duty of care for your team and for the client and their project. As project manager it is your responsibility to be your team’s number one cheerleader, even if that means reminding them when they’re not performing to the level you know they can, and making sure you’re doing everything you can to facilitate their success on the project.
Leading isn’t just about managing, but guiding, empowering and inspiring your team to do the best they can do.
Great communication is the crux of any good relationship, and that includes the partnerships between you, your team and your client. The ability to communicate well, to listen, understand and clarify, vastly improves the chances of your project succeeding.
Understanding the needs of everyone engaged on and with your project and implementing a communication plan to meet those, and the structure of your project, from the outset, will ensure that from the beginning to the conclusion, everyone involved is on the same page.
From your client’s perspective, keeping them in the loop on any project changes, status updates and success stories, will keep your project visions in line and mitigate the need for any awkward deadline due date conversations. Similarly, giving your client access to the inner workings of your team, not just when the big targets are achieved, keeps them invested in you as a manager, and the direction of the project.
With your team, clear communication is essential for both you, and them, to correctly strategize deadlines, outline roles and delegate tasks. Properly briefing your team on the end goal of the project, not only enables a valuable exchange of ideas and allows your team to show where their key attributes shine, but gives proper focus to every task, so each member is working towards the same direction. It’s essential to understanding exactly where you and your team are currently at.
Effective communication is just as important to team dynamics, as it is to the project. Every employee issue, whether attendance, morale, performance or productivity, can be tied back to poor communication.
The key to good communication is the ability to master listening, as well as articulating. To understand how to get the right information, to the right person, through the correct channels and as clear and concise as possible.
Proper planning is a core part of what we do as project managers, yet it’s one that a lot of project managers forget about. Developing and monitoring plans is critical to ensuring we hit the right targets at the rights times, keeping projects on budget and ensuring that each member of our team knows exactly what to do and when to do it. A project without a project plan would quickly descend into Lord of the Flies.
Keeping a project on track means planning from the Meta to the micro; from creating project scope statements, budget estimates and timelines at the outset, to planning your schedule, maintaining status documents and communications.
By not including sufficient enough detail in your project plan, you’re not only opening up your team for confusion in regards to the full requirements of their time or tasks, but leaving yourself without clearly defined metrics to measure the success of your project and management strategies.
Take the time before you instigate your project to identify all necessary activities and tasks required to successfully meet the project’s scope statement and all your deliverables, as well as estimates of time to complete each task and specific personal responsible. Whilst it’s not required to be of military level precision, the closer you can get to that, the better.
As the old adage goes, time is money, and the key to managing your time efficiently is recognising although there are a million things you could be doing, there are only a few things you should be doing - nailing the difference between the urgent and the important.
Planning should go some way to helping to mitigate the need to to extensively micromanage your own, and your team’s, time, as with clear objectives, deadlines, and instructions, your time should essentially run itself.
However, making effective judgement calls in prioritising tasks, or making judgement calls on pulling the plug on overrun meetings, is ultimately a judgement call you, and your critical thinking skills, have to make.
Projects are not always going to go to plan, and sometimes it will be necessary to have to react to pitfall that you didn’t see coming, trusting in your own, and your team’s, experience and knowledge to make the right decision.
Although you can’t foresee every possible problem, conducting a proper and extensive risk assessment before each project can help minimize the possibility of an issue occurring, as well as help to implement potential rescue strategies in case they do. Incorporate these strategies into your project scope, assigning them probabilities, and potential costing, keeping them updated as your project develops.
Beginning a project without a proper risk assessment, is essentially the same as entering a shark tank without a protective cage, something is swimming below the water, but you’re not sure when, or how it’s going to attack.
Awareness might seem like a rather broad term, and in some respects it is, as it applies to the day to day aspects of your project, your team, as well as the project management industry at large.
In this case, awareness simply means to pay attention to things that are outside of your direct field of vision. It’s easy, especially when riding on success off the back of your last few projects to become complacent, to get too comfortable in the same modes and methodologies of approaching projects, in the same team, in the same structures. As, whilst this particular way may have helped you the previous two, or three, times, losing a sense of awareness of what a particular project requires, or what an employee’s particular skillsets are, can mean disaster in the next.
Essentially, retaining awareness is to apply a rather scientific perspective, to always investigate your own results, your team’s practices, and industry methods, in order to discern what is, and what isn’t working. Remaining aware, means to never forget that you’ve always got something to learn, and to never get too settled, as this is the sure fire route to project failure.
In micro terms, awareness also means to pay attention to the little things throughout the progression of your project, part and parcel of leadership, communication and planning, monitoring how your team are interacting, their performance and how the project is proceeding, means you can anticipate and mitigate coming risks and potential for disaster.
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