As anyone who watches The Apprentice will tell you, one of the first questions that the teams are asked after each grueling challenge is, ‘How good was your project manager?’ If the team members are not full of praise at this point, the project managers should be feeling worried! The Apprentice’s candidates are sometimes reluctant to accept project leadership responsibilities, not least because a project manager who performs poorly is likely to be shown the door by Lord Sugar and his advisors. Nobody wants to exit the boardroom with ‘you’re fired!’ ringing in their ears.
The overall responsibility for the day-to-day running of a project sits squarely on the project manager’s shoulders. If the project fails to achieve its objectives, the project manager is the most obvious target for blame. Even away from the bright lights and high drama of television programmes, managing a project is challenging. Members of the project team look to the project manager for leadership and guidance; he or she must plan and delegate work, monitor progress, respond to risks and problems, and regularly analyse and review factors affecting the project.
As a project manager, your ability to co-ordinate and control your project will be enhanced if you can demonstrate excellent leadership and interpersonal skills. The relationship between the management of projects and the management of people sheds light on some of the key skills used by effective project managers, as outlined below.
1. Communicating clearly
Being an effective communicator is paramount for any project manager. In many respects, you are the project’s figurehead. You must be able to talk persuasively about your project as a viable business endeavour, liaise with a wide variety of stakeholders, write concise progress reports, etc. Most importantly, you must ensure that you communicate with project staff and stakeholders using the most appropriate method and level of detail in each case. As the leader of the project, you need to encourage everyone involved with it to share both your commitment to it and confidence about its chances of success.
2. Exercising foresight
All projects are unique, subject to risks, and different to ‘business-as-usual’ activities. As a result, project management can be very unpredictable. While not even the best project manager is equipped with a crystal ball to see the future, making sure that you have the information required to make sensible predictions about the outcome of events is important. Things will go wrong on your project; but spotting problems as soon as possible, and having a clear understanding of how they may affect the project’s progress, can be invaluable in your work as a project manager.
3. Delegating tasks
While good project managers will never shirk their responsibilities, they must be comfortable delegating work to others when necessary. Project managers perform a varied range of activities, but they can’t do everything by themselves! The ability to organise project work, and then assign various aspects of it to the appropriate parties, is crucial. Effective delegation helps to ensure that each task is performed by the most suitable person at the most suitable time. If you find it hard to tell others what they need to do in a way that inspires co-operation, project management is not for you.
4. Organising work efficiently
Project managers are likely to nod in agreement when they hear the saying, ‘Nothing beats the satisfaction of crossing things off a list’! If you find yourself drawing up plans of action and writing lists at work, the chances are that you possess the excellent organisational skills required for project management. Your role as a project manager is to organise and co-ordinate activities in such a way as to ensure that everyone involved with the project understands what is expected of them.
Various kinds of project management software (e.g. Microsoft Project) are available to help project managers organise, schedule, and plan tasks in a clear, logical way. If you are worried that your organisational skills are not quite up-to-scratch, attending Microsoft Project training (or a similar course) could help you to improve your approach to organising project work. Remember that members of the project team will also need to understand the use and purpose of the software.
5. Thinking analytically
As a project manager, you will often be confronted by large quantities of data and complicated issues. You will therefore need to draw on strong analytical skills in order to make sense of the information and find solutions. When contingency planning is required, for example, the Project Board members have the final say in most important matters, but they normally expect the project manager to carefully analyse the situation. For example, if the project’s progress is impeded by a supplier going out of business, the project manager will need to put his or her analytical thinking to the test, and then suggest possible courses of action. Maintaining a good relationship with Project Board members at such times is vital.
Project managers should not lose sight of the importance of interpersonal skills and strong leadership when trying to deliver projects on time, on scope, and on budget. In particular, being able to convey clearly to others what is happening and why, as well as exercising control over the project’s progress, is essential if you aim to be a good project manager.
About Our Guest Contributor
Simon Buehring is an experienced project manager, consultant and trainer. He is the Managing Director for KnowledgeTrain which offers PRINCE2 online courses and project management training worldwide. Simon has extensive experience within the IT industry in the UK and Asia.