Just because someone has the title of project manager doesn’t mean they know how to effectively manage projects, as many CIOs and other IT managers have learned the hard way.
To be an effective project manager, able to keep projects and the team on track, it takes more than technical know-how. It also requires a number of soft skills, and it is these more general skills that often determine whether a project manager – and the project – will be successful.
So how do you distinguish a good project manager from a bad one? CIO.com interviewed project management experts and executives to learn about the skills required to successfully manage projects – that is, to ensure projects are kept on track and on budget. .
Here are seven of the most important soft skills for project managers.
Seven key skills in project management
- Problem solving
“Being a good leader means not only that you oversee and coordinate tasks and processes as a manager, but you also outline the vision and set the roadmap, motivate and nurture,” says Tatiana Danielyan, deputy director of the R&D at ABBYY, which provides software for document recognition, data entry and language processing.
It is also essential that the project manager has the ability to quickly analyze data – or a given situation – and make the right decisions because, she adds, “at the end of the day you are the one who the last call – and the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the project.
“A great project manager is able to keep their team happy during tough times,” says Kofi Senaya, chief product officer at Clearbridge Mobile, a developer of mobile applications. “Projects can get very difficult and stressful, usually when the deadlines get closer. As a project manager, your job is to make sure everyone stays motivated. Ultimately, this will improve the efficiency and the quality of the work, ”he says.
“Some tactics that project managers can use are to praise good work, invite team members to participate in a team building activity, and cultivate a fun, collaborative environment. “
“Project managers need to speak the same language as their clients,” and so do their team members, says Mike Mills, project manager at Sagefrog Marketing Group, a B2B marketing agency. “It’s a bit of a cliché, but that phrase really describes one of the most important skills that can make or break relationships with customers. Project managers are the only translators, sharing information, updates and next steps from the client to the internal team and vice versa.
“Communication skills are at the heart of a project manager’s skills,” says Danielyan. A project manager who is “a good communicator can solve or prevent almost any problem by being clear.” [and] encourage an unhindered flow of information, which means [getting] the right information to the right person, through the right channel, exactly when it’s needed.
A stereotypical image of a project manager is someone who is consummate multitasking, but the ability to “multitask alone will not help project managers meet all the demands they face in their role; organization is key, ”says Mills. “It means prioritizing tasks, compartmentalizing projects to avoid confusion, and carefully documenting anything and everything for future reference and easy access. Part of the organizing process also involves considering all stages throughout the life of the project and anticipating any issues that might arise.
“As a PM, your job is to make sure that processes run smoothly and are aligned with common goals,” says Danielyan. Therefore, “the ability to organize multiple complex processes under uncertain conditions is essential – [and] prioritization, planning and scheduling skills are essential. You always have to be ten steps ahead to achieve the desired result quickly and efficiently – or take on a challenge when necessary. “
“Information overload is a very real phenomenon, especially in the modern workplace,” notes Andrew Filev, CEO of Wrike, the developer of project management software. “There is a limit to the amount of things our mind can process, which is our cognitive load. “So” to be successful in the next decade, [project managers] must be able to handle this deluge of data and extract the useful bits from the noise.
“They must be masters in setting priorities [and] time management if they intend to be successful, ”he continues. And they must stay focused and “be strategic despite all the pings and notifications that will force them to run to put out the fires.”
Much of problem solving in a project management context revolves around the ability to identify and manage risk. “Many projects are falling off their scope, budget or delivery schedule due to unexpected surprises,” notes Tim Platt, vice president, IT Business Services, Virtual Operations, an IT support and managed services company. “The great project manager is always on the lookout for risks – and how to mitigate them. He or she knows how to ask the tough questions of the team and constantly confirms decisions, deadlines and dependencies. In a well-run project, there shouldn’t be any surprises. There should be a risk log and mitigation plans for all items, and the PM is in the best position to ensure this is covered. “
“Managing obstacles is without a doubt an essential skill for a PM,” agrees Danielyan. “A good project manager [can] identify the risk early, find the cause (s) of the problem, evaluate different options [and] define and implement the best possible solution.
“In a rapidly changing environment, especially in the tech industry, changes, whether new processes, standards or technologies, happen quickly,” Senaya explains. “Planning is vital, but the ability to adapt to changes and work with your team to overcome challenges is just as important. This ability to quickly find a workaround or change course is absolutely “necessary to be successful in a rapidly changing environment.”
Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.