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Ask The Project Management Advisor -
Building Crucial Project Manager Skills

Lonnie –

What do you see as the most crucial skills a project manager must possess to be successful in today’s highly competitive project management environment?  Lauren P. – Peoria AZ

You ask a great question here Lauren.  Every project manager worth his or her salt knows how to plan out a project, define a critical path, resource load to a schedule, manage scope, deliver within budget, manage risks and issues, and manage change requests effectively.  These skills are here to stay and will continue to be core to any project manager’s skill base.  Neglect to master these competencies and you might as well just pack it in as a PM. 

In the last decade or so I’ve seen the project management discipline break free from its Information Technology shackles and become a much more strategic lever in driving organizational profitability.  The PM discipline is being used more and more to deliver strategic initiatives, manage outsourcing arrangements, and drive cost reduction throughout an organization.  In doing so, the PM needs to do a lot more than traditional budget, scope, and schedule management.  They have to be able to inform, influence, and lead large and small teams of people who wouldn’t normally have to follow them.  They also need to establish and retain credibility with senior and middle-managers are placing a high degree of trust (as well as spending a lot of money) in them to deliver results.  This “scaling up” of the project management function means that the project manager of today needs more advanced tools in his or her toolkit to be head-and-shoulders above the competition.  I see five advanced tools as crucial for today’s PM to master:

  • Communication – Today’s PM needs to be very adept at communicating to the project team, stakeholders, sponsors, and executives. The PM needs to know what needs to be communicated, how it needs to be communicated, the level of detail that is appropriate for the audience, the frequency in which it needs to be communicated, and, last but not least, what should not be communicated.  Fail to communicate effectively and you're going to have a difficult time getting others to buy into your ability to lead and what you’re trying to do.

  • Risk and Issue Management – Some would argue that PM’s should already know how to do this, but from my experience I am continually amazed at how many project managers don’t know the difference between a risk and an issue, how to status risks and issues, and how to minimize the impact of a risk run amok or an out-of-control issue.  With the heightened strategic importance of project management, the risks and issues a project is likely to face could have significantly greater consequences than smaller-in-scope projects. 

  • Team Leadership – As projects get larger in scope and influence the PM is faced with managing larger and more disparate teams of people that don’t directly report to him or her.  The PM is now faced with having to earn the respect and trust of the team if the team is expected to follow the PM’s lead.  Those who are good leaders will be followed, those who aren’t will be told to go take a hike.  

  • Business Acumen –  The most effective PM is not only able to effectively manage a project, but is also able to understand the intricacies of the business objectives associated with his or her project and can drive project decisions which are in the best interest of the business and the organization as a whole.  Possessing such acumen requires that the PM have a deep understanding of the business, understand what keeps his or her business partner up at night, and effectively serve as a proxy for the business partner in making crucial decisions. 

  •  Virtual Management - Today's PM's need to be able to work with project teams spread across town, across the country, or across the world. The PM needs to understand how to keep a project team together when the project team can span the globe and ensure that everyone is working out of the same playbook.  It just doesn’t matter anymore whether a project team member is in Duluth, Dublin, or Delhi. 

Lonnie Pacelli is an internationally known project management and leadership author, consultant, and speaker.  You can see more about him and subscribe to his monthly report at www.projectmanagementadvisor.com.     

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