When I started working as project manager my skills were based on suggestions and directions of the senior project managers as well as best practices I experienced directly in the field which I used to translate into lessons learned. Over time my project management knowledge improved, I felt even more the need to have support for me to re-arrange and rationalize my competences. I finally found it within the PMBOK® Guide (The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge®). Achieving the PMP® Certification represented my first step towards a professional learning path and one that is still leading me to become more and more involved in the project management world allowing me to appreciate the continuous evolutions of this discipline or, as I like to say, this new science.
Nowadays in complex business scenarios I can see project managers as the links able to maintain synchronized companies’ operations with the strategies put in place by their executives in order to excel in the current global business environment. Capabilities like communication, negotiation, cultural sensitivity, leadership together with a solid understanding of economic principles play a key role in the project manager’s background and is often more useful than the always valid technical competence. Being a successful project manager implies knowing perfectly the principles of negotiation in order to create outcomes that are acceptable to all stakeholders. For a project manager negotiation is a fact of life. It can be defined as the process between two or more parts that look to one another for the same path of reaching an agreement and satisfying their objectives, as much as possible. Keeping this concept in mind, it is straightforward to understand how communication plays a central role in negotiation. Successful project managers should first and foremost, be good communicators!
The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – 4th Edition describes different project environments where, according to their organizational structure (functional, matrix, projectized) responsibilities and different authority levels are shared. It is easy to comprehend how project managers must negotiate everyday with clients, vendors, sponsors, technical specialists, contractors, functional managers and project team members about scope, budget, schedule, priorities, constraints, resources, responsibilities and performance requirements. Negotiation is a kind of persuasive process and is one of the most important skills needed by project managers in order to manage projects successfully.
Skilled project managers in negotiation know about the people and interests involved, as well as the relevant facts, therefore they will be better able to influence the decisions of others. The abilities to listen, to empathize, and to communicate clearly and effectively are crucial in negotiating effective agreements.
While facts and ideas are important in changing another person's opinions and perceptions, the effectiveness of persuasion depends on how these facts and ideas are selected and presented. Since negotiations are totally based on communications, project managers need to be careful to keep in mind that the receiver, not the sender, defines communication. For that reason, keep questioning your assumptions about the right way to communicate: Who is the message for? What media should I use? What is the objective of the communication? What is the desired response?
More often project managers are asked to take disparate individuals and to turn them into a team. One of the biggest challenges project managers have to face is to motivate each person to cooperate and collaborate as part of a group. They are challenged to employ a wide variety of interpersonal skills to enhance the performance of their teams. These skills include empathy, influence, creativity and group facilitation. In addition, team-building activities are undertaken in response to identified needs for improved team performance.
The managerial style displayed by the project manager will also have an impact on project team performance. For example, close supervision and lack of trust may result in low morale and poor productivity. A lack of supervision and support may result in failure to achieve objectives and poor teamwork.
Without leadership most teams quickly disappear or are reduced to small isolated groups working with little or no communication and coordination. Effective leadership of the project team involves several factors: establishing direction – developing a vision and the strategies to achieve that vision; aligning people – communicating the vision through words and deeds to the project stakeholders whose cooperation is essential for success; motivating and inspiring – energizing people to overcome barriers that keep them from fulfilling commitments and objectives.
Additionally, successful project managers must maintain a sense of balance between the “soft” skills, often referred to as leadership characteristics, and management skills, also referred to as “hard” skills. Both are required. More attention given to one or the other can lead to unsatisfactory results. For example, if the project manager focuses too heavily on the hard skills, this may alienate the team. If the project manager focuses too heavily on the soft skills, the project may suffer.
Successful project managers need to develop a cultural sensitivity. Approaching people, who think and react in a different way, requires a good amount of sensitivity. The main purpose of developing a cultural sensitivity is mostly to gain an understanding of how cross-cultural differences impact on the work environment and how these can be managed so that the benefits of those differences can be maximized both for the individual and the group. Planning and working to improve approaches towards “learning” about someone is the right way to improve upon the level of understanding it takes, which is the foundation to getting along with the others more quickly and more successfully. Leveraging cultural diversity and the ability to embrace differences, while learning from each other, is paramount to success.
Project managers who understand the connection between the world of project and the world of business will be valuable in the future. Since projects do not look like investments, they are investments. For that reason project managers must take into consideration the business impacts gushing from every decision they make within their projects. Business knowledge would allow project managers to understand business concepts and principles that have relevance to projects. Also consistent business skills would allow project managers to apply correctly the business principles. For example, project managers should be able to prepare a clear and consistent business case. Another example could be having a consistent understanding of financial ratios, one for all the ROI (Return On Investment). But a broader and better view of ROI allows discovering more meaning of it. Under the straightforward number that means the money returned on the investment done, for organizations there are also some “soft” features that need to be take into consideration. Beyond profit, also customer satisfaction, employees’ satisfaction and the increase of intellectual capital are aspects embedded into the ROI. Finally a certain business acumen will allow them to know when and how to apply business principles to a given project situation. Even more so, project managers have to represents the core of project coordination, not only regarding the operations but also taking into consideration actions from his or her own business vision.
Saying that, it is simple to understand how project manager’s life should be a never stopping learning process. Besides the work routine the savvy project manager must be always be focused on how to continuously improve his/her base of knowledge and continuously refine it. Aside from the formal training which is always crucial, being an active part of the professional community like PMI Chapters activities or participating at professional events like volunteering for research groups or developing standards as well as taking part in seminars will give the opportunity to be involved pro-actively in the evolution of project management principles. As a consequence, the community will provide feedback about how to effectively set up one’s own competencies discovering gaps and advising the most appropriate way to fill them.
There is not a standard recipe to follow in order to achieve an adequate level of professional development. It depends strictly on the context where professionals are embedded. During a certain point in my life, I found myself working 3,500 miles away from home in a completely different business and life-style environment. Since that experience my life has been changed, and since that time I have started reflecting upon and becoming integrated as a project manager as much as possible, and as much as possible associating with people who look at life and approach work in a different way than I do. In order to over come those issues I decide to take advantages from the specialized literature available on this topic and putting in place and refining what I have learned in my day to day life. Since then I use this approach also in other fields of my profession. The research and development approach are the cornerstones in the project management profession.
Project Managers have to think out of the box. In today’s dynamic business scenarios being a traditional project manager is not enough. In order to allow companies to respond to the even more challenging market constraints, project managers need to be pro-active in understanding project management trends and evolutions and discover how to be able to use new tools and techniques provided by this science. In order to do that it is essential to operating as an active part of the scene bringing in one’s own experiences and continuing to improve the skills set through formal training and a well-planned personal self-development. Being always aligned with the environment and putting in to practice the new tools and techniques will also provide a valuable support in facing temporarily emergencies like the latest economic recession which is still not completely dissolved.
© 2010 allPM.com