- What does a Project Manager do?
- What are the most important skills for a project manager?
- Some Last Words
What does a Project Manager do?
A project manager (PM) is an individual responsible for planning, procurement, monitoring, and executing projects. In essence, they envision what and how a project will turn out and oversee its progress.
PMs are in high demand as the Project Management Institute predicts there will be 22 million job openings for project managers through 2027. While a degree in business administration or project management is advantageous, they aren’t absolutely necessary.
In fact, there are so many project management careers to choose from, and you can work your way up by understanding how your organization and industry works. However, there are some skills and traits PMs must have in order to succeed. While some are natural-born PMs, some do need a bit of training and knife sharpening prior to taking the lead.
What are the most important skills for a project manager?
In this article, we’ll take a look at a few steps you can take in order to improve your project management skills and boost your way up the career ladder.
1. Be accountable
Anyone can be a boss, but not everyone can become a leader. Bosses will be the first to take the credit for their team’s work, but the last to accept critique. If you’ve had experience working under someone like that, it’s time to break the cycle.
Humility comes a long way when it comes to being a PM as well as climbing the career ladder. If your superiors or project sponsors aren’t happy with your work, you need to admit where you went wrong and get back to the drawing board. When they praise you for your team’s success, you’ll be the first to let them know you couldn’t have done it without the team.
This shows your team that they are in a safe environment to work in. Not only do they have a leader that’s going to back them up, but they have one that appreciates the hard work the team has put in collectively.
2. Anticipate conflicts and be the cool head
It’s normal for disagreements and tension to arise when people are working in teams. However, a PM must know when to calm parties down before it escalates. If you show your frustration or resentment to them, you’re only adding fuel to the fire and increasing the project’s failure rate.
You need to stay cool while they explain their issues and look at things from their point of view. Listen to understand, not to answer. A leader is in charge of setting the team’s workflow. If there’s frustration within employees, chances are it’s because there’s a hiccup in the production process and you need to hold yourself accountable and apologize for it.
Just saying “I’m sorry, I should have …” is usually enough to win someone over. Repeat his or her main points to show that you have been paying attention, and offer a solution to work it out.
You’re going to have to learn to put your ego down as a leader. But the respect you receive in return will compensate for that for a very long time.
3. Motivate the right way
There will be times when the team feels like they are in a rut. Leaders must have good motivational skills to inspire their team members. One great way of doing this without having to go out of your way is by offering positive reinforcement when it’s due.
Positive reinforcements work, but you need to personalize your praises and emphasize their effort. Some managers make the error of giving blanket statements like “Thanks John, you did great”.
While that sounds nice, but it will never beat “Thanks for working hard on those numbers last night John, the clients were excited with what you were able to come up with!”
Also, you shouldn’t punish your team members for failing. Failing is a normal part of any process. Instead, ask them what they think they did wrong, and encourage them to try other alternatives and do better. A person that isn’t afraid to fail isn’t afraid to grow.
You’ll get more value from a team that is quick to get up on their own feet stronger and smarter rather than one that mopes around because they feel like failures.
4. Pave the way for open communication
The modern leader must encourage employees to become team players. Naturally, humans would avoid conflict. But in the realm of project management, the quicker a team solves an issue, the better the chances of projects meeting deadlines.
To excel in leadership in this area of communication, create an open door policy where your team members can talk to you when a problem appears. Do they think you’re micromanaging them to the point of unease? Or is the person in charge of ordering supplies not communicating quickly with the finance team? These are examples of issues you should be open to listening to.
When there is open communication between employees and project managers, it becomes easier for employees to communicate between themselves too. Employees feel like their positions won’t be jeopardized for voicing out their concerns, and issues can be settled without the need to consult the PM. This brings us to another leadership trait:
5. Be resourceful
How you manage communication varies greatly depending on your niche, team size, clientele, and a lot of other factors. As a PM, you need to have the right communication channels in place. Many businesses have transferred over to project collaboration platforms like Slack. This is especially true for businesses with remote workers.
However, some teams may work better with traditional stand-up meetings or video conferencing. Communication is key in any endeavor, so it’s worth discussing with the team and sees what works best.
6. Negotiate like a pro
PMs are expected to execute plans with limited resources, especially from a financial, time, and manpower perspective. When the economy shrinks and budgets are tight, negotiation skills become that more crucial.
You may have stakeholders that are pressing you for progress under impossible time frames. As a project manager that displays good negotiation skills, you need to be able to push back in a way that’s diplomatic and doesn’t damage your professional relationships.
If you’ve had limited negotiation experience in the past, the next best way to work on this skill is to be prepared. Some examples of questions you need to ask yourself are:
- If you’re negotiating with a supplier, what are you going to say if they can’t deliver on time?
- At what point do you decide to walk away and pursue other alternatives, and how will you politely decline them?
- If a vendor can’t meet the price you’re haggling for, is there any other way of creating value for them while not at the expense of additional financial stress?
As a PM, one of the worst things that can happen under your supervision is delays in project completion. Unless there were unavoidable circumstances, this will tarnish your reputation. To complete a project within a specified timeframe you need clear, well thought out scheduling. This can be done by breaking down the goal(s) into smaller tasks.
When it comes to scheduling, be sure that you aren’t working in a silo. Your comrades and stakeholders have to be in on it to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Only then can you determine your dependencies (tasks that rely on other tasks to be completed), and manage any potential hiccups in your scheduling.
Including your team members in the discussion is a great way to make sure you don’t miss out on anything, as it’s a common mistake for inexperienced PMs to forget about public holidays and vacations in their schedules.
Gantt charts are an effective way to provide a birds-eye view of the tasks that need to be done as well as showing task dependencies. In fact, there is plenty of reliable charting software that makes this task a breeze.
8. Record and Implement Milestones
Milestones in project management are what sign boards are to roads. The initial planning may look straightforward, but it’s easy to get carried away and make a wrong turn during the journey. You can sway far from your initial goals and cost your team a lot of your resources, most notable being time.
How a PM plans his milestones is completely dependent on the nature of the project and the tasks at hand. However, you should consider some of these factors:
- How significant are these tasks, relative to the project? Eg; Installing the roofs for a housing development
- Achieves a specific percentage of completion
- Delivery of a product
Milestones present the perfect opportunity to regroup with team members and stakeholders. Here, you can review the current progress of the project, identify key strengths and weaknesses, as well as keeping everyone realigned with the goals they’ve set to score.
Besides having practical implications, milestones are a great motivation booster for your team when they realize they are one step closer to the end goal.
9. Meetings Management
Everyone’s gone through meetings that they felt were a waste of time. Not only did the team and stakeholders not come to terms, but it felt like it didn’t go anywhere at all. PMs are in charge of setting the pace of the meetings. While they don’t need to be the dominant voice, they need to ensure that time spent is productive.
Therefore, preparation for the meeting is crucial. You should never call for a meeting on a whim. Here are some key points you need to go over during your planning:
- Duration of the meeting
- Attendees (not everyone has to be in every meeting)
- Meeting agenda
- Main objectives of the meeting
Don’t forget to assign someone to document the meeting as well as monitoring time. The documentation can be shared amongst the group for their reference.
As a project manager, you should be giving your own input, but when you do it matters. After your quick introduction, let the attendees speak in turns. When their rounds are over, only then should you chime in with yours and let them know where you stand.
This will give the impression that their voices are equal to yours, and this will incentivize them to brainstorm their ideas instead of relying on whatever the boss says.
Some Last Words
While there are many more project management skills everyone can benefit from, I’ve written some of the most important ones aspiring PMs can work on instantly. Being a PM is a lot of hard work, but due to the nature of the job and the uncertainties you’ll be facing every day, it sure is a rewarding career path to take.
Remember, don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re struggling too much. Having a sense of humor is also one of the soft skills a PM needs in order to keep spirits up. Trust the process and your team, and you’ll be happy you made the jump!
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.