Great project managers often are described as good communicators, able to delegate tasks and be cool under pressure.
But as competition heats up in various industries and the marketplace becomes more globally connected, such qualities won’t be enough to ensure a successful project management career. Instead, those abilities – and others such as emotional intelligence and business savvy – will be demanded by companies looking to gain an edge.
“At this point in time, your technical savvy as a project manager is a threshold skill – it just gets you in the conversation.” says Cynthia Snyder Dionisio, author of “A Project Manager’s Book of Forms: A Companion to the PMBOK Guide,” (3rd edition). “If you want to advance in your career and keep your job, you’re going to have to be able to understand business speak.”
That means being able to grasp how to sub-optimize resources, figuring out what the competition is up to and determining how to get the best return on investment, she says. “Those are now the differentiating skills. But in five years? Those will be threshold skills for project managers,” she says.
Specifically, the Project Management Institute (PMI) reveals in its latest leadership research that 42% percent of survey respondents report that both technical and leadership skills are a high priority, a 3% boost over last year.
Snyder and other project management experts say that one of the best ways that project managers can remain viable is to understand the trends that are headed their way, so they can best develop key skills. Some of those trends include:
Project managers may believe their communication skills or organizational abilities are enough to ensure they’re effective in dealing with team members or those outside the organization. But as the consensus grows that emotional intelligence is more important than your IQ, project managers need to show they also have developed skills associated with emotional intelligence: empathy, self-awareness and a positive and motivating personality.
“The project manager increasingly needs to channel emotions for solving problems and for thinking to develop positive and constructive ways to address issues as they arise,” says Nigel Kirkman, associate director of digital delivery and transformation at Virtusa. More companies are emphasizing emotional intelligence at all levels of the organization because research shows it leads to great employee engagement, lower turnover and better productivity, he says.
PMI reports that 71% of organizations now use agile approaches to their projects sometimes or more frequently than in the past. In addition, the report finds that companies using agile project management have a much higher project success rate as compared to companies that follow other project management methods.
“I think there will start to be an understanding that agile is a development method and project managers need to be aware of it just as they are other methods. They will then have to decide what makes the most sense for their environment,” Dionisio says.
She adds that there are aspects of agile, such as a focus on the customer, that can be incorporated into non-agile environments. “I think what we’re going to see is people blending different approaches that make sense for them,” Dionisio says. Still, she cautions that project managers shouldn’t jump on the agile bandwagon without understanding the entire perspective of the business strategy. “Agile is awesome in some situations,” she says. “But if you build a bridge using agile, then you’re going to have a bridge that falls down.”
Snyder says many companies are starting to pull their remote workers back into the office because they “want the stickiness of people being on site, of being able to relate to others and just being able to go over and talk to someone.” Still, that doesn’t mean that project managers won’t have to deal with offsite employees on their projects, especially with so many companies working on a global scale, she says. “I think there’s going to continue to be dynamic tension between virtual and in-house talent,” she says. At the same time, she says that no remote workforce is going to be successful unless organizations get a better handle on data security.
“Hiring managers are going to continue to screen for certifications. But, that just means someone passed the test – not that they can do the work,” Dionisio says.
Lauren Maffeo, project management expert at GetApp, says that that PMP certifications just aren’t worth it. “Exam content isn’t updated often enough to keep pace with today’s small business needs,” she says.
On the other hand, PwC reports in its research that certified project managers manage 80% of successful projects. While only 56% of project managers are certified professionals, PwC reports, that’s going to change as the demand increases for certified project managers.
More companies are embracing the idea of teams being formed and disbanded based on the current needs. For example, people from sales, design, operations and marketing may work in tandem on a project, then move on to other assignments as necessary. That demand for flexibility means that project managers need to be ready to work across various departments at a faster rate.
Dionisio says she believes that because of the cross-collaboration push, even “the people who don’t have the title of project manager are going to need to adopt project manager skills.”
Finally, PMI reports that for the first time in five years, more projects are meeting original goals and business intent and are being completed within budget. At the same time, while there is less money being lost due to project poor performance, senior leaders are looking for ways to run a more efficient and innovative company.
“No longer can we afford these large monolithic programs that go on for two to three years,” says Baron Concors, chief digital officer of Pizza Hut in the PMI report. “We know that what we set out to do at the beginning of that time period is not what we will finish out doing. So, we are focusing on very rapid delivery cycles, asking ourselves: ‘How do we mobilize a project very quickly? How do we use the right delivery techniques to work through it quickly? How do we get product into market or to customers or into the business, and implement that, rather than doing some big-bang transformation?’”