The Top Project Managers - The Skills PM's Need to Succeed

Sep 17, 2014
10 Min Read

For the fifth post in this series where I talk to the "Top Project Managers to Follow on Twitter", I asked each of them about the skills that all project managers need in order to be successful.

Dan Schawbel: What skills do project managers need to succeed? How do they go about learning them?

Cheri Essner: Leadership and communication are the most important skills for a PM. If you are not able to communicate you will not be able to lead. Ensure that you support and encourage learning and growth. This means that you must provide coaching and training for you and your team outside of your day to day activities. Of course it is important to celebrate success and recognize people daily. Remember not to just think a good thought, say it out loud. People need validation.

Project Managers also need to get social. By 2020, 15.7 million new project management jobs will be added around the globe, with an economic impact of more than US$18 trillion.

— Source: Project Management Talent Gap Report, PMI

Project Managers need to be establishing a brand for themselves, as when a project ends we move on. In order to keep up in this ever changing global environment, having a presence on social media gives you advantages that you might not be aware of. On Twitter we have our own hashtag, #PMOT, which stands for "Project Manager on Twitter."  You can find tremendous articles and posts on here to learn from and share as a beginning. LinkedIn has valuable communities with whom you can interact and meet other project managers from around the world. Facebook, I am not a fan of, but it does have branding abilities. Google+ is my favourite next to Twitter, as a place to engage with others, becoming part of a community of like-minded individuals in which you can share ideas and information. All of this will present to the world a reflection of who you are and what your values are. These multiple platforms also offer amazing learning experience from all over the globe!

So get out there and engage with your stakeholders, be transparent, providing a foundation of trust, learn to promote productive conflict using your behavioural norms. This will empower commitment, clarity and buy-in, which will result in real accountability. Use your seat at the table to foster learning and growth as you put together the most amazing product or service!

Michael Alan Kaplan: Project managers need to be business savvy and should take business courses – finance, marketing, production -- to help. They also need a working knowledge of project management by being well versed in the tools, tactics and nomenclature used in the profession. My recommendation: Find a mentor, get formal training, and get involved in PMI’s communities of practice.

Steven Baker: You have to learn how to speak and interact with people. You have to get them trusting you and talking to you on a regular basis. You will spend most of your time communicating in one form or another, and you must learn to listen closely and become more inclusive. Your ability to network and communicate will trump many other skills.

Susanne Madsen: Project managers need a good mix of technical skills and leadership skills. By technical skills I mean traditional project management best practices such as how to plan and control a project. By leadership skills I mean how to inspire and motivate people, as well as the ability to engage with the project’s strategic vision.

Within our industry, there is ample training on hard skills and project management techniques, but a lot less emphasis on people skills, leadership and how to build powerful relationships. One of the best ways to acquire these skills is to find a mentor who can help the individual to reflect and refine their ways. Attending a leadership course, hiring a professional coach and asking managers and peers for feedback, are also powerful ways to develop.

Personally I learnt many of the softer skills when I trained as a leadership coach. It became clear to me that I had a very mechanical approach to project management and that to a large extent I had been micromanaging people. I had been telling people what to do instead of leading them, empowering them, and finding synergies between what the project needed and what the individual had to contribute.

Thomas Cagley: Project or program managers need to be able to listen, communicate, motivate and learn. All of these skills can be learned. Read everything you can get your hands on: blogs, books and journals. Listen to podcasts. Physically go to conferences and local, project manager meet-ups. I often attend meet-ups with project managers that use different techniques than I do. Seeing and listening to different methods make you re-examine your opinions and practices.

In order to get better at managing and leading projects (or even to stay current) you have to be committed to continuous learning. After their first success, I often see newly minted project managers fall into the trap of the curse of knowledge (a filter that blocks the ability to think about a topic from a different and generally less-informed perspective). The curse leads these project managers into the belief that they have found the single path to project management success, and they stop seeking new knowledge and techniques. In the long run they either get over that hurdle or they get out of the business. An adage that I live by is that if you are managing projects the same way you did last year you are doing a disservice to yourself, your team and your sponsor.

Jerry Ihejirika: They need to have good communication, listening and leadership skills. If you can properly communicate a message to anyone, be it the project sponsor or your team member, then you’ll be a good project manager. Also, no matter how experienced or knowledgeable you are as a project manager, you need to be able to listen. It’s the only way you’re really going to find out what’s going on in your organization or team, and it’s the only way that you’ll ever learn to be a better manager. And for the leadership skill, I will say project management and project leadership go hand-in-hand. If your team members listen to you, understand your message and follow you in the direction you want them to go, then you will be a good project leader. Watching, monitoring and learning from experienced and successful project managers in your organization or team and complementing it by reading good books that teach these core skills is one of the sure ways of learning these skills. You also need to practise them at any opportune time.

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