Are you looking for the right skills in your project managers?

What would be the number one skill you would associate with a great project manager? Organisation? Risk management? Cost control? How about leadership? I’m not just talking about leading other project professionals. I’m talking about highly developed, broadly applicable leadership skills. The kind of skills you look for in your senior management team. Do you look for those? Because you should.

Project managers are placed in a uniquely challenging position in organisations. They are expected to deliver across multiple organisational boundaries, bringing together stakeholders who may never have worked together before. They work outside of the established organisational hierarchy, often having to influence and challenge members of staff far higher in the pecking order. By viewing our project managers as leaders of change we give them the authority and, importantly, we invest in their development, to enable them to succeed in their roles and for the organisation.

So what skills am I really talking about? There is endless debate and enough books to fill a library about what makes a great leader. The one thing we can probably all agree on is that there is no definitive, tick them off and you’ve cracked it, list. But there are some common themes that are particularly relevant in a project or change setting.

Your brilliant project manager is:

  • a great communicator: able to actively listen and demonstrate empathy; able to influence, negotiate, explain, translate and inform.

  • a team builder: not just any old team builder. A builder of diverse, disparate groups of people who may have never worked together before: who may not want or have chosen to work together. A team that most likely has members of varying levels of seniority and interest in the goal (if they can agree what that goal is)*.

  • committed: absolutely, 100% committed to delivery and will go all in to achieve it.

  • positive and optimistic: in the face of resistance, challenge, set-backs and surprises.

  • creative and willing to take risks: always prepared and ready to find alternatives, stretch the thinking and take informed risks to achieve the end goal.

  • someone who acts with courage and confidence: is prepared to have the difficult conversation; to enter a room of disgruntled stakeholders and face the music; to name the elephant in the room.

  • someone who builds trust through operating with honesty and integrity: through their words, acts and deeds on a daily basis.

These are not skills that can be picked up through the newest software or by studying the latest methodology and yet they are essential to successful delivery of change. Are you investing in them enough?

* if you're interested in the challenges of managing multi-disciplinary teams, you can

read my blog post on it here.

Caroline Doran is a project consultant working with organisations at times of change and transition. She is particularly interested in the opportunities working with change gives us to develop and grow both individually and organisationally.

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