When you attend training in the project management
disciplines, chances are that you learn the "hard" skills.
Project management training courses focus on the mechanics
of project management such as PERT diagrams and Finish-Start
dependencies. You will learn how to use MS-Project® and the
importance of keeping your project plan current. After you
have mastered the hard skills, you should go ahead and
obtain a certification to demonstrate your project
management proficiency with an industry standard
certification such as the PMP®.
You know that project managers are often in leadership
positions and therefore training in soft skills such as
negotiation and time management will help you to keep your
project ship-shape. These soft skills are easily identified
and training courses are readily available if you are
willing to put forth some effort.
However, the skills that distinguish you from the herd are
not hard nor soft skills. The skills that allow you to stand
out from the crowd are not learned in traditional training
courses. These are the softer skills. My research shows that
the most successful project managers demonstrate the softer
skills through these behaviors.
1. "Fire in the Belly". The best project managers
take ownership of the project, versus normal project
managers who merely manage projects professionally. The
subtle difference makes all the difference. Pay attention to
your behavior, and the behavior of fellow project managers.
When the going is tough, who "owns" their project? Who is
merely managing projects professionally?
2. Bring passion to your project. Show everybody that
you are bringing energy to your project, inspiring your
project team and leading it to success. With global project
teams, you no longer demonstrate passion by "being the first
one in the office and the last one to leave". There is
always someone in the office before you and always someone
working when you leave so don't obsess about outdated norms
of office hours. Demonstrate your passion for your project
by always being ready to discuss status in a positive light,
share successes with your team and enjoy the ride. Don't
allow yourself or your team to fall into the trap of
mindlessly completing project documentation for the purpose
of storing electronic files. Let your passion for your
project shine through.
3. Solve problems. When a problem comes your way,
break it down into component pieces and gather the right
people together to facilitate discussions and a resolution.
My experience is that project problems cannot be solved by a
single person - if they could be solved by a single person,
then the problem would probably not have come to you as the
project manager. Somebody would have already solved it. The
keys to solving a problem are:
- Clearly identify the problem. Make sure that all
stakeholders agree on the problem statement.
- Identify the constraints to the problem. Get agreement
that you have the facts straight.
- Facilitate solutions with the right people in the meeting.
Don't attempt to solve a project sponsor issue with
technical resources who do not have the authority to make
meaningful decisions. Similarly, don't attempt to solve
technical problems with project sponsors in a meeting.
4. Always be ready to sell your project. Be ready to
present your project to outsiders in the best possible
light, and sell it so that people want to work on your
project. Make sure that you have something positive to say
when you are in a meeting and asked "How is your project
going?". The hidden benefit is that you are also selling
yourself to executives and senior managers in the process.
5. Realize, and promote the value of your project.
Projects are not sponsored so that more paperwork can be
completed. Projects are funded and launched because the
resulting value is greater than the cost of the project.
What is the value of your project? Will your project save
the company money? How much money? Will your project result
in a new product or service? Instead of describing your
project in terms of "Multimillion dollar website", can you
describe your project as "delivering new benefits to 30,000
6. Grow all the time. Encourage your team members to
take on new responsibilities. Mentor them in the new roles
and in the softer skills. Seek out a mentor in your
organization who can help you to develop softer skills. Hire
a professional coach to stretch you and keep you growing.
You can't afford to keep on doing the same old, same old.
Your competitors will leave you in the dust.
7. Build professional relationships.
I have kept the best for last. Go out of your way to
get to know the people on your project team, your project
sponsors and as many stakeholders as you can. It is easier
to work with people that you know. it is easier for people
to work with you when they know you. You will spend many
hours at work interacting with your project team members and
stakeholders. Make the journey more pleasant by getting to
know them and allowing them to get to know you. Take people
out to lunch. Sit down and have coffee with them. One of the
critical keys in being able to solve problems (see point 3
above), is your relationships that allow you to pick up the
phone and call someone who can help solve a problem for you.
The ultimate payoff is for her to pick up the phone and take