What project manager skills, traits, characteristics, attributes behaviours, techniques, make a difference in successfully managing projects. Most respondents easily generated four to five items which they believed made the difference between average and superior project performance. The result was nearly 1400 statements. These statements were summarised into six skill areas.
Eighty four percent of the respondents mentioned “being a good communicator” as an essential project manager skill. Being persuasive or being able to sell one’s ideas was frequently mentioned as a characteristic of a good communicator within the project management context. Many people also cited the importance of receiving information, or good listening skills. As one systems engineer exclaimed: “The good project managers manage not by the seat of their pants but by the soles of their feet!”
Organisational skills represented a second major set of competencies.
Characteristics included in this category were planning and goal setting abilities, along with the ability to be analytical. The ability to prioritize, captured in the phrases “stays on track” and “keeps the project goals in perspective,” was also identified as significant.
While successful project managers were viewed as good problem solvers, what really differentiated them from their so-so counterparts was their problem finding ability. Because of their exceptional communication skills, goal clarity and planning, effective project managers were aware of issues before they became problems. Problem finding gave them greater degrees of freedom, enabling them to avoid being seriously side-tracked by problems caused by unforeseen events.
The important team building skills involved developing empathetic relationships with other members of the project team. Being sensitive to the needs of others, motivating people, and building a strong sense of team spirit were identified as essential for effectively managing a project. “The best project managers use a lot of ‘we’ statements in describing the project, “wrote one computer programmer. Being clear about the project’s objectives and subsequently breaking down the project into its component parts. (E.g. schedules) helped project participants to understand their interdependencies and the need for team work.
Several different attributes and behaviours were catalogued under leadership skills. These included setting a good example, seeing the big picture, being enthusiastic, having a positive outlook, taking initiative, and trusting people. Having a vision is closely related to goal clarity. The leadership component of this competency was best expressed by one financial analyst as “the ability to see the forest for the trees”.
Since, as is often lamented, the only constant in managing a project is change, successful project managers require coping or stress-management skills. Respondents indicated that both flexibility and creativity were involved in effectively dealing (or coping) with change, as were patience and persistence. What project manager’s experience are generally high levels of stress. How well they handle stress (grace under pressure) significantly affects their eventual success or failure.
The final cluster of skills was labelled technological. Successful project managers were seen as having relevant experience or knowledge about the technology required by the project. Seldom, however, were effective project managers seen as technological “experts”. Indeed expertise was often felt to be detrimental because it decreased flexibility and the willingness to consider alternate perspectives. Project managers do need to be sufficiently well versed in the technology to be able to ask the right questions because, as one senior military officer pointed out, “you’ve got to be able to know when people are blowing smoke at you.”
Project Management Skills
1. Communication Skills (84%)
2. Organisational Skills (75%)
3. Team Building Skills (72%)
• Esprit de corps
4. Leadership Skills (68%)
• Sets example
• Vision (big picture)
5. Coping Skills (59%)
6. Technical Skills (46%)
• Project knowledge
Note: the percentage numbers in parentheses represent the percentage of project managers whose response was included in this cluster.