Written by: Emily Young // Jul 14, 2020
Last updated: Jul 15, 2020
You wear so many hats in your organization, you’re starting to look like an Alice in Wonderland character. Now, a new one has been placed on your head: project manager. You may feel the urge to go mad and start hosting nonsensical tea parties. Stay calm. We’ll help you take the reins on this important task and steer it to success. With a little practice, you can harness the top four qualities of a good project manager.
Communication, Leadership, and Organization, Oh My!
According to the job search website Indeed, these are the 20 skills every project manager should have:
- Team management
- Time management
- Risk management
- Budget management
- Technical writing
- Technologically savvy
- Reporting skills
- Active listening
- Research skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Project management methodologies
- Policy knowledge
- Conflict management
Whew! With so many skills, how do you know which to cultivate first?
The Top 4 Qualities
To narrow this down, we talked to Anthony Buchanan, an instructor in USF’s project management program. Buchanan’s course is designed for people who are thrown into a new project management role, especially professionals who – like you – are already wearing multiple hats. That means his list of key qualities comprises practical skills that anyone can master.
Understanding the psychology of people is “just as important as being able to manage the processes,” Buchanan said.
Take the time to get to know your colleagues: their interests, skills, and needs. As a good leader, you should “adjust how you work with people based on their personalities.” That means going beyond the golden rule (treating people how you’d like to be treated). Instead, embrace the platinum rule, which means you “work with people how they want to be worked with, not how you would like to be worked with,” Buchanan said.
Developing your interpersonal skills will help you get buy-in for your project. According to this (lightly edited) excerpt from an article in the Project Management Institute, getting buy-in involves:
- Exercising communication skills
- Influencing (ability to guide and influence stakeholders, creating change in the organization)
- Getting support from upper management
- Building and maintaining relationships
- Delighting both customers and management consistently
- Developing strong relationships with business and technical teams
- Building public relations
- Understanding top management
Your job is all about effective communication – from motivating team members to leading presentations. Learn how to:
- Match colleagues’ conversation styles. Do they like chatting? Start with small talk before jumping into the project details. Do they prefer just the facts, ma’am? Then keep your updates short and sweet. Understanding how your team members like to communicate is all part of the platinum rule, Buchanan said.
- Keep an open mind, Buchanan said. When team members brainstorm ideas and solutions, actively listen and make them feel heard.
- Clarify goals with management. If your supervisor gives you vague guidelines (i.e., that a project should “increase revenue”), nail down specifics, Buchanan said. By exactly what percentage should revenue be increased? How can you measure success? Keep asking follow-up questions until you understand the intended outcomes.
- Negotiate. When you’re given an unrealistic timeline or scope, you need to know how to reach a compromise.
- Always be clear and honest. “You may feel the need to hedge your language, especially to soften bad news,” explains this Washington Post article on project management tips. “Don’t fall into this trap. It’s better to be upfront about setbacks immediately, rather than set unrealistic goals that won’t come to fruition.”
To keep projects running smoothly, you need to stay organized:
- Explore tools such as project management software, worksheets, checklists, and templates.
- Keep careful records. “You may not think that brief email from a team member is important now, but trust me, there is nothing worse than being in a meeting and having to explain you deleted a resource that may be vital to the project,” explained this project management intern for The New York Times.
- Make a plan. Buchanan cites this quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”
The acronym SMART can help you with planning, Buchanan said.
- Scope: Communicate with the sponsor of the project (usually your boss) to determine the scope.
- Measurement: Define what you are measuring. (If your boss wants you to boost company morale, you may need to do a survey of employee satisfaction before and after the project is complete.)
- Affect: Ask yourself whom the project will affect. Include representatives from those groups in your team. (For example, you probably want to work with human resources if you’re trying to improve employee morale.)
- Realistic: Check to make sure what you propose is doable.
- Time: Check to see whether you have the time, money, and resources to do the project.
Good leaders know how to admit when a project isn’t going the way they expected. “Take responsibility for your actions. If there’s a mistake, don’t try to cover it up. Let everybody know that there’s a mistake,” Buchanan said.
Owning your own mistakes also helps employees feel more comfortable bringing problems to your attention. The Harvard Business Review cites the example of a company that changed its perception of failure: “People were so afraid about losing their job that they weren’t able to do their job properly. When senior leadership started normalizing failure, employees felt more comfortable flagging when things were going off track – and working out how to fix them.”
Congratulations! You’ve learned some good project management skills today, but there’s much more to explore. Check out these articles to dive deeper into the field of project management:
- 6 Tips for Delegating Effectively in Project Management
- 5 Reasons to Become a Project Manager
- How to Become a Freelance Project Manager
- Project Management Jobs and Career Opportunities
Taking on a new role is always stressful, but we’ve got your back. If you’d like to master more tools, you may be interested in our Designated Project Manager course. In just four days, you’ll learn the skills to embrace your new project management responsibilities and become an asset to your company. You’ve got this!