Beyond Technical Skills Training…
Too often the training project managers receive is focused on technical skills – cost management, quality management, risk management – specifically the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®). Yes, you need that knowledge to do your job (and to pass the certification exams.) But you need more – you need to understand the softer side of project management.
The best project managers are the ones who can do the following successfully:
- Pull together a group of individuals and create a cohesive, high performing team 
- Motivate team members when the project is running into difficulty – over budget, resources pulled, stakeholders unavailable, etc. – not just when all is great on the project
- Make decisions for the good of the project – even if it means telling the stakeholders or the project sponsor something they don’t want to hear
- Understand the political environment and culture of the business in which they work and which touches the project
- Influence others to work toward a common goal and accomplish the objectives of the project
- Communicate both in writing and orally throughout the organization
- Provide learning opportunities  for their project team members through new assignments and challenging tasks
- Negotiate with anyone to reach the project goals
- Manage stressful situations calmly and composed – they don’t react without thinking
As you can see from the list above (which is not a complete list by any stretch), project managers need training in the soft skills – communication, negotiation, team leadership, etc. There comes a point when training in the technical skills just isn’t worth the time and investment any longer. Certainly if there are changes in how to manage risk or new EVMS formulas, you want to upgrade your project managers’ skills in those areas, but otherwise – focus on the people management side of project management.
There also comes a point, as project managers climb the ladder and move into a leadership role within the organization (or are ready to do so) that training alone is insufficient and probably no longer worth the effort. Even in the soft skills. You can only take so many classes before there is no difference between one and the other. In this case the learning has not ended (let’s be honest…learning is a constant throughout our lives) – it just changes.
I have found that there is a certain point – for your more senior project management staff – where coaching is an effective way for them to continue to develop their skills and get the guidance they need from someone who has "been there and done that." Coaching is frequently provided to high potential employees or others on track for a management role, but it is rarely provided to project managers at a senior level. What a mistake! The potential for project managers to take on more senior roles within an organization is great! Consider providing your more senior project managers – those who excel at what they do – with a coach from one of the business units or from outside the organization to continue to develop their leadership skills. Similarly, have your project managers provide coaching to the more junior project team members. What better way to share their knowledge and frankly continue to develop their own skills than by helping develop those coming up the ranks behind them.
It’s a new year! What better way to start off right then by providing soft skills training and coaching to your project managers to help them continue to strengthen their skills, expand their knowledge and take on the many challenges that face organizations in today’s global, competitive marketplace.
Your thoughts? Please share in the Comments field below.
Happy New Year!