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5 Essential Skills Every Project Manager Must Have

Every project manager must have these five skills if (s)he is going to be successful in the project management role in today’s world.

  1. Strong communication skills: The ability to communicate across the organization is a key skill. You’ll need to be able to effectively communicate – verbally and in written format – with every level of employee. You’ll also need to be able to communicate effectively with individuals from a different cultural background. I have found that getting to know those individuals you’ll be communicating with is essential for successful communications. You need to understand how people want to be communicated with, how much they want to know and when. I have often found that, when I pass a client in the hallway of their office, they sometimes want me to brief them right then and there!  Be prepared! You can better learn how to communicate with individuals when you build strong relationships with them; which leads us to…
  2. Build strong relationships: The ability to build strong long-term relationships with others within and external to the organization is key to successfully managing projects. The best project managers develop relationships before they need them. Get to know others – introduce yourself and learn about them, share ideas, thoughts, best practices.  If there are individuals I know I may be working with at some point, I try to get out to lunch with them or coffee so we can get to know each other on a personal level. If individuals I’m working with are coming from half way around the globe and we may never meet, I try to hold a virtual session with them so that we can “meet” via computer and get to know each other that way.
  3. Cultural understanding: Too often we think that only individuals who are born outside of the United States and recently relocated here, or are here temporarily working on a project, have a different cultural background than we do. Not true. Remember that there are so many different cultures represented in the United States and for many people, while at home – they speak their native language and observe cultural practices. I find it fascinating to learn about others and what is the “norm” for their culture.  It ties back to helping me build relationships with them. When I know where they are coming from – I can more easily understand them and work with them. And let’s not forget that given today’s global, virtual environment for many companies – often we are working with individuals from around the world. Which leads us to…
  4. The ability to manage global teams: It seems that working on a global virtual team is the norm for many project managers these days. What is essential – and requires a bit of planning and flexibility – is figuring out how to work effectively when your team is not co-located and you are working with individuals from a variety of time zones. Too often those team members with the most members from their location seem to “win,” in that meetings are usually scheduled convenient for them. Don’t let this happen on your teams! Alternate times for meetings so that everyone has a “reasonable” meeting time at some point during the project duration. In addition to managing meetings, frequently you are not able to actually meet in person the team you will be leading when members are coming from all over the globe. If your company does allow an initial meeting with everyone in the same location to kick-off the project – don’t hesitate to take the opportunity. But let’s assume you cannot get everyone together – consider a virtual format – maybe Skype or another platform, using cameras so you can see each other – to “meet.” It’s always nice to put a face with a name. A team introductory meeting (see a previous blog post for some ideas: Kicking off the Project Team) is a great way to get to know each other on a personal and professional level. And you may also be interested in a past post on working with team members from other countries. Managing global teams requires much more time on your part in building strong relationships and really understanding the skills the team members bring to the project. Trusting others to do their job is essential – you can’t oversee every single activity being accomplished when the team is spread out. And frankly, you shouldn’t be doing this anyway as a project manager!
  5. Business acumen: Understanding the business in which you are working is a necessity to be successful. The best project managers have business acumen. Business acumen is having an understanding of the business to be able to make good decisions and good judgment calls. Want to be seen as a leader? Know how every project ties into the business’s strategic goals. By understanding this, you are better able to make decisions on your projects to ensure they are successful and will meet the needs of the business and the stakeholders. Start today by meeting with key executives in the business – learn about the business from them. Where do they see the business today? Where will it be in 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? The more you know, the better a project manager you are.

No doubt you could add to this list of “must have” skills.  What would you add?