Real Skillset needed for Project Management: My 2 cents

In my one year of work experience as a Project Manager, I came across many challenges and obstacles that I would like to share with you.  I would also like to share the skillsets that are required in order to become a successful Project Manager based on my personal experience.

My company has a hybrid (matrix) structure where functional managers are solely responsible for managing employees and project managers are responsible for managing projects.  As we have learned in class, the main responsibilities of project manager are to manage project’s schedule, budget, and performance.  These are the 3 main “pillars” tracked by upper management in order to determine the success of any project.  In order to maintain a balance in these “pillars”, the project manager needs to have outstanding communication skills.  He needs to have a leadership personality to attract desired talent in his project.  He needs to create an exposure and a strong relationship with other functional and project managers in order to pull in desired resources at the right time and at the right place.  With efficient and desired resources, the project can be easily run on-time and within budget.  He also needs to maintain a long-lasting relationship with other supporting departments (such as Material Procurement, Security, IT, etc.), so that help is immediately available when needed without any “showstoppers”.

The project manager needs to be a team-player and team-builder.  He needs to have a well-rounded technical knowledge about the project, so that he can even temporarily fill-in for any team member when needed to move the project forward in any circumstances.  He needs to build and maintain his own team, ensuring that sufficient resources are available from one project to another.  I typically work on the engineering projects involving a team of software, hardware/electrical, systems, mechanical, and design engineers.   It is important to build a team with the right skillset to cover all areas in different projects.  When leading a team, the project manager also needs to create a right balance in “strictness” and “softness”.  When managing project resources, he cannot be too strict so that no one would want to work for him.  At the same time, he cannot be too soft so that no one gets the work done on-time and within budget.

Last but not the least, the project manager should also be able to monitor future/anticipated project needs and resolve them upfront.  He needs to be able to look at the project from “few feet ahead” and immediately works on satisfying future needs (especially the long-lead items) in order to avoid any anticipated delays.

Over all, the project management requires a unique leadership skills and the right balance in communication, personality, and future predictions to run high-performance projects on-time and within budget.

Here are few references that I found that might also help you:

Few Questions to consider:

1) How does Project Management environment differ at your workplace?

2) What other skillset you might think can also improve your career on the path to project management?

3) What other key challenges  (not included in this post) might be faced by a project manager?

8 thoughts on “Real Skillset needed for Project Management: My 2 cents

  1. When I was a consultant we utilized managing consultants to serve as both a project manager and a functional manager. The managing consultant assigned to me staffed me on his projects as well as managed my personal development. It made sense that he was my direct manager since he worked with me on a daily basis and could understand my developmental areas.

    I believe that having experience in managing people is a crucial skillset to have for advancing my career path in project management. As a project manager, you are faced with managing teams of individuals on a daily basis for weeks on end. Each person is different and requires a different management approach. It is important to understand individual needs and how each person can contribute to the success of a project. Being fair and responsive will help foster a more conducive project environment.

    I feel that organizational politics is another key challenge faced by project managers. Sometimes it is difficult to complete projects because company politics at the client level can create some bottleneck effects during the project especially with various executives having silo mindsets to protect their own areas. Also, sometimes your own company’s politics can play a role in inhibiting future project proposals because a VP prefers to not get involved in a certain business because of his own bias.

  2. I completely agree with your assessment that while the documented role of the PM is to control and manage the schedule, budget and performance, probably the most important trait to getting anything done , especially in larger organizations, are your soft skills. I work in a very large pharmaceutical services company and everything is driven by process , as I would expect of big companies. A project manager has to take the project through different gates such as requirements gate, design gate and deploy gate where the project status, budget and performance is tracked. Our teams are widely dispersed between the US, Ireland and India. It is tough for a PM to manage such a diverse team, where diversity is not just in skill sets but language, accent, culture etc. My role is that of technical lead in these projects. The PM came across as friendly but firm, showed flexibility as long as there were alternatives to meeting deadlines, never lost his cool during the project implementation, never hesitated to go the extra mile to learn some of the technology that powered the site, and never hesitated in reaching out to other businesses (within the company) to escalate matters that would protect the team and its deliverable. I think the PM’s attitude played a key role in motivating the dispersed team and deliver a difficult project on time.

  3. 1) How does Project Management environment differ at your workplace?
    Project management in my office is very top down structured. Upper management decides the projects we are going to do in IT or operations and it gets passed down a long list of managers to finally what I call the action level (the employees really getting the work done). It is a lot of management keeping tabs on the course of the project. It is quite interesting, in IT there is a very formal project management team. There is a director, a manager, and several team members, but in operations there isn’t really a formal project manager per say, but still a team leader and several operations employees specifically picked based on the project at hand.

    2) What other skillset you might think can also improve your career on the path to project management?
    Personally I do not have an interest in becoming a formal project manager, but I understand that I will have to use it in some form in my goal to being in upper management. I feel my biggest issue is giving in too easily to team members needs, a lot of times someone may be falling behind and instead of trying to motivate that person I put their task on myself which buries me. I need to be able to better motivate those working under me to ensure they complete their tasks, or delegate their tasks if they truly are falling behind just because it is too much work.

    3) What other key challenges (not included in this post) might be faced by a project manager?
    How to manage the pressure of upper management is for sure a challenge many project managers will face. What we discussed in class in regards to multiple projects going on at the same time and a team member being pulled into multiple project’s, how to manage that members time. I think you hit on one of the most important challenges in your blog though managing team members emotions, knowing when to be “soft or strict.”

  4. I think the greatest skill that a PM needs at my workplace is the ability to constantly adapt. Being a family run business, the family ultimately has the final say is most projects. Knowing this, the family also has a habit of constantly changing their minds about the scope of projects. This creates a difficult situation for PMs, therefore it is of the upmost importance for them to be able to adjust on the fly, deal with scope creep, and be very, very patient.

  5. I like the comment about “strictness” and “softness” and couldn’t agree more. This is a very difficult line to figure out, and each project and group of team members require a different mix. Of the many essential skills of an effective project manager, I have found those that are the most successful have the unique ability to figure this out quickly for each project. Strong leaders need to have all of the technical skills as well, but just as important is the ability to empathize and motivate team members on an individual basis – not an easy task!

  6. When I interviewed a PM at my company, I learned of his seven key skills to all project managers. The one he talks about the most is the desire for that person to build relationships in addition to PM skill. Do they like people, do they like engagement, do they like the chase of the project and the good and bad of people engagement? He sited this as one of the fundamental traits. The seven skills David highlights are business skills, system integration, enterprise technology, technical basics, familiarity with legacy systems, collaborate locally and globally and project management. The ability to know and build business value is the other method. I did like his views on the role seeing that he is now a manager (may be my next boss). Check out his deck.

  7. 1. During my consulting days, the project management environment was a hybrid approach as well since we had project managers that we reported to on a workstream basis as well as functional managers that were dedicated to our personal development and daily job tasks.

    2. I think time management, interpersonal and organization skills are very important as well. The project manager needs to be able to manage tight deadlines under pressure and with authority. It is important to meet project completion expectations while satisfying key client deliverables. Having interpersonal skills lets the project manager build more successful relationships with team members and creates a more collaborative working environment. Finally, organizational skills allow the project manager to keep everyone aligned on project expectations and not to stray from scope. Creating a focused environment leads to quick wins and more efficiencies.

    3. I think internal politics and bureaucracy are another challenge faced by project managers. Sometimes favoritism plays a role in selecting project teams and can be driven by senior leadership because of their rapport with certain employees. Also, sometimes senior leaders will change project expectations because of their ties to the client. It is important that the project manager is aware of internal politics that can hinder and/or adjust project work.

  8. Maks, I definitely agree with your third point. I work in an environment filled with project managers. I often hear from half of them about the challenges they face due to politics and bureaucracy. For our projects, it isn’t so much about who is assigned to which project, but more so about how some of them receive preferential treatments while others struggle for help.

    Some of our project managers or salesman will often speak directly to the senior management and asked for the best freelancers or staff to be assigned to their projects. Senior management has often accepted those requests and move staff from one project to another. The drawback of these changes are that some project managers are always working harder than others in completing a project. If they are spending their time training outside freelancers or hired staff on how to complete a certain task vs. having someone in house that knows how to do it, they will eventually be frustrated. This also doesn’t allow the project managers to deliver the top quality service to the client as they don’t have the best talent available.

    Of course everyone realizes that every project cannot have the best staff since we can’t afford to have such a large pool of in house staff. But many feel that this should be based on first come first served basis, vs. the favorites being allowed to pick the cream of the crop leaving the others to struggle at the last minute.

    Similar issue arises when deciding whether to rent gear that we’re going to use on our projects or to use the in-house equipment that our staff is well trained with. Once again, the politics kick in and those liked be senior management are given access to the in-house equipment while others have to sub-rent gear from outside vendors. Not only does this force them to work with equipment they might not be well trained on, but also hurts that overall margins as the commissions are based on the total margins from a job.

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