There’s an “it” factor that some people have for a role. You’ll hear words like “natural,” “born project manager,” or “s/he has the it factor” thrown around. But they’re not true. There are skills and talents that go into seeming like a natural, and anyone can develop them with some work and focus. There are five qualities all successful project managers exhibits.
1. Organization Skills
Successful project managers are organized, and they’re organizers. “Let’s just wing this” is not in the vocabulary of someone who is meticulous! Organizing projects starts with planning. Project plans are so much more than delegating tasks, or creating a Gantt chart. A good project plan creates a structure for the project and the team – it creates responsibility, instead of a hierarchy. It creates procedures and organizes workflows. With this structure in place, a good project manager then ensures proper documentation of everything, and files it accordingly. Communication channels across the team, and the organization as a whole, are designed and implemented. When things are organized, the project manager shines.
Pro Tip: Want to get organized, fast? Treat the project as if you were training someone else into the role. How would you explain things to them? What would you want them to do if you were their supervisor?
2. Technology Proficiency
Today’s business world accelerates at a breakneck speed. Ten years ago, the Apple app store first opened. The first Android phone was released. Flash memory replaced hard drives for the iPod. If you’re not keeping up, you’ll be left behind in a hurry. Proficiency isn’t just about typical workspace hardware, or even software. What is a novelty today is a KPI of tomorrow! Successful project managers keep up with the changes in the tech world, and look to incorporate new technology into their practice. New tools for project managers open up all the time. Better communication tools are available, that can streamline team operations. Find them, learn them, and flourish – when companies come looking for someone who knws the new platform, you vault to the head of the pack.
Pro Tip: Open trial accounts with every project management tool you find, and familiarize yourself with them. You’ll hit the ground running no matter what system is in place – and you can find yourself an asset when the company is looking for a tool to use.
This doesn’t seem like a skill, at first glance, but it’s an important one. Ambiguity is the enemy of success in project management. Goals and milestones need to be as specific as possible. Communication with clients and stakeholders has to be as specific as possible, too. Ambiguity leads to scope creep, to delays, and to demoralized teams. Specificity requires critical thinking, and a healthy wielding of Ockham’s Razor. “When you say X, do you mean Y, or Z? Or something else?” is a constant question – whether it’s being asked to a team member about task progress, or to management about resource allocation, or to a client about their expectations. Successful project managers know how to cut through ambiguity, and make sure everything is crystal clear.
Pro Tip: Specificity starts with your own communications. Make sure your deadlines are communicated, your expectations understood, and that everyone is on the same page throughout.
Things change. Rigidity in a fluid world is a problem! Project planning, and project management, require a level of flexibility built into them. If something goes wrong, there needs to be another path forward waiting. Your morning commute routing app has three choices for you to pick from, and while they all get you to the same place, they allow for contingency planning when necessary. Successful project managers have a vision, and they account for multiple ways of getting there. They closed Fourteenth Street? No problem, we’ll take Memorial Road. The supplier shut the plant? No problem, we’ll switch suppliers and work on the marketing materials in the meantime.
Pro Tip: Design your project plans and your contingency/change management plans together – and your risk management plan almost writes itself.
Leadership skills are paramount for the successful project manager. Motivation, providing an example, vision, delegation – these are skills every leader has. Project managers are leaders, not bureaucrats! Your team needs to be motivated, it needs an example that shows them the right way to do things, it needs to know what to do, and everyone needs a vision of what they’re doing, and why. It always starts at the top. If you’re motivated, your team is. If you show up each day and put in the effort, they will too. If you don’t have any vision, your team is blind. Be a leader, not a Gantt chart manager.
Pro Tip: Leaders give responsibility – empower your team, and show them you trust them, and they’ll go to battle along with you. Micromanage them, and demand their effort while you don’t put in yours, and you’ll never finish your project.