Project management roles are not one-size-fits-all. They span a variety of industries, and each role is unique to its company. However, most roles still require the same skills for success. Whether you’re mastering the agile workflow with a web development project or utilizing kanban boards with a creative, your foundational skill set likely remains the same. The following five foundational project management skills are sure to set you and your team up for success.
1. Leadership and Team Management
Set the tone. To successfully manage the project from start to finish, you need to confidently lead the team as both a motivator and support system.
Lead through goal setting. As a project manager, keep client goals top of mind when scheduling work. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and scheduling and lose focus of the overall project goal. However, if you lead by example and keep that goal top of conversation during internal collaborative meetings, day-to-day communication, and client discussions, it’s going to benefit both the internal team and the project as a whole.
Lead with support and accountability. Everyone works differently, and you learn that very quickly as a project manager. This means that you may have two identical projects but each project will operate differently if you have two unique teams. You need to learn to manage the various ways in which different team members do their best work.
This may mean that one team member works in a linear fashion, one prioritizes hard tasks first, one works best collaborating with a team, and one prefers to work as a lone wolf. It’s not your job to tell someone how to work. It is your job, however, to give them the tools and information they need to be set up for success, do their best work, and hold them accountable to that standard.
Communication is at the core of every project management role you’ll take on. It’s all in the details: Slack messages, g-chats, phone calls, emails, video calls. The way that you communicate with your colleagues and clients through these avenues can make all the difference.
As a project manager, the details outlined within communication can be the difference between a task being done correctly or incorrectly. You need to effectively convey both the small details within a task and the big picture details of an overall project. When in doubt, always over-communicate.
Outside of internal communication, you can’t expect clients to know or understand what the internal team has done without sharing those details. When communicating with clients, take the time to communicate big-picture wins with the work that’s been done by the team.
3. Expectation Setting
Alongside leading a team through effective communication, you need to set proper expectations for the project. Resource management, time management, and scheduling all come into play here.
What needs to be completed? Who can complete it? And when can it be completed?
Before you can set expectations, you need to take a realistic look at the project workload, the team, and existing schedules. Rarely, if ever, will a project fit exactly into the perfect schedule. Once you accept that, it makes things a little less stressful. Being honest with yourself, your internal team, and clients about what can get done and when is going to make everyone’s life easier in the long run.
You’ll find if you give yourself and your team the appropriate amount of time to do the great work they’re capable of doing, the quality will shine through.
4. Problem Solving
You’ve heard it before: Work smarter, not harder. It’s wise to take this approach as a project manager when faced with the inevitable obstacles that come your way.
You’ll be tested with countless scenarios where there’s not a clear answer or outcome. Don’t overcomplicate things. If you’re not sure where to start, ask for help. Don’t feel like you need to shoulder the burden yourself.
Conversely, if you notice a teammate is struggling and it’s outside of your day-to-day role, step in and get familiar with their workload so you can lend a hand. Utilize the tools at your disposal, as well as your colleagues, to maneuver through situations that initially may seem unsolvable. Don’t be afraid to break the standard process in order to get something done. It’s more important to pivot and find a solution, even if it’s working outside of your comfort zone.
5. Negotiation and Flexibility
Negotiation and flexibility go hand in hand with problem solving. You may have the next month of work scheduled perfectly and then you hop on a client call and priorities have shifted and everything needs to be rearranged.
As a project manager, you will constantly be trading off one task for another, re-prioritizing, and negotiating internally and externally in order to hit a deadline. You’ll often have conflicting workloads where something is a priority for the client, for example, but won’t really move the needle in terms of performance. You’ll also run into instances where you need to trade off one client’s work for another to meet a deadline or deliver on a high-priority item.
The key to success is to be flexible. Understand that when you set a schedule, 90% of the time, it’s going to shift.
Every role and team is unique, but if you keep these five core skills top of mind, you’ll find it will make you that much more efficient as a project manager and that much more reliable as a resource for your clients and internal team.
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