The best project managers are those who consistently deliver, on time and within budget, projects that meet or exceed stakeholders' expectations. Those project managers understand that leadership and people skills are even more important to good project management than a sound methodology and project tracking tools, says Fumi Kondo, managing director of Intellilink, a management consulting and training company that specializes in technology implementations.
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"The more experienced project managers understand that if you don't get the people side of project management, it doesn't matter how good your methodology or your tools are," says Kondo. "If you're not managing your users, sponsor or stakeholders, you could deliver on budget, but you might not meet their needs, and they'll say they're not satisfied."
So what soft skills are necessary to become a top-notch project manager? Kondo's firm analyzed the skill sets of both its own best project managers and those of its clients and came up with the following six attributes.
1. They possess the gift of foresight. Good project managers are able to anticipate and head off problems that can jeopardize deadlines, budgets and user acceptance.
2. They're organized. Organization seems like an obvious characteristic of a star project manager, but it manifests itself in a variety of ways, including in an ability to stay focused on the big picture and to prioritize competing responsibilities. "In most projects, there are so many things that have to get done that it's hard to stay on top of everything and in control of everything," says Kondo. "Being able to prioritize work for your team is a critical aspect of what a project manager has to do."
3. They know how to lead. Project managers have to interact with and influence a variety of stakeholders including their project teams and project sponsors. Since many project team members don't report directly to the project manager, the project manager has to find ways to motivate workers over whom they have no direct influence and who can make or break a project. Project managers also need to be able to inspire the confidence of stakeholders and sponsors in the event the budget or timeline needs to be renegotiated or additional resources are needed to complete the project.
4. They're good communicators. Successful project managers effectively use e-mail, meetings and status reports to communicate their ideas, get decisions made and resolve problems, says Kondo. They also understand that they need to discuss their project in the context of whatever is most important to their audience, she adds.
5. They're pragmatic. Sometimes project managers can be too analytical, says Kondo. "They analyze things to do death before they move ahead," she notes, which slows progress on a project. Good project managers focus on getting work done with the resources available to them.
6. They're empathetic. "Project managers rely on others to be successful," says Kondo. She adds that project managers can't effectively influence others if they don't understand what motivates their stakeholders. They need to learn stakeholders' concerns about a project, take those concerns seriously and address them.