What It Takes to Excel as a Project Manager
It’s a tough job being a project manager. You may have to deal with stubborn sponsors, distracted team members, scheming stakeholders, and business cases that raise more questions than they answer. You may also have to put up with a demanding boss, customers who want the project done yesterday, and team members who get sick at the worst possible time. You have to attend meetings and more meetings. Oh, yes, and then there’s the project politics. The list of things project managers have to contend with is mighty long.
But that’s not all. Aside from all the project management skills you need to excel as a project manager, such as setting and resetting priorities, establishing schedules, and meeting milestones, you need to be able to ask good questions, manage conflict, and communicate clearly, completely, and concisely.
You also need to be able to view problems as challenges, look for the reasons behind requests and actions, think in details while not losing sight of the big picture, build alliances, and give team members feedback that helps them understand what they’ve done well and what needs improvement. In other words, you have to be able to manage both the project and the people who staff the project.
And, of course, you need domain expertise. It used to be enough to have generic project management skills, but increasingly, it’s seen as important for project managers to have industry and solution skills. It’s not impossible to manage a banking, health care, or manufacturing project without background in those areas, but it’s much harder. To succeed as a project manager, you have to know the questions to ask and the assumptions to challenge, and it’s tough to do that without domain expertise.
Excelling as a project manager also entails knowing what not to do, such as micromanaging, playing favorites, demeaning team members, ignoring the team, and avoiding conflict. It’s important not to heap blame on others, take all the credit for the team’s efforts, and overload the team with nonproductive tasks, especially when deadlines are looming.
Given the significant number of projects that are completed late or over budget, particularly in IT, it’s clear that there’s a cost to bad project management.
Project management isn’t for everyone. But for those who try it and take to it, it can be an immensely exciting position. No two days are the same, so there’s no opportunity to be bored. You get to meet interesting people, and with so many projects global in nature, those people are as likely to be thousands of miles away as one floor up. You get to oversee the growth of your team. You’re always learning and facing interesting challenges. And if you’ve got your eye on an eventual position as a manager, what better way to prepare?