Project Managers: Role, Skills, Qualities, Mistakes

  • Post last modified:25 June 2021
  • Reading time:10 mins read

Role of Project Manager

  1. Managing
  2. Motivation
  3. Organizing
  4. Recruitment
  5. Planning
  6. Coordinating

Managing

The term “Managing” means to have an impact on the team members so that they contribute to the organization and common goals. The project manager is occupied primarily with interpersonal aspects of management.

Managing is the ability to influence the group in terms of achieving goals. By definition, it involves followers, and people who tend to pursue those who offer ways to meet their own needs and ideas. There are different approaches and styles to management and specific methods and theories of motivation related to it.

The most popular management theories are: the theory of traits, behavioural theories, contingency (contingency models) and the modern theory of traits – charismatic leadership

Motivation

Motivation is a complex process, since there is a project management task with the imperative of realizing the objectives of the project and, on the other hand, members who want to realize their needs, demands and desires.

In short, motivation is the process of meeting team members’ needs in achieving project objectives. Otherwise, there is a tension and potential conflict, which may impair the achievement of project objectives. Scientific approach resulted in many theories on people’s behaviour in the organization and motivation.

The most common motivation theory is a theory of hierarchical needs.

Organizing

Organizing means that team members who work together to achieve some goals must have defined roles or tasks that have to be performed. The concept of the task means that team members are doing an exactly determined work with the purpose and objective and that they have the necessary information, authority and equipment to perform the tasks.

Organizing is the part of management that defines and establishes the task structure for team members within the organization.

Organizational structure is only the means for creating an environment in which to place certain activities, and is not an aim in itself.

  • Traditional organizational structures are linear and functional.
  • Bureaucratic model is a specific hierarchical model (applied in the civil administration, army, etc.), and is suitable for routine processes.
  • Modern organizational structures are functional (team), project and matrix ones.

Recruitment

Recruitment is defined as the completion and maintenance of populated places in the organizational structure. To be able to determine the need for personnel in the selected organizational structure of a particular project, a systematic approach is required, and the first step is the creation of detailed descriptions of every job in concern.

The first step is very important because all the other requirements for a particular workplace derive from it, such as qualifications, necessary experience, knowledge of techniques and tools, and so on.

The second step is equally important, and this is the choice of people for certain jobs. Selection can be done within the existing organization if it has the necessar personnel, which is favourable, or through a competition that requires more time and risk.

Planning

Planning is, by definition, selection of tasks, objectives and ways in which they could be accomplished, and it requires making decisions and choosing among the possible alternatives.

There are different types of planning, from global purpose and goals to detailed actions to be taken. Without control, planning will not provide adequate results, so it is logical that the control is actually a continuation of planning.

Coordinating

Coordinating is the project manager role that should establish harmony between the individual efforts of team members to achieve previously set goals of the entire team. Performance of any of the foregoing roles contributes significantly to the coordination.

The reason is that team members often interpret similar interests in different ways and their efforts towards common goals do not automatically fit into the efforts of others. For these reasons, the main task of project managers is to harmonize differences in access and to control and align individual objectives to contribute to the overall organization.


Skills of Project Managers

While there is a broad range of skills needed to effectively manage the people, process, and technical aspects of any project, it becomes clear there is a set of key skills that each project manager should have.

While these skill categories are not necessarily exclusive of each other, let’s group them into five categories to streamline our review and discussion:

  1. Project Management Fundamentals
  2. Business Management Skills
  3. Communication Skills
  4. Leadership Skills

Project Management Fundamentals

The “science” part of project management, covered in other topics, including office productivity suite (such as Microsoft Office, email, and so on) and project management software skills.

Business Management Skills

Those skills would be equally valuable to an “operations” or “line-of-business” manager, such as budgeting, finance, procurement, organizational dynamics, team development, performance management, coaching, and motivation.

Communication Skills

Since communication is regarded as the most important project management skill by the Project Management Institute (PMI), I feel it is important to separate these out. Skills included in this category include all written communication skills (correspondence, emails, documents), oral communication skills, facilitation skills, presentation skills, and the most valuable—active listening.

Active listening can be defined as “really listening” and the ability to listen with focus, empathy, and the desire to connect with the speaker.

Leadership Skills

This category overlaps with some of the others and focuses on the “attitude” and “mindset” required for project management. However, it also includes key skills such as interpersonal and general people skills, adaptability, flexibility, people management, degree of customer-orientation, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to keep the “big picture” in mind.

I know, I know…after reading this, you are probably thinking either one or more of the following:

  • “Wait, you must be kidding! If anyone was excellent in all those areas, they’d be a CXO of our company.”
  • “You must be kidding! I need to be good in all those areas to manage a project?”

To help answer all these questions, please understand two important observations:

  1. Many projects are not successful.
  2. You do not need to get an “A” in all these categories to be successful as a project manager.

The key is that the project manager has the right mix of skills to meet the needs of the given project. In addition, a self-assessment against these skill categories allows you to leverage your strengths, compensate for your deficiencies, and focus your self-improvement program.


Qualities of Project Manager

Given the many roles played by a project manager, the broad range of skills needed, and the inherent challenges in successfully delivering a project, we need to find ways to accelerate the learning process. Two key ways to accelerate our learning are understanding the qualities of successful project managers, and understanding the common mistakes made by project managers.

Successful project managers do not share personality types, appearances, or sizes, but they do share three important features.

  1. They excel in at least two of the five key skill categories (Project Management Fundamentals, Business Management Skills, Technical Knowledge, Communication Skills, Leadership Skills) and are either “good enough” in the other categories or staff their teams to compensate for their deficiencies.
  2. They avoid the “common” mistakes described in the next section.
  3. They bring a mindset and approach to project management that is best characterized by one or more of the following qualities:
  1. Takes Ownership
  2. Savvy
  3. Intensity with a Smile
  4. Eye of the Storm
  5. Strong customer-service orientation
  6. People-focused
  7. Always keeps “eye on the ball”
  8. Controlled passion
  9. Healthy paranoia
  10. Context understanding
  11. Looking for trouble

Takes Ownership

Takes responsibility and accountability for the project; leads by example; brings energy and drive to the project; without this attitude, all the skills and techniques in the world will only get you so far.

Savvy

Understands people and the dynamics of the organization; navigates tricky politics; ability to quickly read and diffuse emotionally charged situations; thinks fast on the feet; builds relationships; leverages personal power for benefit of the project.

Intensity with a Smile

Balances an assertive, resilient, tenacious, results-oriented focus with a style that makes people want to help; consistently follows up on everything and their resolutions without “annoying” everyone.

Eye of the Storm

Demonstrates ability to be the calm eye of the project hurricane; high tolerance for ambiguity; takes the heat from key stakeholders (CxOs, business managers, and project team); exhibits a calm, confident aura when others are showing signs of issue or project stress.

Strong customer-service orientation

Demonstrates ability to see each stakeholder’s perspective; ability to provide voice of all key stakeholders (especially the sponsor) to the project team; strong facilitation and collaboration skills; and excellent active listening skills.

People-focused

Takes a team-oriented approach; understands that methodology, process, and tools are important, but without quality people it’s very difficult to complete a project successfully.

Always keeps “eye on the ball”

Stays focused on the project goals and objectives. There are many ways to accomplish a given objective. Especially important to remember when things don’t go as planned.

Controlled passion

Balances passion for completing the project objectives with a healthy detached perspective. This allows him or her to make better decisions, to continue to see all points of view, to better anticipate risks, and to better respond to project issues.

Healthy paranoia

Balances a confident, positive outlook with a realism that assumes nothing, constantly questions, and verifies everything.

Context understanding

Understands the context of the project— the priority that your project has among the organization’s portfolio of projects and how it aligns with the overall goals of the organization.

Looking for trouble

Constantly looking and listening for potential risks, issues, or obstacles; confronts doubt head-on; deals with disgruntled users right away; understands that most of these situations are opportunities and can be resolved up-front before they become full-scale crisis points.


15 Common Mistakes of Project Managers

While we review many of the common errors made in each of the fundamental areas of project management throughout this book (so you can avoid them), understanding the most common project management mistakes helps focus our efforts and help us to avoid the same mistakes on our projects.

The following are some of the most common mistakes made by project managers:

  1. Not clearly understanding how or ensuring the project is aligned with organizational objectives.

  2. Not properly managing stakeholder expectations throughout the project.

  3. Not gaining agreement and buy-in on project goals and success criteria from key stakeholders.

  4. Not developing a realistic schedule that includes all work efforts, task dependencies, bottom-up estimates, and levelled assigned resources.

  5. Not getting buy-in and acceptance on the project schedule.

  6. Not clearly deciding and communicating who is responsible for what.

  7. Not utilizing change control procedures to manage the scope of the project.

  8. Not communicating consistently and effectively with all key stakeholders.

  9. Not executing the project plan.

  10. Not tackling key risks early in the project.

  11. Not proactively identifying risks and developing contingency plans (responses) for those risks.

  12. Not obtaining the right resources with the right skills at the right time.

  13. Not aggressively pursuing issue resolution.

  14. Inadequate requirements definition and management.

  15. Insufficient management and leadership of project team.

Conclusion

Project management is a skill derived from a practical and scientific approach. It is possible, on the basis of the PM’s roles: managing, organizing, recruitment, planning, controlling and coordinating.

Project management is a skill derived from a practical and scientific approach. It is possible, on the basis of the PM’s roles: managing, organizing, recruitment, planning, controlling and coordinating on one hand, and the project managers’ competencies on the other, to make the integral concept of project management.

For certain type of project, the extent of necessary PM’s roles can be defined as well.

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