Why is it that some project managers can deliver successful projects again and again but others struggle with failing projects again and again? The industry certainly plays a part with IT projects much more likely to fail than those in any other industry. The experience and training of the project manager also have an effect. But is there more to it than that?
What talents do successful project managers have that distinguishes them from their less successful counterparts? Is it the project management courses they have attended, their experience, their personality or their natural talents? Usually it is a combination of all of these but their soft skills play just as large a part in their overall effectiveness as their qualifications and experience. The personality traits, communication skills, friendliness, and optimism of a PM should never be underestimated as a factor in delivering successful projects.
Many of these soft skills are innate and effortless for some people. They know instinctively how to motivate a team, when to praise and when to criticise. They understand that a motivated team will always work more effectively than a demoralised one and understand the importance of being personally involved with the team and having a hands-on attitude. The remote project manager who stays in his/her office and communicates with the team only at meetings or via email is unlikely to have the soft skills required to be a truly successful PM.
Whilst it is probably impossible for a naturally pessimistic person to become optimistic or a reserved person to suddenly become outgoing there are many traits of a highly successful PM that can be developed over time to help you become more effective.
It is true to say that many people who appear highly confident are no less confident than anyone else. The important point is to cultivate an air of confidence. You may not feel like that inside but who needs to know? The same is true of optimism – whenever you feel negative or are about to say something negative about the project – stop. Make a concerted effort to only say encouraging, positive things and you may find it becomes a habit to appear optimistic.
There will be reasons to be pessimistic in every project – priorities have changed, requirements have changed, promised resources have not materialised, key staff leave the company. But if you anticipate such events and plan for them – after all they are well known factors affecting almost every project – then your reaction to their happening (whilst probably not optimistic) can simply be to deal with the issue or put your contingency plans into action.
Make a point of cultivating individual relationships with your team, get to know them if you don’t already; take an interest in what they are doing and listen to their concerns. It is much easier to teach a team member any technical skills they lack than it is to build a cohesive, motivated team with a “can-do” attitude. A motivated team will be as determined to succeed with the project as you are and a sense of determination usually leads to a successful outcome.
And while you are building up the team spirit don’t forget to emphasise the benefits of being adaptable and flexible and encourage new ideas. When requirements change or priorities are altered you want the team to be willing to go with the changes.
So people are key to as project’s success but another part of an expert PMs role is good communication. That’s very easy to say but what exactly is good communication? It is a balance between simple, focussed reports and plans that can be easily understood by everyone, and the right amount of detail in requirements and specifications so that the business objective can be clearly understood. Good communicators only introduce complexity where absolutely necessary and avoid technical or business jargon that not everyone may understand. The very best communicators can make a complex issue appear relatively straightforward and can make serious obstacles appear easy to overcome.
Exceptional project managers take a very logical approach to planning and managing a project so they can stay focussed on the project objective but still have a grasp of the detailed activities within the project. They are also good lateral and creative thinkers. Whilst not every brain works the same, simply knowing that you need to stay focussed on the ultimate goal without losing sight of the detail can encourage you to make the effort be hands-on with the detail.
So the foundation of an exceptional project manager is the right basic project management training and experience enhanced by technical competence in such professional qualifications as PMP Certification or APM RPP. But what can turn a good project manager into an exceptional one are the soft project management skills such as confidence, optimism, motivational abilities, effective communication and determination. Some PMs may be born with these soft skills but they are not impossible to master for those who have not been so fortunate.