The Project Manager as a Project Facilitator

Paul Naybour

The major responsibilities of a project manager are well defined – anyone who has been on a project management training course will have a clear idea of what is expected of them in that role. But the realities of the project workplace can be very different and a project manager may often have to tackle challenges that are not theoretically part of their role; perform tasks and undertake activities that they had not anticipated. Maybe every PM’s job description should always have a sentence tacked to the end stating something like “… Plus any other task required to ensure the project progresses smoothly and is completed successfully”.
So as well as the usual project management skills a PM might also have to employ diplomacy, mediation, arbitration and soft skills (correction: will always have to employ them). The working relationship between the project manager and the project team(s) is crucial so the PM may well find himself or herself acting more as a facilitator than a manager. A project manager who is not prepared to think and work in this way is unlikely to be well-suited to their chosen career.
A project facilitator will customise their working methods to suit the particular circumstances of their current project and current client from both the relationship perspective as well as the type of tasks involved. But a key element of this role is to encourage a positive view of the whole project and positive behaviour within and across the project teams through his/her style of communication – both written and verbal. A positive approach to a project, irrespective of the known risks and potential problems, will encourage flexibility and creativity which will, in turn, enable risks and problems to be more effectively handled.
Many projects encounter problems or fail to deliver a successful outcome because of negative behaviour or the approach to negative situations by the individuals involved. Team members may overtly or covertly discourage open, frank discussions that can lead to solutions but might reveal inadequacies in working practices or actual delivered work. Others may dominate the team with their opinions and perceived best working methods or have their own personal agendas such as their own career advancement. If an experienced project facilitator can handle these negative situations well then the focus of the whole team can be targeted towards constructive group behaviour and discussion and not deflected from the goal of the project.
Facilitation is not simply concerned with soft skills or intuition and is not a purely reactive approach – although it does depend very much on the type of project and the types of personalities involved – but is more the role of a guide and mediator. If a project is guided along a positive path from the outset many of the problems that de-rail a project can be avoided. Of course, as always this is perhaps easier said than done, particularly when there are time and cost pressures but with experience every project manager, who is willing to do so, can also learn to be a skilled project facilitator.
Why not let us know what unexpected tasks you have had to get involved in to guide your project to a successful outcome?

1 thought on “The Project Manager as a Project Facilitator”

  1. Intrigued by the insights psychology offers project management I am completing a course in Counselling; exploring historical and contemporary techniques of analysis and therapy. The role of project manager as facilitator: an agent of ‘transformational’ change, finds striking parallels and perhaps lessons reflected in the role of the therapist.
    For example, a key competence is that of ‘active listening’: how often the project manager drives into situations of uncertainty with an array of preconceptions: disposed to dispense and impose their own ‘order’ and ‘authority’, not prepared to adopt the relatively vulnerable role of acknowledged ignorance: of admitting of the possibility that a situation may be but partially understood.
    So facilitation, as I understand it, includes being open to the fact that in a given situation others will know more than we do and it is neither a weakness nor mistake to accept this. Authority does not depend on always knowing, or appearing to know the answer before we understand the question…. In other words facilitation includes not feeling too threatened or insecure to admit we don’t have all the answers.
    This is an acid test differentiating between transactional and transformational leadership: it facilitates, in turn: ” to empower and inspire people to achieve success” BoK V6 2.1.5.

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