The Future Identity of Project Managers

Insights | 31 July 2017

The core identity of today’s project manager needs to change and it needs to happen fast. We already know that a project manager needs to be both a change agent and a leader. And, if you agree with a recent article on LinkedIn[1] by American project manager Mike MacIsaac, they urgently need to focus on developing their soft skills.

This is not an isolated opinion. Check out some of the desired attributes pulled from recent job descriptions for project managers:

  • Wanted: “Change agent”
  • Seeking: “Team leadership, motivation, and delegation skills”
  • Required: “The ability to coach and lead teams at different stages of maturity and experience”
  • Essential: “Ability to deal with ambiguity and change”

These requirements are echoed by a 2014 academic study[2] that dove into the outcomes of construction industry projects in Australia managed by certified professional project managers versus those helmed by non-certified project managers. Researchers at University of South Australia and University of Adelaide found the top skills for project managers to succeed revolved around:

  • Communication
  • Decision-making
  • Leadership
  • Motivation
  • Listening
  • Time Management

A far cry from the heads down, ‘Gantt chart-up’ view typically associated with a project manager. Progress, for sure, but how can a Project Manager quickly acquire – and master – these most sought-after skills?

We’ve uncovered five essential ways Project Managers can approach development of their softer skill set:

  1. Be Adaptable

MacIsaac, a consultant and project manager himself, says

“Project Managers have to adapt to what the situation and project calls for. The Project Management Institute (PMI®) is right in that project managers need to have technical, business, and leadership skills, they refer to this as the talent triangle.”

The Situational Leadership model first touted in the 1960s and revamped recently through books such as Leadership and the One Minute Manager makes it clear that one size does not fit all when it comes to managing your team. Know when to change focus between your technical skills and your people skills.

2. Reach Out and Inspire

Discover exactly what motivates each of your team members.

Writing on his project management blog[3], Shivshanker Shenoy identifies several “soft skills” that every project manager should have. One of those is under the heading “motivation.”

He writes: “When people know that their work is making a difference — to the customer, end users, company, as well as themselves — they stay motivated.”

  1. Keep Learning

MacIsaac has this advice: “I recommend reading as much as you can on leadership, technology and Agile delivery. There is no shortage of great books on these topics.”

No matter where you are in your career or the type of industry you work in, training is a key way to get ahead. Don’t be shy in asking if there is any room in your company’s budget for training or seeking out professional conferences with a strong training component.

Great managers aren’t threatened by the desire of their direct reports to build skills; they welcome it. After all, it’s an investment in the future success of the project and business.

Managing successfully through any change also requires trust, but you don’t have to be naturally charismatic to engender this connection. Shinoy describes the best leaders in project management as transparent, helpful and honest:

“…[B]e receptive to team member’s suggestions and concerns,” he writes. “Listening to their concerns, empathising with them and making earnest attempts to solve their problems will also give you their trust, even if you are not able to solve some of their issues.”

  1. Stay Humble

Staying humble means keeping your personal ego in check. It means acknowledging your own mistakes, listening to others and staying calm when your project is really challenged. These skills are particularly important when working in a fast-paced environment or when applying agile techniques to your project.

  1. Be Coachable

In some organisations, a person’s career progression ends when he or she is deemed to be no longer coachable. In other words, if you have become set in your ways, constrained in your thinking or not open to feedback, you have probably hit your career ceiling.

A willingness to learn through traditional means is admirable but seeking out learning through coaching and feedback requires a certain openness and self confidence that truly distinguishes strong leaders. Take advantage and build on your existing competencies by seeking out positive and healthy interpersonal connections.

What it means to be a project manager will undoubtedly change. We work amongst a group of global practitioners used to taking a critical look in the mirror and identifying what we can learn from the past. The exciting part is that these changes directly impact the identity of a PM.

PMI® and PMI Talent Triangle® are registered trademarks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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