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5 skills project managers need to succeed in 2020


Elizabeth Harrin

Author of Project Manager

Successful project management blends interpersonal skills with technical ability. Elizabeth Harrin, author of Project Manager, shares what makes a project manager stand out from the crowd.

Be a visual communicator

Leaders have spoken about the value of communication at work for years, and it is important for project teams. However, being good at writing documents is no longer enough. Great project managers can digest data into visual images, making complex problems easier to understand. Consider using:

  • Charts or tables in project reports instead of lots of text
  • Photos and videos to show progress
  • Mind maps to show concepts and requirements
  • Visual task organisation methods like Kanban.

As your English teacher might have taught you: “Show, don’t tell.”

Be creative with teamwork

Teamwork has moved beyond awkward icebreaker exercises and raft-building days. Project managers (PMs) are more likely than ever before to be working with a team of varying ages, experience and backgrounds. Be open to listening to the different cultures in the team and look for ways that you can all learn from and embrace your differences.

Try using gamification for a bit of healthy competition where appropriate.

Foster trust

Today, project teams come together more quickly and are expected to turn around results faster than ever. You’ve probably got people of different nationalities based in different locations, too.

As a PM, you have to get people to trust that their colleagues are doing the right work, and trust that they’ll hear about things that affect them. We need openness and transparency beyond anything teams have had in the workplace before.

Oh, and you might be doing all this online without ever having spoken in person to those individuals. That brings us to…

Manage remotely, without micromanaging

Project managers need to be adept at using technology for collaboration. You can tap into expert resources around the world because there are no location barriers.

However, building relationships with remote project team members takes skill. Help remote colleagues feel part of the bigger picture by involving them in meetings and checking in regularly. Not too much – micromanaging is a big no no. Make sure everyone knows how to use collaboration tools to ensure free flow of ideas and tasks.

Handle curveballs

You won’t find ‘handling curveballs’ in management books, but PMs need to adapt and flex. It’s a fast-paced world. Things change. Consider the implications of that change, get on board with it (however annoying it is to have your plans disrupted) and get the team on side too. Then keep moving forward.

As we move further into the 21st Century, more and more of the ‘traditional’ skills like scheduling and risk analysis can be done by smart machines. You can’t (yet) digitise how it feels when a colleague says you are doing a good job, or helps you get through a difficult day at work. We’re going to need project managers with fantastic interpersonal skills for many years to come.

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