It is easy to think of project management as being about drawing up project plans and going over technical details about systems and processes.
The technical side of things is clearly important in any project but we can’t afford to forget about the soft skills which you also need to have in order to make a success of your career in this role.
Being a project manager involves communicating with a great variety of people in different roles. You might need to explain your project to executives in the company, programmers, project staff and end business users. This means that you need to find the right approach in each case in order to get your points across to each different type of person. This might be something which comes naturally to you but it is one of the toughest challenges for a lot of project managers, especially those who come to the role from a technical background.
Every project needs a leader and champion who drives it forward even when things get tough. This is the role of the person managing the project and if you can show the right leadership skills then your project stands a much better chance of success in the long run. If you aren’t used to providing leadership to the people around you then it can be an extremely difficult skill to gain. The best piece of advice is probably to evaluate the leadership skills which you see others using and look to build your own skills in this way. This is, of course, a fairly long term approach but one thing you can do right away is assume the responsibility for your project. If you take the conscious decision to be the person who takes control of the piece of work you are managing then you will be well on the way to being the sort of leader you want to be.
One of the most challenging aspects of project management is that you need to try and influence people whom you don’t have any direct authority over. This is a difficult thing to do and how well you learn to do it will have a big effect on how successful you are. Let’s look at an example. You have a change to the project you need to get signed off but you know that the stakeholders probably won’t be too keen on agreeing to it. This is where you need to work out what benefits you can spell out to them in order to get the sign off you need.
I am not thinking about technical problems here bit rather those which come whenever a group of people work together closely for a long time. You may find that two team members don’t get on well or that your own relationship with a team member isn’t as good as it should be. There are a number of ways of looking to resolve this issue and the one you choose probably depends upon your personality as well as your business experience. Personally I have always enjoyed team building events and training sessions to get people working better together. Quite often a project team will be so busy that they don’t even get much time to talk to each other on a daily basis. If they can get out of the office for a few days and chat together then is more chance of them finding some common ground and getting on better with each other. This can make a big difference at work and help you avoid some of the big problems which projects sometimes face.
One of the tasks you will need to do on a recurring basis is give out presentations on your ideas and progress to date. If you have never presented data to senior managers then this can be one of the most nerve racking parts of the role, while other people thrive on it. The first rule here is to be organized. You need to know what you want to say and also have a fair idea of the types of questions and comments that might get thrown at you. Having a run through with your team might help you feel more comfortable with it at first. After you are comfortable with the basics you can look at adding in fancy slide shows, jokes and all of the other bells and whistles which can be added to presentations these days.