In today’s unprecedented times, almost every organisation undergoes continuous change, whether political, social, economic or environmental. Economic markets are very fluid and new, game-changing technologies keep emerging every day. Harvard Business Review Project Management Handbook refers to new organisations as being ambidextrous; new organisations exploit current capabilities while simultaneously exploring new ones. This emphasis the need for increased innovation, improved efficiencies and transformation of leadership, forming the baseline of project management.
Typically project management has classified projects as temporary and operational flow as permanent. However, the world is transitioning more towards changes being considered as permanent and projects supporting the change. Agile working and increased focus on digitalisation play a major role in today’s organisational restructuring and sustainability. The functionality of change management focuses on structure, process and tools, illustrating the fundamental building blocks of project management. Project management is, therefore, an incredibly suitable and desirable career choice.
When you ask yourself, ‘is project management right for me’, it’s important to focus on the key skills required for a project manager:
Being organised is one of the most important skills needed for a project manager. From prioritisation to goal setting and implementation, a project manager needs to organise themselves as well their work and team. A project is destined to fall apart without proper planning and organisation. Personally, working in a PMO, I have found dedicated objective setting sessions very beneficial in setting the scene. This can be then followed by using specific project management tools such as an activity log, issues log and risk registers. Regular monthly highlight reports by project managers are a very helpful means in communicating the current status of the project, challenges being faced, and risks and mitigations to a wider group. This helps us project managers to stay focussed, and informs key stakeholders of existing issues, ways to resolution and next steps.
As project managers, we work on multiple levels with a variety of stakeholders, and it’s essential for us to convey or share ideas appropriately and effectively. Us project managers will be relying on varied platforms for communication including face to face, emails, messaging, video conferencing and more. However, irrespective of the platform, the key to good communication is always active listening and asking questions. This will help in better understanding of the questions at hand and will help in moving towards the right direction when it comes to decision making or problem solving. This could be either be at team meetings or one-to-one meetings, but team members need to feel they are being listened to, ideas are being acknowledged and efforts are being made to resolve issues or progress ideas.
3. Team building
A project manager cannot work without a team. As project managers, we often need to work with our own internal team members, intra-departmental teams as well as external stakeholders. This takes a considerable amount of collaboration to build trust to work effectively. It’s important to start at the top when setting goals for the project; consider it your duty as the project manager to set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) goals. To do this will need to have the project team fully on board. Project managers will need to be flexible, reflective and be open for discussion. A good project manager is one who can use the resources available within their team to their fullest potential. In my days at the PMO, productive and engaged teams were the ones where the project managers were willing to put the effort into supporting and engaging with their teams by giving and receiving feedback.
APM defines leadership as the ability to establish vision and direction, to influence and align others towards a common purpose, and to empower and inspire people to achieve success. A project manager is the leader for their particular project. As leaders we need considerable strategic thinking skills as well as the ability to share clear messages and ideas to stakeholders. This involves being creative, innovative and inspiring. We must positively influence the teams we work with, in pushing forward with project aims, goals and vision. Also, listening and adapting dynamically to changes is a key area of competency when it comes to leadership skills.
5. Time management
Projects are time bound, tasks need to be completed on time so that the project stays on track. Good time management skills are vital when managing projects; they help improve the time and effort spent on achieving project deliverables. Smarter working and effective time management keeps the team and stakeholders motivated, and increases productivity. Setting SMART goals, prioritising tasks and creating a schedule is vital for completing deliverables on time. A good tip would be to start assessing your current approach to time management and introduce tools and techniques such as action logs, calendar reminders, etc. to enhance them.
If you're looking to be a project manager, it is vitally important to assess your transferable skills and build on the gaps. Remember, skills can be improved – so if you’re not as confident on one particular skill, then make time to develop that. Take initiative and volunteer to take on more responsibility; it helps in further maturing your skills.
There’s also more than one route to project management, so it’s a career that can suit various needs. One approach involves getting a project management qualification and then work as a project manager; and the other way is finding yourself working in projects and then qualifying to be a project manager (the latter being my own chosen route). I’ve found that irrespective of the route we take, the most important course of action is to keep learning from experience to build your skills and knowledge, and use them to manage projects more efficiently. Good luck!