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People management skills vs project management skills

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Any project manager will know that managing and motivating a team effectively can be hard work. You have different characters, different strengths and different ways of communicating. Take popular television program ‘The Apprentice’ for example. Being a project manager is difficult enough without having your team agree to your face and immediately say something else behind your back; especially when they’re invited to appraise your performance at the end of each task - or in other words, choose whether to drop you in it or not.

The best way to get the most out of your team is to get them to care. Sounds simple enough, but what do they need to care about? I’ve put together a list below, which you can use to assess how much your team care about the projects they work with you on:

What should a team care about?

Every project has timelines, usually very strict, important ones. Without having timelines in place for each aspect of a project, it’s impossible to accurately predict when to advance to the next stage and when the project is likely to complete. But, do your team take them as seriously as they should? Do they care if they miss one and inconvenience someone else by putting the project back?

Does everyone reply or respond and within good time? Does everyone respond to each other, or is there anyone consistently left out of the loop? With any workplace, there will always be different personality types that react differently to instruction and communication. The best thing that you can do is adapt your management style to meet the needs of the different members of your team. In the simplest terms, if one person never replies to their emails but always answers their phone – ring them.  Similarly, if you need something emailed to you to remind you to action it, then make sure that they do that if you ask them to. It’s about give and take, compromise and collaboration. Being good communicators is a skill that everyone on your team needs.

Project plan
Is everyone following the project plan? In an article by the first point in creating a project plan is to explain the project to key stakeholders, to provide direction for a project. Going off course can dramatically hinder a project and in some cases can even be dangerous. You wouldn’t start building the upstairs of a house before the downstairs was in and I anyone is taking rogue actions, all it’s going to do is to cost you time and money, as well as annoy the rest of your team.

Status meetings/check-ins
Does everyone attend status meetings? Whether these are face to face, via conference call or via Skype, by allowing someone to put their ‘important thing’ ahead of your team meetings, it’s sending a message that they either don’t care enough to be there, or that whatever they are doing is more important than everyone else. By allowing someone to ignore meetings, you’re setting a precedent that you should expect others to start following, or at the very least you should expect them to be annoyed when you make them attend when others don’t. The team is important. Communication within the team is important. Whatever is keeping someone away from the meeting can be planned and prioritised, to make time for team meetings (just like everyone else has to do).

Managing client expectations
Some people are ‘yes people’. They can’t say no, even if they want to and know that they should. These types of people should not be on the front line, account managing customers. For this, you need someone who will do their best to meet customer needs whilst standing strong when they know that something is not a possibility. Otherwise, their promises will pile pressure on the rest of the team and could set everyone off track. If the ‘yes person’ is you, think about your team when you make promises to customers – will keeping your customers happy be at the detriment of your team? It’s okay every once in a while, but if you cause unnecessary pressure and don’t stand up for your team, or show a united front, your team won’t feel motivated or loyal.

When assigning control to team members, nothing says trust more than handing over responsibility for budgets. However, if there are other members of the team consistently specifying and recommending products that are not within budget, help them to see the importance of finding products that are and make sure that they know what the budget for each item is. If whoever is responsible for the budget has to keep turning down a team member’s recommendations it’s not going to make that person very popular and will just be a huge waste of time.

Do your team care about how safe the project is? This could be the safety of themselves, the rest of the team, contractors, customers, visitors – anyone who is likely to be around during the project and once the project is complete. Safety is not only imperative for the smooth running of a project, but for legal requirements. Not being bought in to health and safety can be deadly, especially in construction projects. By making sure that everyone on your team is engaged in health and safety practice, you’re helping to keep your team safe and showing them that you care, too.

This blog first appeared as an article in Project Journal.


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  1. Claire Dellar
    Claire Dellar 16 March 2017, 09:15 AM

    All of these are definitely important areas in and of themselves and also places to look for symptoms of disharmony. I would argue that tackling the root cause of all of these is done by having a shared purpose, which are the vision and benefits of the programme/project. The vision should be the inspiration which gets everyone up in the morning and the benefits should be how you know you are succeeding.

  2. Megan Wale
    Megan Wale 22 November 2017, 11:25 AM

    Great article