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Project managers don't forget about behaviours and attitudes

Those new to project management often worry about which qualifications to seek; which will give them the best opportunity to develop their career or the widest choice of possible industries or the best credentials for working in international organisations, or whatever else is important to them in their careers.

But no single project management approach will ever be the right solution for all projects because all projects are different, corporations are different and people are different. So if you are looking at ways to improve your success as a project manager and, of course, your career prospects, then perhaps a more important question than which qualifications to gain is how to develop the personal skills that will have just as great an impact on project outcomes as the method of project management.

There are plenty of debates on-going about the advantages and disadvantages of the different PM methodologies and even more debate about the benefits of "traditional" or "agile" approaches. But let's focus here on other skill sets that are just as important to a project manager, and I don't just mean soft skills.

There are a whole range of behaviours and skills that may not come naturally to everyone but can have an impact on project outcomes; it isn't always easy to change our natural behaviour in certain situations but new ways of behaving can be learnt just as new technical skills can be learnt.

For instance, how do you react to criticism, conflict or setbacks?

If the project is criticised by senior management do you respond to remove or fix the problem just to appease senior management without looking at the wider impact on the project or the team? Or do you take a broad view and make a decision based on the good of the project overall and, of course, influence those who have levied the criticism to see your viewpoint?

If there is conflict within the team it will affect the project negatively just as surely as missing a deadline or running over budget and yet some project managers choose to ignore any conflict. Tackling conflict head-on is not easy but ultimately will lead to a better outcome for both the project and the people involved; after all who wants to work in a team, or on a project, with underlying tensions?

And what about your reaction to setbacks? A critical deadline missed, a key team member resigning. You could make everyone work extra hours to catch up (good luck with that), or rush into promoting or employing someone else to fill a gap, but a calm, measured take on the situation is likely to deliver better results; rushed decisions under pressure are frequently bad decisions.

When we talk about a project manager's toolbox we should be thinking of methods, software, soft skills and other competencies such as behaviours and attitudes.

So choose which method to follow carefully but don't neglect the competencies that must be developed to become a successful, well-rounded project manager.

Other blogs in this series:

This is a project management fundamentals blog written and sponsored by Parallel Project Training. For more about our project management training courses visit our website or visit Paul Naybour on Google+.


Martin Price



Yes, I very much agree.  Complete Project Management depends on  both the Essential Schemas and the Vital Behaviours of the project players and their project regime (or organisation).  Project’s players – all those who share responsibility for a project’s results, frequently find themselves in places and situations that could not have been anticipated. Progress then requires skillful, informed and often spirited dialogue. Able conversation is needed from all the players as they address issues, uncertainties, ambiguity and controversy. Critical choices have to be made; relying on the players’ engagement of issues and the shrewdness of a mature professional community. Managing a project can be compared to leading an expedition. Social engagement and collaboration between the players is mission-critical and ultimately the only way to advance the work. Projects must often make their way through virgin territory where, in contrast with a business process, many of the routes have to be discovered before they can be followed.

In such ‘swampy lowlands’, dealing with emergent and unexpected issues, process prescriptions have little to offer and the values and routines of a work-place culture will maneuver much of players’ behaviour: favourably or unfavourably. In such situations, Methodology offers little to aid navigation. It will be the quality of the player’s thinking, dialogue, organisation and resolve, exercised through the leadership of players that will decide the outcome.

Martin Price,  Author, 'The Single-Minded Project - ensuruing the pace of progress (Gower)

Michelle Symonds

Having recently attended a presentation on how to teach children skills beyond the purely academic there is a lot that we can learn from the approach being taken in some schools. Just as important as qualifications is learning the skills that will help you handle a situation that could not have been anticipated, in other words, "knowing what to do when you don't know what to do".

These skills include collaboration, empathy, cooperation, perseverance, initiative, courage and confidence.

Bernard Murray-Gates

Paul, thanks for this blog - a welcome opportunity to talk about this aspect of project management! 

At CITI Limited we have consistently warned against an overly process-dominated approach to projects, asking project managers to think more broadly about the skills they need to be excellent in the role.

Process plays a crucial role in improving safe governance of projects.  However, it, it should not become 'the refuge of the timid'.  Project managers who identify but choose not to address conflict over the problem, the objective or the benefits of a project often try to hide a lack of stakeholder agreement in a dense thicket of technical documentation.   Such documentation (be it business requirements, architecture, sign-offs, etc.) will not provide a technical solution to what is an essentially 'political' problem.  The correct response from a project manager faced with different agendas is to work with the sponsor to facilitate the political agreements required to gain support for the project.  This requires the project manager to take a more business outcome focused approach.

How is the project manager to gain such insights and skills?  At CITI we advocate that project managers grab opportunities to stretch themselves in terms of the variety of business environments and challenges in which they can gain project experience.  This does not necessarily mean that project managers should 'job-hop' from company to company (there are great advantages in building up a supportive network of stakeholder allies over time) but it certainly means refusing to be type-cast as an 'expert' in a single technical field.  This is how project managers achieve great depth of technical knowledge (a comfort zone for many) but do not further develop their awareness of business perspectives and language. 

The more different business situations one has to face, and the less one relies on deep technical knowledge, the more one learns about stakeholder engagement and how to communicate with the business effectively.  That is why at CITI our assessment tools (used to recruit and develop project professionals) examine attitudes and experience as well as process skills and knowledge.


Bernard Murray-Gates, principal consultant, CITI Limited

Gordon MacKay

BoK V6 states: "Setting deals with the broad organisational factors that are outside the boundaries of the project, programme or portfolio but, nonetheless, have a significant impact upon the way the work is approached and carried out."

Many project managers would endorse the notion, I'm sure, that 'behaviours and attitudes' make all the difference in a project management environment. They are part of the 'setting'. They are a fundamental component in establishing and maintaining collaborative relations between suplliers/contractors and the client: they can keep the project wheels turning through mutual support, but equally, poor behaviours and attitudes can bring all to a shuddering halt.

Paul's questioning how we "react to criticism, conflict or setbacks" brought the importance of 'Emotional Intelligence to mind, but also a recently acquired insight from the discipline of Social Psychology, based on a phenomena called the 'Attribution Error'. 

It has been shown that we too often and too easily assign blame or praise to individual behaviors, rather than acknowledge the 'setting' or situation in which they occur. Experiments by Stanley Milgram and the 'Stanford Prison' Experiement demonstrated decisively:  the established context of any endeavour influences how people behave and perform beyond what they or others would readily credit or believe.

In our domain as project managers we hold the responsibility for establishing and maintaining a setting and environment, not least by our own behaviours and attitudes, that will affect the performance of everyone involved in the project to a lesser, or perhaps surprisingly greater degree...

Leadership in this endeavour is key, and intimately bound to the way we deal with the conflicts and challenges 'change': a fundamental characteristic of projects, necessarily entails. 

Gordon MacKay

Author: 'Practical Leadership' Elsevier.