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The PM as influencer: how the project manager role is changing

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Mark Rowland unpicks the findings on technology and skills revealed in APM’s flagship annual salary survey

The role of the project manager is changing, and the profession knows it. The most recent edition of APM’s annual Salary and Market Trends Survey showed that project managers believe the profession faces significant challenges: developing skills for the future workplace (60 per cent), climate change and sustainability (50 per cent) and robotics, data and AI (47 per cent).

While climate change is a huge issue in its own right, technology and skills are inherently linked. Below are some of the main trends in technology and skills that will reshape the profession over the next five years.

Adoption of technology: real-time reporting
Donna Unitt is head of delivery at Rocket Consulting and chair of APM’s Enabling Change SIG. As part of her day job, she is using more dashboards and undertaking more real-time reporting as part of her work, keeping stakeholders updated using various tools throughout the process.

“It's moving towards that visual sort of reporting, a dashboard-type approach over endless reports and design documents that no one really reads. It's more about collaboration, good visuals and ongoing reporting.”

This real-time, more collaborative environment can also be more productive – 43 per cent of project managers believe that the adoption of new working practices will result in their productivity improving.

The role of AI: the creation of a more empathetic profession

Of those project managers surveyed, 33 per cent say that they expect some aspects of their job to be automated in the next five years. Unitt uses automation in her day-to-day work, and she says that it has increased the amount of collaboration and helped with the ‘softer’ side of project management: “It’s a more integrated and more of a coaching style of project management.”

Reetu Kansal, a senior project manager at the University of London, agrees that project management teams are, by necessity, becoming more emotionally intelligent. “Project teams that have a high level of emotional intelligence tend to be more successful; they deal with issues more quickly. [Modern project management] requires a kind of finesse and more sophisticated leadership skills.”

Traits relating to emotional intelligence include empathy, strong social skills and leadership skills, all of which are increasing in importance as automation and AI become more prevalent. It’s important that project managers show genuine empathy, or it won’t work, says Kansal. “It shouldn't come across as fake. Project managers should really care about the people. And that comes across when inspiring teams to achieve and to project forward.”

This also reflects the results of APM’s survey: 37 per cent say that people management and stakeholder engagement will be the most important skill for project managers in the future, with project leadership coming a close second (31 per cent). Both of these require strong emotional intelligence.

Remote models of working
As most project managers are now working remotely, working practices are already changing. Predominantly, says Unitt, it has resulted in more focus on close work with the project team, instead of processes and plan monitoring – reflecting ongoing trends towards softer skills.

“We’re having more discussions, coaching and mentoring the team where you can and trying to have a two-way conversation,” she says. “You don’t want to be on the team’s backs, it’s more in terms of ‘What's stopping you from doing this? Do you need any help with this?’”

Agile as a mindset

As the profession modernises, project managers need to think about agile as a mindset more than a methodology, says Kansal. “Plans change at short notice. New requirements are coming to the fore. So you must be agile in the way you look at incremental achievements towards your final goal.”

This is also about having a healthy mindset towards change and adaptability. “We work in such a matrix type of setting now. You could be called on to work on any anything else that you might not have anticipated.”

The PM as influencer

Thanks to the shift in the project management role away from process management and towards more of a leadership role, the project manager will become more of an influencer within the organisation, says Kansal. “Thriving organisations are forward-thinking, early adopters of these technologies. Project managers are increasingly playing the role of influencers by getting people on board the digital bandwagon. It may be up to them how well they can get the organisation to adopt and test a new idea.”

Those responding to the Salary and Market Trends Survey felt the same – 31 per cent believe that the project profession will become part of making strategy in organisations, rather than just delivering it.

Read the full 2020 Salary and Market Trends Survey online here.


Image: Shutterstock/ Dmitry Kostrov


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  1. Gordon MacKay
    Gordon MacKay 30 March 2021, 09:47 AM

    Agree 100% Mark, as my article in the Winter Edition of the Journal along with Blog* and Book** make clear: these changes are emergent on multiple fronts. Organizational structures and the constitution of project teams integrate disparate subject matter experts and stakeholders across multiple delivery organisations. Added to this the 'technology'; once a box 'screwed to the wall', now permeates every discipline creating the 'Internet-of-Things' where inter-dependency characterizes every 'change' from business-as-usual the project attempts. Adding to this is the increasingly turbulent delivery environment (some call 'VUCA': volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) often populated by stakeholders of diverse interests, all of whom must be 'aligned' to collaborate. The project manager, far from having the authority to command, or the level of cross-disciplinary subject matter expertise to control, must become a facilitator and coach for collaboration. No longer focussing on asserting power over a less knowledgeable compliant group of followers, the project leader must evolve to engage and empower a team of mutually supportive experts in their own fields. *Blog: **Book: