Any company that’s spent some time looking for an experienced project manager knows it that can be a stressful process that sometimes yields little or no results. In an article, I did for TechRepublic, called “Trouble Hiring a Project Manager? Five Possible Reasons Why” I shed some light on what may have gone wrong as well as some of the things that can be done to rectify the issues.
When hiring a PM, the knee-jerk tendency seems to be to hire the person with the most technical knowledge when other, broader skills are more likely to get the results you’re really after.
A great project manager can mean more than just the difference between project success and failure (which is important enough). With a rock-star PM on your team, you can enjoy some peace of mind knowing that projects and processes are being shepherded in a professional, efficient, timely, and ultimately profitable manner. Conversely, a lousy PM can have deleterious effects, including a drain on your own time and, eventually, your company’s money.
Clearly and precisely identify the goals for the position
When looking to hire a first-rate PM, the first step is identifying what the crucial goals are for this role. Be clear within the job posting about exactly what you need from the PM. All too often, project-management job postings are cookie-cutter and focus primarily on the general technical aspects and candidate attributes. Flush out detailed business and job-specific goals. Document precisely how the new project manager’s role will assist in accomplishing those exact goals.
Plan ahead to increase chances of finding the best candidate
The timing for hiring a PM should be identified ahead of the actual need. Waiting until the need arises will simply create unnecessary stress and possibly end in disappointment. Often the hiring process cuts too close to the initiating of a project, creating a situation where the rush is on, and yet the choices may be too limited. The end result: hiring a good project manager but not the best one for a specific role.
This next section expands on the most important qualities of a project manager.
Experienced business strategist
Consider looking for project managers with broader, high-level business knowledge and skill sets who understands how their role plays into the overall business-wide objectives. Project managers who possess this understanding and who approach the role with this in mind can make a top PM candidate as they are able to make a conscious effort to ensure that all project activities align with strategy. Without this knowledge and understanding, the key foundations can easily be eroded.
Loves the Work
The role of a project manager is stressful in the best of times, as it requires PMs to juggle multiple deadlines, resources, requests, stakeholders, and goals. The role can be overwhelming, rewarding, and discouraging all at the same time, and it can result in a high level of job satisfaction but also job frustration. In order for PMs to be effective and stay focused and vested, they must absolutely love what they do, as oftentimes this is what allows them to stay motivated and focused.
Exudes intrapreneurial spirit
Project managers need to be of an intrapreneurial mindset, always evaluating the best methods for business-goal attainment. All decisions and actions must be directed toward the best interests of the business. This requires a project manager to be innovative and extremely focused, as well as being goal and people-oriented at the same time.
Demonstrates extraordinary leadership
Exceptional leadership skills are not optional in this role. While the majority of PMs will have some form of formal technical training and combined experience, not all project managers demonstrate exceptional leadership. Leadership is not simply leading, facilitating, managing, and directing. True leaders must lead by example, make difficult decisions when necessary, and act in a fair manner when it comes to all stakeholders while they also ensure that their attention and effort remain trained on business objectives at all times. Accomplishing this is not always easy, but it is necessary in order to be an extraordinary leader.
Excels at crisis resolution
Crisis resolution is another one of those areas in which a PM must be well versed and experienced, as this is guaranteed to be a regular fixture in the world of project management. More often than not, projects do not go as planned. Project managers will often encounter one crisis or another, whether financial, time-based, human resource, or other related issues, and will need to remain calm, focused and level-headed and to act appropriately, regardless of the situation. A crisis-resolution expert can make all the difference, as this can be easier said than done.
Exhibits outstanding communication skills
Many projects have been derailed solely on communication issues that have arisen simply because the project manager lacked sufficient oral, written, or nonverbal communication skills. Knowing how to effectively communicate and what medium to utilize in a particular situation is critical. This is easily one of the most important skills to look for due to the potential risks and impact.
Ultimately project managers must be results-oriented if they are to be successful. Absent this, project management is pointless, as the project activities are only executed with an intended end result. Hiring a project manager who simply navigates from one phase to another without vetting whether the activities align with the end goals cannot be successful. This is a must.
Interlaces with your business culture
When hiring a project manager, look for individuals who will work well within the business culture. Personality and character make a difference; seek individuals who can work easily with stakeholders and project the business culture in general. This will help to decrease the likelihood of unnecessary friction and help to accomplish a smoother transition, especially in the initial phases.
Understands his or her role within the power of TEAM
While project managers lead and facilitate, they must also be team players and understand the power of the “team” concept. Hiring a project manager who may be too self-focused can be disastrous for team dynamics, as it can establish mistrust and lack of buy-in or cooperation from other team members. Carefully assess this characteristic and the candidate’s personality when hiring a project manager.
Talk to others in the PM and recruitment field
Project managers come to the table with varied levels of experience, training, views, and expectations. It is always a good idea to reach out to colleagues and other business professionals for project-manager referrals that can fit specific business needs. Ask around about candidates with the most suitable characteristics and personality traits for your business culture and specific needs. Take advantage of expertise and knowledge from other professionals whenever possible in order to avoid the stress of not knowing where to start. Maybe even search professional networks like LinkedIn as a starting point, as many individuals will have recommendations on their personal profiles that can offer insights into some of these factors.
Verify their training and experience
Once a project management candidate has been selected, spend sufficient time carefully verifying his or her experience, training, personality attributes, working styles, leadership, and facilitation skills to ensure that the best individual for your specific needs has been selected.
Hire on a trial-project basis before hiring full-time
Give thought to hiring a contractor project manager to ensure that the right individual with the required skill sets has been chosen prior to committing to a full-time position. This arrangement can work to the benefit of both the employer and employee as it can ensure that the fit works and both parties want to continue with the arrangement.
Offer and request feedback
After hiring a PM, keep a two-way dialogue going to ensure that you know what is working and what needs work. Hiring a PM and realizing that things may not be going as anticipated can be frustrating and may not necessarily be the fault of the PM. It may be a situation where employer expectations may not have been clearly defined, or parameters had changed following the hiring process. These changes may not have been conveyed to the new PM, making it difficult for him or her to attain goals without the employer revisiting and updating the job requirements and scope.
Moira Alexander, PMP, I.S.P., ITCP/IP3P, is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PMWorld 360 Magazine, Founder of Lead-Her-Ship Group, and author of “LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership,” and other ebooks on Amazon. She’s a project management and IT columnist for various top-tier publications including CIO, CMSWire, TechRepublic (CBS Interactive), and a former contributor to USA Business Radio and the Price of Business Talk Radio. She has over 25 years of experience in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the US and Canada and has been quoted in various publications including Forbes. She writes thought leadership content for executives and business blogs as well as sponsored content and software reviews for businesses on PMWorld 360 Magazine. Contact her directly for pricing.