When people refer to the discipline of project management, they usually refer to the tools and techniques that are used to manage projects. Work breakdown structures, network diagrams, and cost estimating are among the concepts commonly discussed. However, in recent years, there has been a shift in the way people view and manage projects. It has become rather evident that managing a project is more than just plugging numbers into a spreadsheet to make sure you are on time and budget. There are underlying qualities that a project manager must possess to be truly effective. In my experience, effective communication, leadership skills, and structure top that list.
In 2017 the Project Management Institute delivered the 6th edition, of the Project Management Body of Knowledge. While the knowledge area of communication was not new in the 6th edition there were changes that aligned the importance of communications with other qualities needed for the evolving project manager. Specifically, there was a focus on interpersonal and leadership skills.
In her book, Carol Ellis states, “The foundation of all relationships is communication. Without communicating effectively, we are not able to achieve our goals and objectives” (Ellis, 2004). An effective communication plan and style is necessary for a project manager to be successful. Having an exemplary style of communication is no longer workable in an age where new mediums for communicating seem to be developed every day. Communication can be delivered in many forms. When executed well, good communication practices are a strong underlying strength to project management. Since good communication is the responsibility of the project manager, it places them as the most important person in this process. However, it requires active participation from all stakeholders.
Having a progressive communication style helps to distinguish a manager and a leader. Managers and leaders are different in the way they plan, use their authority, interact with stakeholders, and deal with change. In many organizations, the idea of leadership is used without a clear understanding of how it differs from a management position. Gold, Thorpe, and Mumford (2010) write, “One explanation we offer is that management literature has always drawn a distinction between management and leadership, acknowledging a difference between aspects of an organization that might be said to be in a steady-state or routine, and aspects that might be depicted as in flux, unprogrammed, complex, and ambiguous and so on, for which where there are no ‘correct’ answers and management decisions require judgment” (Gold, Thorpe, and Mumford 2010). In my experience, a leader is more focused on the future and the ‘bigger picture.’ Not just for the sake of managing a successful project but for the purpose of developing a highly motivated and collaborative team. Effective leaders are much more transformational in nature and a lot less transactional.
There is some debate about whether leadership can be taught. I personally believe that it is an innate quality. Aucoin writes, “If the management and execution of projects is instinctive or intuitive, then there is much to be gained by leveraging the natural capabilities of people in the performance of projects” (Aucoin 2007). Aucoin speaks to the need and ability for a project manager as a leader to inspire people at the right time. As project management becomes more embedded in corporations and businesses, we are seeing more leaders emerge. Leadership seems to be an underlying strength of project management that is positioning project managers as the top executives within organizations.
Finally, I believe that structure, and more specifically organization skills, is a key underlying strength of project management. By stressing the ideas of planning and control, a project manager has a format to follow. This structure, if followed for projects of any size, better positions the project manager for success. Managing scope, time, and cost is impossible if you are not organized. Being able to answer most any question about the project is not possible if you are not organized. This discipline almost seems to breed a type of compulsive person that progressively elaborates as they strive for project perfection.
Aucoin, B. (2007). Right-brain project management: A complementary approach. Vienna, VA: Management Concepts.
Ellis, C. W. (2004). Management Skills for New Managers. Saranac Lake, NY, USA: AMACOM Books. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com
Gold, J., Thorpe, R., & Mumford, A. (2010). Gower Handbook of Leadership and Management Development (5th Edition). Farnham, Surrey, GBR: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com
Edward Witchey, PMP, MSPM, ITIL has over 15 years of experience in large scale enterprise software implementation project management for municipal governments and the healthcare industry. In his current role, Edward directs the Project Management Office for a large non-profit in the human services health care industry. His portfolio contains various types of large-scale IT projects, including software development, system implementations, and infrastructure. Edward writes about project planning and business requirements.