While it is true that any skill can be developed, improved, and polished, experience shows that Project Managers (PMs) must bring certain innate qualities to the job. PMs must be able to feel comfortable under pressure, have well-developed communication skills, be good active listeners, willing to learn at all times, fully understand the concept of accountability, and be ready to adopt a problem-solving approach when needed quickly.
Let us delve into these qualities. The PM is in charge of the whole project and is accountable to its organization and the client on behalf of the entire team, being the visible face of the project. In Making Sense, PMs are never on their own: the whole team is responsible for the projects, the accounts, and the people. However, PMs are in the spotlight from the first contact with the client to the go-live of the product and during the adjustment and maintenance phases. They are supposed to lead, negotiate and adjust following the objectives, the monthly and total budget, the agreed scope for each product development stage, and the lead times. Therefore, PMs must know how to manage the workload.
A communicator at heart
In terms of communication skills, suffice it to say that one of the PM’s main tasks is to mediate between the stakeholders: your message must be as clear to the product development team as it is to the client. As to the team, you must ensure everyone is working towards a common goal that must also be consistent with their personal goals.
PMs will have to withstand the client’s pressure without letting it trickle down to the team and balance the ability to convey the urgency of matters to collaborators without creating stress. PMs must be able to forge strong ties with their team, such as empathy, by showing their vulnerabilities. Without the risk of exaggerating, one could even say that a “PM” is a “communicator” at heart.
An attitude of resolution
Accountability is not a minor issue. It is almost impossible for a project not to suffer from the unexpected, imponderables or problems that may risk meeting deadlines, budgets, or scopes. Typical examples are a collaborator who fell ill, a development that turned out to be more complex than expected, a lousy calculation that resulted in a poor balance of skills to do what it takes, and a selection of tools that, in theory, looked excellent but in practice did not turn out to be adequate for a specific project. At these moments, the PM assumes the responsibility to narrow the gap vis-à-vis the original plan, detect the shortcomings, and inform the situation as soon as possible to gain time while making decisions and fixing the problem. The longer the delay in noticing the problem and alerting about it, the narrower the margin of maneuver to avoid or minimize the deviation. It is essential to avoid surprises, so risks and conflicts must be managed as early and seamlessly as possible.
Here again, communication skills come into play: it is essential to explain the problem as clearly as possible and, at the same time, motivate the team to think of all possible solutions, transmit what is happening to the client’s stakeholders and coordinate the steps to take so that these new ideas are effectively transformed into actions.
It is an advantage that PMs have played at least some of the roles within the development team, which will allow them to know in depth the needs of the team members and even to predict failures in the process. It does not mean they will be able to fix the shortcomings from a technical point of view. However, they will be more likely to troubleshoot them and look for adequate help.
Training and expertise
There are two keywords for those who do not have all these innate qualities (and those who do): training and expertise. Training should be continuous and cover both technical knowledge – especially agile methodologies or the tools used by the team- and soft or human skills – communications, motivation, culture management, negotiation, and leadership.
Expertise, on the other hand, results from honing in on all these skills.
Each project is unique, and when PMs are new to the job and face their first conflict, they may lack the experience to evaluate which actions failed and which were successful in the past. They may only focus on the fact that the client is disappointed and feels stressed and anxious. The more experienced PMs are less emotionally charged, act more relaxed, and manage to reach the solution more quickly and efficiently, having many past trials and errors under their belt.