Tips for efficient project managers – part 1

The efficient project manager is one who is aware of the many things beyond the technical skills, such as creating schedules and budgets or managing scope, that are required in order to be successful. While a thorough understanding of the technical skills is definitely required, we need to be knowledgeable in the soft skills as well in order to enjoy real success as project managers.

Below you can find 6 tips that will help you related to both areas, with the aim to help you become more successful in managing your projects.

1.  Work to become a servant leader

The idea of the command and control style of leadership, where the project manager directs his team in all daily tasks and makes all important decisions is an old school idea. Thankfully, this paradigm is beginning to die away and is being replaced by a new style that is better suited to people in our current workforce. 

The newer approach is more that of a servant leader, where the project manager assumes the role of someone who supports the team and helps members move in desired directions. This ensures that members have everything needed to accomplish work, including help removing roadblocks to that work, when necessaryAccept the idea that your team collectively knows more about the work of the project than you do and is best served by support, help, and guidance, rather than control and direction.

Stay focused on the big picture where your knowledge and experience can be used most effectively. Resist the urge to direct and control, but rather try to guide and support the work. 

2. Create trust

The project manager should actively work to create an atmosphere of trust within his team and beyond into the larger organization to the greatest extent possible

Individuals in low-trust environments tend to hoard information and are reluctant to share knowledge with other team members or management leading to lower productivity and less than optimal performance

A successful project manager can minimize the effects of an environment by beginning with his team and building an environment of trust within the team. This is best accomplished by “walking the talk” or by always behaving ethically with integrity, by keeping commitments, by open communication and by practicing transparency. 

3. Seek to influence rather than to persuade

As a project manager, you are in a position where communication takes up a significant part of your workday. Much of this communication involves efforts to get others to do something for you, those others being your project team, functional managers, your management, or a variety of other people.

It is always better to influence those individuals into a particular course of action, rather than to persuade them. To influence someone to action means to have them not only agree with a particular idea but to actually believe in the idea and to want to take action. This is much more likely to produce a commitment to action, which should always be the goal. Persuasion, on the other hand, will often produce compliance rather than commitment. This may get the job done, but not at the level that an engaged, committed person will achieve. 

Make a deliberate effort to influence rather than to persuade. Use an inquiry rather than an advocacy communication model, whenever possible. Involve the other person in the decision and the development of the idea to the greatest extent possible; create a knowledge worker. Be transparent and present. Always fully engage the other person in all your communication efforts. 

4. Build a very strong relationship with your customer from the beginning of the project

The ability to develop these strong relationships goes back to the people skills that you possess, and your willingness to develop those skills. In addition, you have to actively and intentionally develop strong relationships with the people with whom you interact, especially your customers.

There are going to be times on every project when things are not going well. Having a strong relationship with your customer will make them more willing to be understanding and to help you work through difficulties, rather than to be adversarial and to cause you problems. A strong customer relationship will also allow them to help you with political problems within your own organization when those situations threaten the success of your project. 

Develop a good relationship with your customer and enjoy a happier, more successful project management experience. 

5. Embrace the idea of “minimally sufficient”

This is another concept that comes to us from the world of agile methodologies. The basic idea is to do only what is necessary to accomplish whatever you are trying to accomplish, and no more. In the agile world, this concept is most visibly applied to documentation; however, we can apply it to many aspects of traditionally managed projects, not just documentation. 

As a project manager, be vigilant from the early planning stages of the work your team is required to do to complete the project. Be thorough in your requirements analysis. Is each requirement necessary? Are any requirements excessive? Does all required documentation add value or can some be reduced and still retain value? Often the customer or those in management require things without a full understanding of the value or impact of the things they require. It’s not intentional on their part, but in the busy workplace, they sometimes lose track of these things and it is up to the project manager to be the last line of defense. 

Look also at your processes and procedures. Are you holding too many meetings? Do your meetings involve only the people that are really required and are they efficient and effective? Are project reviews excessive and do they add value? Are there better ways to gather and disseminate information? By asking these questions, you can be deliberate in your goal of reducing wasted effort and maximizing the productivity of your team. 

6. Develop your emotional intelligence (EQ)

As project managers, a very large part of what we do involves interacting with people. We interact with our team, our management, our customers and a variety of others during our typical workday. As human beings, our behavior is driven to a large degree by our emotions, and not having an awareness or understanding of our emotions means that we do not have full awareness or control of our behavior.

Many project managers are very knowledgeable in the technical skills of project management but are severely lacking in the soft skills (i.e. they have high IQ and low EQ). These project managers are typically seen as task-driven and “get it done” kinds of people. While they enjoy some success as project managers, their career success and the performance of their teams will be limited by their lack of EQ. 

Remember that hard work and a “driven” approach cannot make up for a lack of soft skills or low emotional intelligence. Work towards becoming an enlightened project manager, take time to learn about and improve your emotional intelligence, and enjoy greater success professionally as well as personally.

References:

“101 Tips for the Enlightened Project Manager”,  Joe Drammissi 

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