The role of a project manager is critical in any organization. It’s also a role that has seen significant changes in the past decades, especially with the rapid evolution in corporate functioning. Thanks to technology, it will continue to evolve in years to come. With these changes, the skill set a project manager is getting a new definition.
Hiring the right project manager and ensuring their skills are up-to-date with industry standards can go a long way toward success.
Let’s begin by looking at what is a project manager.
What Does A Project Manager Do?
A project manager is a person who handles an entire project, from feasibility and budget management to delegation and final delivery. That sounds like a tall ask—and it is—but they seldom work alone. One of the primary responsibilities of a project manager is to lead a team. Additionally, the project manager uses their knowledge, skills and tools to see a project through to its end.
A large project is usually tackled by breaking it up into smaller tasks. Let’s break down a project life-cycle into four parts.
This is where the team asks questions such as why a project is necessary and what larger aim it fulfills. This is when the project manager might need to get buy-in from stakeholders or upper management. It’s also the time to cover pre-planning and the research needed to determine feasibility and identify all stakeholders.
With the groundwork laid, the broad planning strokes become more specific. This phase is about breaking up the whole into its parts. Using a RACI matrix or another project management tool, the team can draw up a list of tasks and then assign these to the relevant individuals. They will create a project budget during this phase. They will also assemble a team which could mean bringing together a group of existing resources, or it can involve outside hiring.
This is where the rubber meets the road. The project is now underway, and the project manager’s job is to make sure everyone is on track. The manager will keep a close eye on the budget, the quality of the output and make sure everyone sticks to timelines. This is usually the longest phase of a project, ending with final delivery.
The project is complete, presented or launched as needed. However, the work of the project manager isn’t done. Different projects will have different needs in this last stage. It might include an analysis of the performance and results, handover of documents to another team or an internal feedback session.
Who Is A Project Manager?
A project manager can have a specific designation, or it can be a function of another role. A project manager at a building site has very different responsibilities than a project manager at an IT organization. But they still have to have the skills necessary for effective project management. Some of these include
From selling the concept of a new initiative to getting stakeholders on board, there is a lot resting on the project manager’s ability to influence others. It requires confidence and commitment.
Every step of a project needs effective communication. Knowing how to make a point clearly and concisely is one of the best practices for project managers. There are three main components to communication that a manager must master—listening, writing and speaking.
A manager’s ability to think critically can define their success. It starts with asking why a particular project is necessary for the objectives of the organization. Next, they have to break down a large project into a series of smaller, more achievable tasks and delegate these to the teams that will be responsible for their completion. It ends with analyzing outcomes at the closure.
In the case of a crisis, the ability to think critically really shines. Developing the creative thinking muscle helps keep a cool head and solve problems creatively, and is, therefore, one of the top tips for project managers.
A project manager needs to create and manage budgets to make sure the project is successful. The ability to manage numbers calls for a deeper understanding of how a business operates. Managers who gain this knowledge will benefit in the long run. A well-designed and delivered project is a failure if it runs over budget.
A project manager is only as good as their team. Conversely, a team can only function well with a good manager delegating responsibility in a timely manner. Team members need the freedom and support they need to do their jobs. Managers can achieve this by practicing empathy, humility and authenticity.
A project manager’s people skills are not only needed for team members. They may need to work alongside C-suite executives, outside stakeholders and disgruntled clients. With corporate hierarchy changing and teams becoming more and more cross-functional, this can be exceptionally challenging.
The Ability to Say No
It takes a strong leader to be able to say ‘no’. But sometimes this is what a project manager must do. The ability to say no to unrealistic targets, budgets and deadlines is one that the best managers need to master. It can result in happy teams and better outcomes.
How To Become A Project Manager?
Many employees wonder how to become project managers. The answer is that there are several ways to take on this role. Some project managers rise through the ranks of the organization and learn project management on the job. Others gain a professional qualification. This could be a specific certification for project managers or a Master’s degree. There are also MBA programs in which you can specialize in project management.
Job needs depend on the industry. In some functions, a degree is necessary. In others, a more loose approach might be acceptable.
Tips For Project Managers
A project manager must have a deep well of motivation to draw upon. They need to have the power to motivate the team and all stakeholders over the duration of a project. But what is sometimes more difficult—they need to motivate themselves. Without the conviction within, it is very difficult to bring anyone else along with you.
When a manager leads a project from conception to close, it can be hard for them to maintain distance from the work and the team. However, when problems arise—such as conflict within the team—there is a need for the project manager to take an objective view of the situation before coming to a decision. Objectivity results in positive solutions under hard conditions.
Remember The Big Picture
When a project is very large and long, it’s sometimes difficult to remember the reason behind it all. There might be an endless job list, countless follow-ups to do and budget approvals to get, but it is the job of the project manager to keep the goal in mind at all times. That can ensure the project stays on track and will help unite the team with a sense of shared purpose.
A growth mindset is a belief in our ability to learn and improve through hard work. We often think of a growth mindset as something that applies over the course of a career. But it can also be valuable within the timeframe of a project. When things go wrong, how can managers respond in a way that’s constructive and supportive? Team members need to trust that they can make mistakes, and a manager can help them overcome setbacks and get back on track.
Bring Everyone With You
By sharing the load of a project, a project manager can maximize chances of success and the burden becomes less lonely. This also means successes need to be shared. Getting people to work together is sometimes an uphill battle. It’s important to remember that in the end, it will be worth it.
Upgrade Your Project Manager Skills
Harappa’s High-Performing Leaders program teaches many of the skills needed for effective project management. Communication, risk management, commercial acumen, growth mindset and problem-solving are just a few of the topics tackled.
The Activate, Cultivate, Elevate approach provides maximum impact for mid-career professionals who want to make their mark as project managers. The course is conducted over 30 hours spread across 15 weeks. It starts with skills benchmarking and then helps build 15 thrive skills for the rising manager, with prompt-rich nudges designed to see you through the assignments with peak motivation. It’s a mix of self-paced learning and live masterclasses. Finally, learners receive observed feedback to help measure their progress against the benchmarked skills.
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