To be successful at project management, you certainly need a strong technical foundation and a solid grasp of existing project management frameworks. This is the sort of understanding and knowledge you develop through coursework and classroom training.
But while project management training is important, to become a truly great project manager, one also needs to exercise skills that simply cannot be learned in school. In order to reach their full potential, a project manager needs to hone a set of “softer” skills through experience, practice, and self-reflection – then learn to integrate these soft skills with their technical training.
Here are 5 crucial project management skills that you won’t learn in a classroom.
1. Decision Making
No matter how much theory or role-playing practice you throw at the decision making process, a Project Manager – with the word Manager being key here – ultimately has to exercise their judgment and make difficult choices in uncharted waters. In fact, a Project Manager will likely have to make dozens, even hundreds of important decisions over the course of a project.
A Project Manager needs to not only be capable of exercising good judgment and critical thinking, but must also be bold and cannot shy away from making tough calls that may be unpopular. While the input of team members should certainly be valued, you as manager must ultimately learn to thrive on making the tough decisions.
The nature of projects is that the parameters can change in an instant. There may be a budget cuts, lost team members, new technological developments or barriers, interference from competitors, and an untold number of other potential obstacles that may arise over the course of a project. The ability to effectively adapt to changing circumstances cannot be taught in a classroom – the very nature of adaptability means that every leader needs to find it within themselves.
3. The Power of Persuasion
Being a leader not only requires the ability to make decisions and dictate the direction of a project to team members, but being effective as a project manager also requires the ability to persuade and influence people over whom the manager may have no direct authority. This ability can have a tremendous effect on the success or failure of a project. Here’s an obvious example of where the power of persuasion comes into play – if the team has made a change to a project, but the stakeholders are unlikely to approve the change, a great project manager can – more often than not – use their finesse and powers of persuasion to convince the stakeholders that the change is for the better.
Persuasion is a powerful tool in a project manager’s toolbox, and it simply cannot be learned in a classroom. While it can certainly be studied (such as in the famous book “How To Win Friends and Influence People”), the only way to truly develop the skill of persuasion is through repeated practice and experience.
4. Problem Solving
We are not referring to problem solving here in a technical sense i.e. the ability to solve an engineering challenge, but rather in a more general sense. When a team works together on a project for a long period of time, there will inevitably be conflict and flare-ups. There may be disagreements, personality differences, and team members who are difficult for everyone to work with. It is up to the project manager to solve these problems.
While one can certainly study conflict resolution techniques in the classroom and practice them in role-play settings, or implement team building exercises in an effort to smooth over problems, ultimately the ability to routinely quash problems and keep a project running smoothly is a skill that’s honed through experience. In many ways, it’s also a skill built on an individual’s personality; a project manager who has difficulty communicating effectively and relating to different people will have a much harder time dealing with interpersonal conflicts and problem team members.
5. Fostering Loyalty & Morale
A great project manager must have the ability to foster loyalty in their team. While it’s important to be be a strong leader and make tough decisions – even when others disagree – it’s also extremely important to know how to command respect, foster loyalty, and maintain team morale. This involves a delicate balance of strong will, leadership by example, a finely tuned social barometer, as well as tact and diplomacy.
A great project manager needs to make team members feel that their opinions are heard, even if the leader ultimately goes in another direction. A great project manager must make team members feel like their contributions are valued and appreciated, even when they might be feeling marginalized or fatigued.
This is a guest post by Nat Sanderson, who is a current contributor to QualityEducationandJobs.com. Nat is extremely passionate about business, education, and technology.
Photo credit Swiv, Flickr