I have worked with and managed project managers over many years. Based on my own observations of what I did or did not do well on my projects, and similar observations about other project managers on their projects, I offer my assessment of the top 5 skills of good project managers:
1. Attention to Achieving the Project Goals – In many types of projects, especially technology projects, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the details and the technology and lose sight of the business goals. The focus of the team and the project shifts to a technology goal – for example, building an XYZ system – instead of the goal of solving the business problem. When that happens the resulting system may not meet all of the business expectations.
The project manager and the team need to clearly understand the business goals before detailed planning and work starts on the project. Then, the project manager needs to remind the regularly about the goals and how the project work relates to those goals.
2. Attention to Details – Probably the most-cited skill for project managers is attention to detail, and rightfully so. Projects of any size have hundreds and thousands of little details that must be attended to at the right time and in the right way throughout the course of the project. That’s why senior managers should not manage projects… They are supposed to deal with the big picture, not the details.
It is not the job of the project manager to handle every detail, but it is the project manager’s job to remind the team or ask the team about the details of the tasks they are doing.
3. Communication and Coordination with the Team – The planning and execution of the project is done in the day-by-day, week-by-week grunt work of the project. And it’s done by the project manager working directly with the team to make it all happen… communicating and coordinating about their activities, the dependencies between the activities, the amounts of time to get the activities done, the issues that must be resolved, and so on.
Daily communication and coordination is the core of managing the project. It requires good organization and good people and verbal communication skills.
4. Problem Solving and Communication outside the Team – General problem solving is an important project manager skill because problems and roadblocks must be dealt with frequently. In most business projects, it usually means finding the persons outside of the team whom the project manager or team must work with and taking the appropriate steps to get the problem resolved. It may mean going up the management ladder to escalate the problem and get the necessary attention, prioritization, and resources directed toward the problem.
This particular skill set also involves communicating regular status to management about the progress of the project and issues that might be impacting work results, schedule, budget, etc. It requires excellent people and verbal communication skills and good written communication skills as well.
5. Customer Relationship Management – In business projects, it is important that the project manager maintain a good working relationship with the customer, whether the customer is external or internal. Managing the customer’s expectations is a key part of this – not in a manipulative way, but in an honest and relatively open way. The customer needs to know what is realistic in developing the product and what is not, and customers always like to be kept informed about how the project is going and whether you, as the project manager, are responding to issues in the most effective way.
Managing the customer relationship also involves communication with management – keeping them informed about project issues, whether the customer is happy and quiet or unhappy and likely to escalate. Like several others, this area of performance obviously requires good people and communication skills too, as well as good issues management, which is all about tracking customer issues and managing them to the satisfaction of the customer.
Bottom-Line: There are many skills that a project manager must have, but if he or she does these five well, their probability of success with most projects will be high.