Developing your project and programme management skills and knowledge through training, study and experience can give you a high level of management competence. However, managing a project or programme is not the same as successfully delivering one. The quality of personal traits is normally the differentiator between a competent PM and a good one.
In this article, we will explain how some key traits that we have observed in good project professionals can help them to succeed time and time again.
Most projects and programmes are set up to deliver relatively complex products or to solve difficult issues. As the leader, you will need to juggle and connect the various elements of your project or programme; consisting of people, processes, technology and data. Despite your best efforts at risk management, things sometimes do go wrong, and they can do so both regularly and disastrously. A good project/programme manager, therefore, needs to have plenty of mental fortitude and determination to cope with these issues. When something goes wrong, avoid the common pitfalls of wasting time conducting a detailed post-mortem or assigning blame. Build resilience by learning not to panic and instead convince your team and other stakeholders to focus on finding solutions. The most important step you can take is always the next step.
In an ideal world, we would fully define all projects and programmes at the start with the scope, requirements and resources fixed. However, the real world is much more turbulent and you need to be able to adapt to inevitable change. The changes you will face are not just in relation to the management of projects and programmes. The processes, technology and tools used in our profession are constantly evolving and improving. Even in a single project, you can work with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, each with their own unique cultures and working practises. A successful project or programme manager is aware of the environment they work in and is able to adjust their approach to get the best out of it. Become more adaptable by keeping an open mind, continuous learning and never believing in a silver-bullet methodology or framework that will work in all circumstances.
Influence is one of the core leadership traits and is critical for both project and programme managers. It is obvious that you would struggle to have any impact on stakeholders without an appropriate level of gravitas. Being influential gives a project or programme manager the ability to guide and motivate their teams to deliver. Gaining influence is difficult and requires a multipronged approach including treating others with respect, sharing success, taking responsibility for issues, solving problems and demonstrating expert knowledge. Nevertheless, be aware that influence is linked to reputation and it can be easily lost.
4. The ability to see and share the bigger picture
Businesses run projects and programmes to deliver benefits. In many cases, they are just one element of the overarching business strategy. A project or programme manager should always understand how their deliverables and outcomes affect key business objectives. It is also important to appreciate the interdependencies i.e. how your team’s actions impact other functions, projects and programmes. Sharing the bigger picture with your team ensures that they understand how the work they are doing contributes to the success of the business and can help motivate them. Build this ability by being genuinely interested in what other teams are doing, and by maintaining quality communications channels both within your team and across the business.
Good project and programme managers see every event through a prism of whether it helps or hinders their delivery of benefits. For them, there is no such thing as an inconsequential action or task, and they dedicate most of their time and resources to maintaining schedule progress. By their very nature, delivery-focused teams are driven to produce outputs on time and will be less susceptible to scope creep and gold plating. Become delivery-focused by always breaking down the objectives of your projects into SMART goals or KPIs. Closely track the performance of each goal/KPI over the lifecycle and quickly take corrective action when required.
In the process of delivering projects and programmes, you will face many tough calls. While adopting a gung-ho approach is rarely a good idea, coming across as either indecisive or a procrastinator is much worse. Remember that until the decision is actually made, there is no guaranteed way to tell if it will be right or wrong. Therefore, you might as well move fast, succeed or fail quickly and learn lessons from it. However, there is no benefit in regularly being decisively wrong, a good leader can quickly assess the situation and make the right decision most of the time. When making tough decisions, carefully review the available facts and listen to your team and peers, but also accept that there is always a chance you will get it wrong. Incorporating risk management techniques into the decision-making process will help to improve your decisiveness. Furthermore, you can manage decision-making risks by having mitigation plans ready to execute if your choice turns out to be wrong.
It is easy to understand why so many experts list empathy as one of the core leadership traits. For a leader, it is vital to be able to comprehend various situations through another’s perspective and deduce their feelings. Project and programme managers with lots of empathy will build trust and good relationships with their teams and find it easier to motivate them. However, empathy should only be one factor taken into consideration when making decisions, because it is an emotional response, and placing too much emphasis on it will cloud your judgement. Improve your empathy by always listening carefully to what people say, picturing yourself in their shoes, and responding with thoughtful questions.
Proaptus are experts in delivering projects and programmes designed to boost the performance of your business. Contact us now to find out how we can help your business.