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Seven Ways to Be a More Effective Project Manager

By: Russell Harley

As a project manager, you need several key skills. Here are seven  that are demanded of a project manager.
 
#1 Be a Leader
While this should be pretty obvious, it is very easy to get caught up in personalities and the normal socialization of the workplace, especially if the project is a long-term one or one that the team needs to work long hours together on. As a project manager, the important thing to remember is that your only goal is the completion of the project. Your goal is not to be friends with everyone on the team or have them all like you. Projects can easily get into trouble if things start sliding due to the project manager not wanting to hold people accountable. Of course, if you can get the project completed and everyone still loves each other, then you may be canonized at some point.

#2 Stop Multitasking
This may be the hardest thing to do as a project manager. It has been proven by numerous researchers that multitasking is bad for everyone. Yet we still try to do more than we really are capable of accomplishing. How do you avoid multitasking? In a word: Delegate. You have a team of subject matter experts (SMEs) plus others on your team. Ask them to help or assign tasks to them that they should be doing, versus you. Yes it is easier for you to do it, but what is the point of having a team if you are doing most of the work?

#3 Have Effective Meetings
As project managers, a lot of time is spent leading meetings. To make sure the time spent in these meeting is used efficiently, a key tool, which is underused, is a Team Charter. This is a simple one- to two-page document that details the protocol of the meetings that everyone agrees to. Items in the Charter may include agreement to make schedules, no use of the cell phone during meetings, and no socializing during a session. Here is one suggestion on how to create a charter: http://extension.missouri.edu/staff/sdeteams/Documents/ELD2010Documents/Charter%20Guidelines%20(2).pdf.

There are many other examples online. Using something like this will not only help the existing team, but will also allow new members to understand exactly what is expected of them.

#4 Be an Agent for Change
Process and procedures are great for keeping everything running smoothly, especially on difficult projects. However, one thing the team should be doing is making sure that these are helping the project versus hurting it. If you or someone on your team can improve a process, then speak up and let it be known. Showcase how the change will get this project done faster, cheaper, etc. The change that is proposed may actually impact multiple projects versus just yours (or even the entire company). However, if the change will only be a benefit to your team/project, be sure to explain that this is just an exception for this project and not a global one. If you can accomplish this, your team (and sponsors) will thank you.   

#5 Breathe
An important thing that project managers sometimes forget is that the project(s) they are responsible for are not theirs. Project managers normally do not “own” projects, the sponsors do. Project managers are only responsible (and most of the time that by itself is a huge task) for managing the project. If massive changes occur with the project, that’s not your task, it is the sponsor’s. Do not stress out as if this is something you or your team were doing wrong.

#6 Support Your Team
If someone on your project team does something wrong or misses a deadline, be willing to take responsibility for the issue. Explain to the stakeholders that you did not communicate the task clearly, were not monitoring the workload for them, etc. Also, try to keep the person's name out of any “official” documentation. Everyone will know anyway what really happened, but there is no sense in making it known officially. Of course, if it continues to be an issue, then discussions with their manager will be needed. On the other hand, if someone does something, even if minor, that helps the project out in some way, make sure everyone know what they did and the impact on the project. This will show the team members that not only do you support them when they do good things, but also when they make mistakes.

#7 You are NOT Technical Support
Many project managers come from a technical background. Beginning project managers typically start out by managing projects in their old field of expertise. So it is very easy for them to not only act as project managers, but also as a technical support resource. However, as more time is spent managing projects and those projects continue to increase in size, complexity, etc., the time devoted to developing project management skills increases while technical skills diminish, usually pretty rapidly. This means after a few years of managing projects versus whatever you used to do, you are no longer a technical subject matter expert, you are a project management expert. So if you continue to try to be a technical resource for the project, either the project management side will suffer or the technical side will suffer due to the erosion of the technical skill set. Or even worse, both will suffer. This means the project will be even worse off than if you concentrated on the project management skills, versus trying to do both and doing neither one well.    

With the increasing need for project managers, we should all want to improve our skills and abilities. Hopefully one of these suggestions will help you in becoming a better project manager. If it does, then this article has done what it was intended to do—to help you as a project leader.

About the Author(s)

Russell Harley  is a veteran project manager and PMO director, passionate about helping organizations embrace world-class project management practices and "climb out of the quicksand" in terms of gaining control over complex, ever-changing project portfolios. The best practices he advocates stem from key learnings acquired from his M.S Degree in Project Management, combined with over 20 years of hands-on PM experience in the high technology, telecommunications, and clean energy sectors.