What separates a good project manager from a great one? Project management entails more than scheduling meetings and mastering the Gantt chart. A great project manager must wear a lot of hats: leader, coordinator, strategic thinker. To stay at the top of your game, its important to always look for ways to improve — not only your process and your skills, but yourself.
Like it or not, as a project manager you’ll find yourself in a leadership role sooner or later, either by design or by accident. Leadership is a quality many project leaders find lacking in themselves. Take the time to develop leadership skills before you need them, so when the time comes, you’ll be ready.
Improve Time Management
When it comes right down to it, much of a project manager’s role is directing how other people will spend their time. But even if you’re already savvy at managing time — your own or that of others — chances are there’s always room to improve by:
- Learning to save time by saying “no,”
- Remembering the perfect is the enemy of the good,
- Separating the truly urgent from the merely necessary,
- Canceling that meeting. Admit it — is it really necessary?
For a project manager, negotiation isn’t just about people. You have to negotiate time, resources, money, and scheduling. Learning the “art of letting someone else have your way” is one of the most critical skills you can develop. Whether it’s through a course, seminar, book on negotiation, or good old trial by fire, you should always be looking for ways to hone your negotiation skills.
Learn Better Communication
Let’s face it. We could all stand to improve our communication from time to time. Communication is what a project manager does best — and most. As a project manager, the vast majority of what you do is communicate with people. Communication doesn’t just mean transmitting your ideas clearly. It’s also about listening, staying informed, and keeping a strategic vision in mind. A project manager who is always learning new critical communications skills takes a big step toward project management greatness.
When we get deep into a project, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the minutiae and fine details. Being detail-oriented is important to good project management, but it’s also important to rise above the daily routine of scheduling, checking off list items, and dealing with the immediate crises. A great project manager must remember when to pull back, look at the big picture, and keep big strategic goals in mind. Staying on track with your project strategy is vital to risk management, avoiding scope creep, and keeping everyone on board.
Learn from Failure
Everyone fails from time to time. Sooner or later, a project will go off the rails — a deadline doesn’t get met, a vendor fails to deliver, a task goes over schedule and over budget. It’s not possible to avoid failure entirely. But we can take lessons from those failures and build on them.
When failure arises, remember to ask yourself these questions:
- Where did this go wrong?
- What assumptions did I make? How were they incorrect?
- What can I learn from this?
- What could have been done differently?
- How can this be avoided in the future?
A good PM always has a variety of tools in his management arsenal. But there’s always room to take stock and maybe consider adding a new tool to the lineup. This, of course, should never be done lightly — the introduction of new software or process means time spent training, familiarizing, and implementing. But a lot of useful tools, such as Slack, Evernote, and Trello can introduce powerful new options with a minimum impact on your time overhead.
Step Back and Re-Evaluate
In project management, it can be easy to let routine and familiarity take over. But when we grow complacent, we run the risk of becoming hidebound and inflexible. Even if a process or tool is working, it can be productive to take a step back and question whether it could be better — or even if it’s necessary. Is that regular meeting, piece of software, or routine truly vital, or is it just there out of habit or tradition? Re-evaluating doesn’t mean throwing out what’s time-trusted and useful — it’s about honing what does work and making it more streamlined and efficient.
Bringing It All Together
Finally, a great project manager must bring all these skills together as a whole and unify them as part of a single process. Great project management means keeping everyone’s morale high, aligning the project with the needs and values of the customer, and keeping immediate goals and tasks in line with the bigger strategic picture.
Continually updating and improving your skill set is a vital part of great project management. As a PM, you’ll always have a lot of options to choose from — fortunately, making decisions is one of the things you do best.
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