The new year is already here and with it comes the opportunity to evaluate what is and isn’t working for your team. If you are a project manager, it can be difficult to step back and see where to improve as you’re often at the mercy of everyone else. Unlike a singular focus, your job requires you to be everywhere, all the time. Besides cloning yourself, what else is there to do?
Of course, there are tried and true skill sets every project manager should have - time management skills, good communication, risk assessment. However, for the new year, we wanted to focus on a few unique skills that may help you improve your work and quality of life in 2020.
Here are four essential project management skills for 2020
Being a project manager means you are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating priorities. You have to juggle the endless amounts of requests from product & marketing teams, executive leadership, external stakeholders, and so on. Though having a keen eye for prioritization is critical to the business, being able to simply put a stake in the ground and move forward is equally important.
Oftentimes, you can feel pressure to simply say “yes” to someone who is pushing for something to get done. However, if you say yes to everyone - you’ll likely fail. When there are conflicting opinions, hold your own and make sure to communicate the big picture to people. Explain the trade-offs and make sure they understand the consequences. Decisiveness isn’t about being right, it’s about holding the courage to tell the truth - and sometimes that can be the toughest part of the job.
Awareness of Communication Styles
Have you ever watched two people who have completely different communication styles try to solve a problem together? It’s a complete trainwreck. It’s almost as if they’re speaking two different languages, and a part of your job is to not only translate but to push the conversation forward. Everyone has a unique communication style and as a project manager, it’s important you understand each one. It’s not only critical to relaying information, but for your own sanity it is key to quickly deciphering what messages are coming in and what to do with them.
It’s not always obvious either. Gaps in communication styles can be insidious and to the untrained eye, it can be incredibly overwhelming to manage.
If you’re dealing with a project that has multiple personalities and communication styles involved, the best way to approach it is to be incredibly clear about expectations upfront and document those expectations. Make sure people are communicating what they want to get out of the project, when they expect things, and double check this in writing to avoid conflicts later.
Ability to Motivate
Now that you have a decisive attitude and awareness around different communication styles, it’s time to put that to work. Understanding how people are motivated is a key part of being a project manager. The reality is that you’re not only managing projects - you’re managing people. Though you may have zero direct reports, the amount of people who rely on your direction is endless.
One way to motivate people is to get extremely clear on what people ultimately want. Are they cranky because they want validation and aren’t getting it? Are they rushing this project out the door because the CEO is putting on the pressure? What’s with their lack of updates - are they nervous they did a bad job? Get to the heart of why people are behaving in certain ways and you’ll have a much better result in getting them to the finish line. Take time to have discussions with people about what they’re working on. Pay attention to their body language in meetings. Get a sense of what their personal goals are in order to find some common ground on what the project needs from them.
Drop the People Pleasing Perfectionist
A big part of your day is likely reacting to everyone else’s needs. So it can be difficult to find time to strategize and think things through without pleasing the needs of everyone on your team. Being able to objectively assess tasks and prioritization is key to keeping things moving forward, but so is understanding that perfect can be the enemy of good.
As projects become more complex, it can easily spin you in circles if you’re gripping too tightly to original ideas or peoples’ opinions. A part of being a great project manager is understanding when good is good enough. One way to do this is to be incredibly clear to your team about trade-offs. Overcommunicate what it means to work on a project for even just a few hours more. Find a system that will allow your team to quickly make decisions on what deserves priority and if it isn’t working - don’t be afraid to make the decision yourself.
No matter what areas you want to improve in the new year, give yourself some time to step back and explore what’s worked so far. Fine-tune areas where you can improve communication and clarity, and leverage these tips to not only be better at your job but to also make your life a lot easier.