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What skills do I need to be a good project manager?

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In this blog =mc‘s Director Laura Slater shares practical tips on how to become an outstanding project manager, and introduces the highly effective =mc Systems Model.

What skills do I need to be a good project manager?

Good question! And one we ask participants at the start of any project management training. As you’d expect each group will come up with a wide range of skills from being a good communicator to making timely – and the right – decisions, and from delivering agreed outcomes to being able to work successfully up, down and across the organisation. It’s quite a list and, if truth be told, can seem more than a little overwhelming – especially if you’re new to project management. What’s needed then is clear guidance on when and where to apply these skills.

Laura Slater

Now in many project management courses – and in many organisations – the answer is boiled down to a very attractive sounding consideration of two broad elements, effective planning and good people management.

Effective planning covers managing the project life cycle from initial analysis through to implementation and evaluation, ensuring the right things are done in the right sequence at the right time by the right people.

Good people management covers managing stakeholders, their expectations and involvement, as well as managing the project team and their performance.

They sound great – and it’s true, they are important factors in being a successful project manager. The big, big challenge is that they mask the reality that projects are generally more complex than might have appeared at the outset, and more often ‘messy’ than straightforward. That’s why in our experience a project manager’s most important core skills are flexibility and adaptability.

With this in mind, at =mc we have developed a bespoke project management framework – the Systems Model, based on Ralph Coverdale’s Systematic Approach. This deceptively simple framework takes Coverdale’s broad elements and refines them with two questions, which you as the project manager need to keep top of mind throughout the life of the project: ‘What do I know about my project?’ and ‘What don’t I know about my project?’ It also helps you to ask the right questions at the right point.

What do I know?

Using your experience of previous projects and the information you’ve already gathered or been given, work through each phase answering the following:

Phase 1 –  Scoping: What’s the purpose of this project? How will I know if we are successful?

Phase 2 – Planning: What are the resources I need to deliver the project – people, time, money – and what can I have access to?

Phase 3 – Delivering: Are we on track and on time? Do we need to revisit the Scop or Plan?

Phase 4 – Evaluating: How successful were we against the original brief, plan and output? What was less successful?

What don’t I know?

During the project there will be times when you won’t have all the information you need, and you’ll have to ask your project sponsor or other stakeholders some key questions. There may even be times when they don’t know the answers either and you need to use the learning from your project as a way to find out.

Phase 1 – Scoping: Do I really understand the need, problem or opportunity that has brought about this project?

Phase 2 – Planning: What could go wrong? What decision-making authority do key stakeholders have?

Phase 3 – Delivering: Who do we need to inform about changes we need to make to the project?

Phase 4 – Evaluating: What could we have done differently to improve the task or process?

By working systematically through each phase of the =mc Systems Model, and by asking yourself and stakeholders the right questions, you will develop the skills to be a great project manager.

You can find out all about our Systems Model approach to project management in our analysis of popular project planning tools.

Alternatively if you are interested in learning more about how to be a more effective project manager, take a look at our Project Management training programme.

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Laura Slater

About Laura Slater

Laura specialises in project governance and management, as well as leadership and management development. Laura has 8 years’ experience in the charity sector, in particular developing and delivering regional...