There’s a skills shortage among project managers. This project management talent gap is expected to result in a loss of $207 billion in GDP by 2027. A big reason is that business leaders, and project managers themselves, don’t know what it takes to be a successful project manager. In fact, only 58 percent of organizations understand the value of project management. Here are the crucial skills that every project manager has to possess if they want to succeed.
Crucial Skills Every Project Manager Needs
Here’s the sad truth: Bad project managers are costing companies money. Poor project performance wastes 9.9 percent of every dollar. That means if your organization has $100 million invested in a project, poor execution is throwing almost $10 million out the window.
The irony is that a lack of skills are at the root of poor performance, which is something that memorizing theories, frameworks, and terms simply won’t address. The cold, hard reality is that if you don’t develop the right skills, the right way, you’ll never be in a position to lead. Wondering which skills will get you there? Here’s a list of skills you need to be a project manager that gets shit done:
1. Real Leadership
There’s a fundamental misunderstanding about leadership. Too many people don’t know that there is a difference between authority and leadership. What’s the difference between a boss and a leader? Bosses have a title, and they give commands. Leaders inspire people around them to collectively define their own roadmap to a shared goal.
What people tend to forget is that the person in power needs the team to choose to follow them, or they’ll get canned. I’ve seen it. I’ve watched C-level’s who were indirectly fired because employees made a decision, as a team, not to follow. In one example I watched a CIO, get fired because his boss saw that he wasn’t able to navigate the relationship with his team.
What’s real leadership? When most people think about leaders, they picture a muscle-clad hero, and a crowd gazing up longingly. But real leadership isn’t about you. It’s about helping that crowd get clear on a goal, and then choose to come together, take action, and deliver.
In the business world, if you want to lead, you have to buy into the power of your team. Real leadership is not authority. It’s empowering your teammates, giving them enough support to succeed, harnessing their best qualities, and encouraging them to focus their energy into the company’s goals.
2. Active Listening
Communication isn’t just important to leadership. Leadership is communication. And active listening is an essential component of successful leadership.
Listening actively means taking the time to understand the position of every team member. It requires understanding how teammates feel, how they think, and how they connect.
When you encourage dialogue between your team’s leaders and followers, it builds connections. The more team members are listened to, the more they’ll feel cared for. This builds trust, and trust drives productivity.
What’s more, when teammates feel comfortable speaking up, it adds a breadth and depth of perspectives to your organization, which sparks innovation.
3. Voracious Learning
Unfortunately, project managers are coming into their industries underprepared. In fact, a skills shortage is expected to lead to 90 million project management job openings in less than a decade. Voracious learning is the only way to close the gap and be prepared to lead in every industry. Project managers need to identify and mitigate obstacles while executing projects on deadline and on budget—all with near 100 percent user adoption on day one.
What does an ability or desire to constantly learn produce?
The exercise broadens perspective, enables experimentation, and makes for a master problem solver. Problem solving is intrinsically about learning. It requires concrete experience, reflection, conceptualization, active experimentation, and the tenacity needed to repeat these steps as quickly as possible until you get the result you are looking for. This skill enables Project Managers to successfully lead projects with complex and diverse subject matter effectively. Voracious learning is also essential to change leadership and an organization's change readiness. Organizations led by and comprised of voracious learners are significantly more capable of navigating change than an organization filled with experts or knowers.
No, accountability isn’t about being responsible for or babysitting adults. Successful project managers need to know how to cultivate a culture of accountability throughout the teams around them. And that starts with setting up accountability at the beginning of an exercise. Clearly articulate your objectives. Ask team members why and how they’re planning to accomplish goals. Accountability takes a fierce commitment to clear expectations and a relentless pursuit of alignment.
Leaders don’t hold people accountable after they have dropped the ball. They help people stay accountable to clear eyed voluntary commitments that they helped them craft. For more on accountability see “Stop Holding Your Project Managers Accountable, It Doesn’t Work.”
How to Pick Up the Right Skills
Change is not easy, but there are ways to develop the right skills to get yourself a seat at the table. Here’s where to start:
Be Choosy with Training
No, any old training won’t do. If you want to be successful, you have to choose training that teaches the “how to” of project planning, execution, and leadership. Just learning terms, frameworks, or theories will not cut it in the real world.
Before signing up for any certification, double- and triple-check to make sure it teaches the how-to’s, and that it is taught by practitioners as opposed to theorists. It should be an intensive program—which means it should span weeks to months. It should also teach leadership and human behavior so you understand why people do the things they do instead of guessing what might happen during a project.
Connect with Leaders
The best way to learn about your industry is to dive in. Network with people in your industry. Here’s where learning becomes pivotal. You need to research thought leaders and know every corner of your space.
How? It all circles back to listening. Listen actively and communicate authentically. Use LinkedIn; it’s an integral part of engaging with the community. When you show that you can comment intelligently and push the conversation forward, you’ll naturally start making meaningful connections. You can start by connecting with me on LinkedIn. Send me an invite and mention this post. I will gladly accept.
Shift Your Leadership Style
Better leadership means changing the way you view accountability. Despite the common confusion, real leaders don’t hold people accountable; they help teammates communicate their needs and become self-accountable. Throughout the process, remember, leadership is never about you.
Get Project Management Skills the Fast Way
You can perfect the skills you need and earn your seat at the table with our Project Leadership Program. Go here to learn about becoming GSD certified.