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The Changing Skill Sets of Project Managers

Insights / 06.25.2020

Jessica Goodwin / Program Supervisor

Project management requires skilled finesse. Project managers are expected to closely monitor all projects, skillfully get the best out of every team member, proactively identify and mitigate risks, and understand the nuances of how to work with each team, all while ensuring the project comes in on time and on budget. It’s a complex role that is frequently over simplified. However, project management is truly an evolving craft. Just as one learns additional nuanced facets of a given industry throughout a career, project management skills are similarly strengthened and developed over time.

Changing Skill Sets of Project Managers

As presented at the PMI Global Congress, while there are a variety of project management organizations across the globe, project management can be broken up into three competency areas: knowledge, proven experience, and personality. Proven experience can be verified with a resume. However, when recruiting for a project manager, knowledge, specifically leadership, and personality are more challenging areas to assess. Project management today requires an agile mindset and a project manager that can quickly make decisions while balancing tactical details, the emotional needs of each individual team member, and the overall project goals. It’s a fine balance that can quickly shift from a strain on team dynamics to being unable to guide the project’s direction. Not to mention, project managers also need to stay informed of the latest industry news coupled with evolving technologies as changes can impact a project’s success. Even the PMP exam is changing its exam content to reflect the shifting expectations of the project manager. 42% of the new exam is focused on people vs. organizing the exam by performance domain. While there are many skills that play a role in effective project management, soft skills are essential for people management and the foundation of these skills is centered on leadership and a growth mindset.

Leadership Skills of Project Managers

While project management was once a behind-the-scenes administrative discipline, it is now a leadership position, requiring one to establish strong relationships with both internal and external stakeholders, along with being the glue that keeps projects on track. With the shift in exposure, the project complexities have also increased (i.e., the depth of specializations by channel, global remote workforce, etc.), requiring project managers to further develop their people management skills. With this evolution, some companies have already successfully adjusted their philosophy towards servant leadership.

Servant leaders are self-aware, focus on continuous improvement, and leverage a tailored approach based on the situation. As leaders, they train their team, communicate expectations, provide day-today support to ensure the training material is applied, and most importantly, take full responsibility to ensure their employees get an A. They’re not afraid to admit mistakes and will adjust their approach based on past experiences, the person they’re leading, and that person’s experience with the task at hand. Not to mention, many companies from Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work practice servant leadership. This is invaluable because it highlights an attitude primarily focused on supporting others and personal growth through the practice of Kaizen, or continuous improvement, which goes hand in hand with a growth mindset.

Growth Mindset of Project Managers

“The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome.”

- Carol Dweck, Psychologist & Author
 

Effective leadership needs to be coupled with an attitude that prioritizes introspection and learning. While not a skill itself, a growth mindset is centered around the belief that one can learn and succeed through sheer effort whereas a fixed mindset believes that abilities, like intelligence, are fixed traits. As mentioned in the introduction, project management is an evolving craft. With an openness for feedback and a constant drive to evolve, project managers should regularly reflect on their own performance and techniques against what team members currently need, along with any shifts in both their industry and the project management discipline to determine what new skills need to be developed. By leading by example and coaching their teams to act similarly, this attitude will strengthen the performance and bond of the overall team and the manager-mentee relationship.

“We will now have to move to a continuum of lifelong learning, which essentially means we have to be lifelong learners.”

- Ravi Kumar, President at Infosys

Hiring Project Managers Fit for the Future

When it comes to hiring, the ideal candidate should not only have the applicable project management experience, they should also demonstrate servant leadership along with a growth mindset. Here are a few sample interview questions to consider when assessing a potential project management hire.

  • What have you learned recently and/or what are you looking forward to learning?

  • Provide an example of when you had to adjust to change. What was your approach?

  • Would you consider yourself a leader? If so, what type of leader are you?

  • If I were to talk to teammates, how would they describe your project management style?

  • If I were to talk to teammates, on a scale of 1-10, how supportive of them would they say you are? Please explain.

  • Provide an example of when you recently modified your approach based on a team member’s strengths.

  • How do you deal with conflict?

  • Provide an example of how you recently applied empathy in a work setting.

All in all, the changing skill sets of project managers require a custom approach with a focus on leading, learning, and adaptation. As tasks need to be adjusted depending on the project, the project management approach should also be adjusted based on team preferences. It won’t always go smoothly, but with a focus on iterative improvement, each time will be better than the last.

Interested in learning more about Red Door’s project or business management disciplines? Contact us today. We’d love to chat!

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