10 Tips for Improving Project Management Skills

It was early in my career as a project manager that I realized I didn't manage projects at all; I manage people and processes. The reality is that being a project manager is less about management and more about leadership. 

Every project has unique challenges and every organization is different, but there are certain things that project managers can do to achieve success regardless of their industry or organization. To sum it up in a word, project management is about awareness. This article will outline 10 ways project managers can step up their game and achieve a higher level of awareness about themselves, their teams, and the culture they work within.     

1. Understand organization culture in depth

A project manager who understands whether the culture is results oriented or reward oriented can use that knowledge to properly motivate their project team, and knowing whether the norm is to be more open and candid or whether it is closed and private will help the project manager understand how to run effective meetings. 

2. Pay attention to organizational maturity

Organizational maturity and process discipline go hand in hand and it’s easy to gauge if you know what to look for. In the IT environment, I have found Change and Release Management to be a useful measure of organization maturity. Successful project managers have learned to use methods that are congruent with organization maturity.

3.  Improve individual and team performance

A project team is only as strong as the weakest member and some PMs find it difficult to admit or confront low performance.  Low performing team members are not bad people - they might just need some retraining, additional motivation, or to be moved to a project that is more appropriate for their skill level. 

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4. Don’t forget about change management

All projects result in some sort of change.  There are many change management philosophies and it can be confusing to decide which one to use.  At the end of the day, though, using any change management approach is better than not using one at all. 

5. Develop and manage project stakeholders

Even in the most progressive and enlightened organizations, change can sometimes result in resistance.  Developing champions, cheerleaders, and advocates across the organization to promote the project is critical to success. 

6. Manage project sponsors

Project management often means managing up as well as down and across.  Just like any other team member, project sponsors need direction and motivation from time to time.

7. Manage your ego

As project managers, we have a responsibility to model good behavior, which means checking our egos at the door.  The moment we allow our egos to manage us is the same moment we stop listening and become reactive. 

8. Report problems early

Most project management organizations have a methodology to report risks, threats, or problems using the red-yellow-green model.  Unfortunately, some project managers see a negative status as a punishment.  The guidance I give to PMs I am coaching is this: “Nobody knows you’re in trouble unless you raise your hand and ask for help.  Reporting a red or yellow status simply means you’ve hit a barrier and need some outside intervention.”

9. Create and communicate a compelling project vision

What most project teams want to know three basic things:  What, When, and Why. A project vision is a word-picture of the future and it should explain how the organization, the team, and each individual member will benefit.  A great project vision can motivate the team and get them excited about the project. 

10. Be Versatile

As a project manager, we rarely know what’s going to be thrown our way next.  To be successful, we must adapt to our circumstances and not the other way around.  Project teams look to their Project Managers for vision, direction, and leadership and the challenge is to motivate and lead them with courage, confidence, and humility. 

What’s are your top tips for project managers?  Please share your observations and experiences so that we may all grow and improve.