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Top 5 Skills for Project Managers

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TOP 5 SKILLS FOR PROJECT MANAGERS by Chris Croft www.lynda.com/industries | enterprisesolutions@lynda.com


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Introduction Most project managers slide into the job randomly, learning as they go. All have strengths and weaknesses. And it can be unforgiving work. Any project manager who’s survived for any significant length of time is usually pretty good. That said, most project managers can benefit from closing skill gaps and aiming for perfection. What would the ultimate project manager be like? Can you become that person? Explore this guide to develop the top five skills every project manager should possess. 1 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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Table of Contents 03 Skill No. 1: Planning 16 Skill No. 5: Time management 06 Skill No. 2: Leadership 19 Conclusion 09 Skill No. 3: Communication 20 Author 13 21 2 | Skill No. 4: Assertiveness Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com About Lynda.com


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Planning 3 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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SKILL NO. 1 Planning Planning includes how to estimate time and cost, develop critical paths, control projects with Gantt charts, estimate resources required for one or multiple projects, and prepare for risks. challenges Project management planning often is taught in ways that over complicate. And some techniques are complicated. But these complex approaches are only necessary for the rare, extremely large project. 4 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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solutions For most small to medium-size projects, quick and simple planning methodologies will suffice. First, never use averages for time or cost estimates. Instead, always include contingency figures. Second, do some visual planning. Always create a network diagram before constructing your Gantt chart. I like to use Post-It Notes. This helps ensure you’ve got the correct dependencies and critical path forming the basis for your chart. For inspiration, check out my Lynda.com course: Project Management Simplified. benefits Contingency cost estimates make life easier when things go worse than expected. And planning in a visual way helps ensure your goals are achievable and project is on schedule. If they are not, you can start thinking about what needs to change. Visual planning also helps communicate your ideas to your customers, boss, team, or other stakeholders. It helps justify the time and money required, and reinforces that you are a professional. In addition, you may find that Gantt charts make a great sales tool. 5 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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Leadership 6 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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SKILL NO. 2 Leadership Leadership includes managing teams, knowing how and when to delegate, and how to motivate people to do good work. This sometimes means motivating people who don’t report to you. You might be “borrowing” them from another team for your project. challenges If you’re not someone’s boss, you probably don’t have the power to fire them or control their pay. You’ll have to form a working relationship with them quickly. In addition, they may not want to be part of your project. And you probably have several other responsibilities on your plate. You might want the people on your team to simply do what they’re told and get on with it. But beware: research shows personal conflicts are the biggest cause of project failures. 7 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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solutions Delegate as much as you can. In doing so, realize that “I do it” and “You do it” aren’t your only choices. you can: • consult your team before making final decisions • share in making decisions • coach individuals • require team members to check with you before acting • request frequent reports to keep progress on track benefits The more you delegate, the more quickly tasks get done. And the work quite possibly will be better than your own would be. Also, delegating motivates people. They enjoy a challenge and a sense of achievement. A great leader’s team says, “We did it ourselves.” 8 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com ASK YOURSELF: Can I delegate more? Am I monitoring enough but not too much?


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Communication 9 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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SKILL NO. 3 Communication Communication includes influencing and persuading, running meetings, negotiating, and managing conflict. challenges When you focus on project goals, communication sometimes becomes an “extra.” And in a time crunch, good communication often is the first thing to go. This is a shame, because communication is massively important. You may have everything worked out in your head—it all seems so obvious! It feels like a waste of time to explain everything to everyone else. It’s not. 10 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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solutions Study simple influencing techniques and negotiation strategies. Apply what you learn, and try to remain consciously aware of your actions. You can: Do someone a favor. They are more likely to do something you want later. If you get an easy opportunity to help someone always take it. You never know when you’ll need their help later. Give people two options. Research shows they are more likely to choose one of your options rather than reject both. For example, ask “Would you rather we spent extra money on this project, or reduced the specification?” It’s more likely that they will chose the second one, so make that the one you prefer. 11 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com Allow the other side to open with an offer while negotiating. This can bring unexpected good news. Your client might be planning to spend more than you expected, or might want the project delivered by a later date than you were going to offer. Ask first before declaring your position. Make stakeholders happier by tailoring your message. Do this in a style that is best for them: level of detail, email or face to face, fact-based or feeling-based, etc. They are more likely to accept your message if it’s in a style that they find easy to take.


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benefits Effective time management lowers stress because stress is linked to a lack of control. Most causes of everyday stress are time management related. They include unfinished tasks, procrastination, looming deadlines, and multitasking. With effective time management, you’ll get more done because you’ll focus more on important tasks. For inspiration, check out this Lynda.com course: Influencing Others. 12 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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Assertiveness 13 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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SKILL NO. 4 Assertiveness Assertiveness includes informing stakeholders from the start that they can’t have everything. They can’t have great work in almost no time for hardly any money. Assertiveness also includes preventing scope creep. Good project managers take ownership of a project. It’s theirs to guard and protect. Sometimes they need to be assertive with all stakeholders, including a boss, the people on their teams, suppliers, and subcontractors. challenges Assertiveness doesn’t come naturally. We’re programmed for fight or flight, which is basically aggression or submission. Aggression in 14 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com Good project managers TAKE OWNERSHIP of a project.


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particular can be effective in the short term, sometimes leading us to believe it’s effective generally. But it’s not sustainable, and doesn’t motivate teams. Scary project managers, like weak ones, do not succeed in the long term. solutions Steer a course between aggression and submission. This requires believing that you are an OK person (but not perfect), expressing your opinions and worries, standing up for yourself while respecting others, and taking responsibility for outcomes. As the project manager, everything that happens is on you. Every problem or mistake is your fault: you chose that person, you briefed them, you monitored that job (or not). Blaming other people is not productive. For more information, check out my Lynda.com course: Learning to Be Assertive. benefits Being assertive leads to less stress for all concerned, reduces misunderstandings (it’s tough in a political environment where problems aren’t in the open), and provides a strong foundation for leadership. Without an assertive project manager, everything can crumble. 15 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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Time Management 16 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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SKILL NO. 5 Time Management Time management can be defined as “controlling the mess.” Project managers must organize themselves, everyone else, and everything else. To stay organized, good time management is vital. challenges Timetables always seem short. Customers want the maximum output in the minimal amount of time at the least cost—and cost means people, which means time. You’re under pressure from the start, juggling your tasks and team. Technologies including emails and smartphones have created new channels for input and rapidly-changing information that must be found and stored, making time management difficult. 17 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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solutions First, write everything down. You can’t store it all in your head. If you try to, your creativity will suffer, as will communications with your boss and team. Create and regularly update a master list of all projects, a daily-jobs-to-do list, a calendar for appointments, and a Gantt chart for every project. You’ll need a weekly or monthly progress meeting for each project and to keep time free each day for whatever crops up. Software helps. I prefer Microsoft Excel over Microsoft Project. I like Evernote for capturing details. I use Google Calendar and Google Sheets so multiple people can access the same, updated plan. benefits Effective time management lowers stress because stress is linked to a lack of control. Most causes of everyday stress are time management related. They include unfinished tasks, procrastination, looming deadlines, and multitasking. With effective time management, you’ll get more done because you’ll focus more on important tasks. For more information, check out a wide range of courses on time management from Lynda.com. 18 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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Conclusion Being a great project manager isn’t easy. The skill set required is diverse—from managing tasks, people, and other resources to controlling costs and negotiating. But these are all skills that can be learned, practiced, and mastered. With time and application, anyone can become a great project manager. You won’t always get thanks for being great. People will probably think your projects were easy. The good news is project management is a transferrable skill. It’s rarely boring. There’s a great satisfaction in making things happen and seeing the finished results. 19 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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Author Chris Croft Lynda.com Author, Management Trainer, Speaker Chris Croft has trained project managers for 20 years. He’s published several books on project management, and is the author of several Lynda.com online video courses on the topic. Subscribe to his free monthly emails at www.free-management-tips.co.uk. 20 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com


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About Lynda.com For 20 years, Lynda.com has helped marketing professionals, leaders, IT and design pros, project managers—anyone in any role—build software, creative, and business skills. We work with the best instructors. Our production standards are second to none. And with training that is quick to market, we’ve grown our online video-based content library to include thousands of engaging courses. Now a LinkedIn company, Lynda.com serves more than 10,000 organizations. With tutorials presented in five languages, Lynda.com is a global platform for success. 21 | Top 5 Skills for Project Managers | Lynda.com Contact us for Lynda.com Enterprise Learning Solutions pricing. US: 1 (888) 335-9632 International: +1 (805) 477-3900 EMEA: +44 (0) 1252 416554 APAC: +61 2 9779 1582 email: enterprisesolutions@lynda.com web: www.lynda.com/industries


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