June 2008

Being a project manager

By Gerald Cockrell

So you want to be a project manager? Be ready to take on the tasks of leadership, financial savvy, and deadlines. Ask any project manager what his primary responsibility is, and you will hear, "Complete the project on time, under budget, and at top levels of quality and technology."

Project managers worth their salt must schedule, monitor, and control resources to meet general objectives and specific goals.

The most effective project managers wear two hats-one for managerial skills and one for personal attributes. Managerial skills relate to the business and technical aspects of the project-planning, scheduling, budgeting, staffing, monitoring, and controlling company resources. Management skills would include: leadership, command of project technology, business management competence, and an ability to make decisions and solve problems.

Personal traits apply to staffing, monitoring, and controlling aspects of a project, where they support the effective use of management skills. Some personal attributes would include: ability to communicate easily and effectively, honesty, integrity, alertness, quickness, high energy, versatility, flexibility, imagination, vision, toughness, a strong sense of ethics, and professionalism.

Managerial and personal traits help form the basis for the relationship between team members and management, making the ways a project manager interacts with others as important as management skills for the project itself.

Honing leadership skills

Usually team effort is the biggest factor in completing a successful project. Along with planning, scheduling, monitoring, and controlling, you will need to exhibit high performance and task efficiency, innovative and creative behavior, and a commitment and enthusiasm for the project.

You will need to deal with independent people, but retain your capacity to resolve conflicts. Stellar communication skills come into play here along with a high level of mutual trust with your team members.

You will need a consistent and ethical approach to solving problems. But be sure you focus on the results, and not the process or personalities of your team members. Understanding and accepting change is another trait you will want to hone. And even though you should exhibit high energy when appropriate, your calming influence in a crisis is also crucial.

Motivating team members

If you instill in your team the desire to achieve project goals, you are on your way to being a successful project manager. But you will need some key ingredients to keep workers from being dissatisfied. Industrial psychologist Frederick Hertzberg attributed the absence of certain job factors to workers' dissatisfaction. They include job security, good working conditions, equitable salary, fair administration of company policies, knowledgeable supervision, and a good relationship with the supervisor and co-workers. Hertzberg's motivation factors include opportunity for significant accomplishment and advancement, recognition for those accomplishments, opportunity for growth on the job, and for increased responsibility.

You can do some specific things to make sure your team members feel accomplished and responsible, with room to grow in their positions:

  • Allow team members to complete their projects without interference and include them in decisions that affect how they accomplish tasks.
  • Increase their levels of responsibility and communicate accomplishments to higher management.
  • Recommend salary increases or promotions for accomplished team members and make sure they know the guidelines for salary increases and promotion.

Dr. Gerald Cockrell is professor and director for the Center for Automation and Systems Integration at Indiana State University College of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., and author of Practical Project Management: Learning to Manage the Professional (ISA, 2001).

Company types, project manager fits

Project managers are one part of a larger organization, but companies' approaches to managing projects can differ.

The functional organization takes advantage of the enterprise as a whole. Projects assigned to managers and teams within the organization can develop from any part of this organization. The major advantages of the functional organization are a well defined structure and administrative policies, familiarity of stakeholders, and available team members and company resources.

The main disadvantage of the functional organization is the focus on department structure as opposed to projects.
The project organization is best for project activities. Project managers are an integral part of the organization, and the focus is on the work, which is segmented into projects with a project manager in charge of each. The team reports to the project manager without other duties within the company. The project is the central focus in the organization, providing teams with the identity necessary for success.

Matrix organizations use features of the functional and project organization models. Project team members are assigned from functional departments within the organization to become identified primarily, if temporarily, with the project.