3 Project Manager Skills to Improve Project Team Success

The question of how a project manager (PM) working in a functional or matrix organizational structure gets team members to perform is asked in almost every project management class I have taught.

Most organizations’ internal projects are performed in some form of functional, weak matrix or balanced matrix organizational structure. This means that project team members report to a functional manager who controls their assignments, performance appraisals, raises, bonuses, etc. Until recently, PMs had little input into any of these processes.

My first suggestion for PMs who find themselves in this situation is to review what the Project Management Institute (PMI) has to say about the authority of a PM. This can be found on pages 283 and 284 in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)— Fifth Edition. The PMBOK® Guide suggests that PMs use a combination of technical, personal, and connectional skills to interact appropriately with and manage project team members. PMI suggests PMs enact three skills or roles for success:

  1. Be a leader
  • Social influence – PMs have the ability to affect project team members’ emotions, opinions and behavior. PMs can use social influence in many ways, such as conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience and persuasion to influence project team members to perform.
  • Build a vision – PMs must be able to see end results. PMs can’t give direction on the project journey without knowing the specific destination.
  • Set a direction – PMs can articulate simply and clearly where the team is going and provide guidance on how to get there.
  • Inspire – PMs need to make things happen. Inspiring team members can take several forms, such as making people want to do things, filling people with the urge to do things and giving ideas about doing something.
  • Coach/Motivate – PMs can coach and motivate others. They can provide training or development to project team members by supporting them in achieving common project goals. They can share experiences, offer advice, give guidance and share their expertise.
  • Aid and support others – PMs must provide aid and support for project team members in their efforts to achieve common project goals. This sends the message that achievement of shared outcomes can only be accomplished by a team effort. PMs support project team members, and in turn, project team members support them.
  • Accomplish common goals – PMs set goals that are observable and have measurable end results. Goals can have one or more objectives to be achieved within a fixed time frame. This gives project team members a sense of belonging.
  • Guides and directs others – PMs lead the team by providing direction, leadership and advice. PMs show and explain what, when, where, and how.
  1. Be influential
  • Be persuasive– PMs can persuade. This process is used to change attitudes toward an event by using written or spoken word and can be done to convey information, feelings, reasoning or a combination of all of these.
  • Clearly articulate points/positions – PMs must express ideas simply, clearly and effectively using easy to understand terms.
  • Use active listening – PMs should fully concentrate on what is being said rather than just “hearing” the message of the speaker. Through concentration, the PM will receive the real meaning of the conversation. This can be used to show regard for the speaker, which will aid in developing good relations with project team members.
  • Awareness/Consideration of other positions – PMs must make themselves aware of and give proper consideration to points brought up by other project team members. In doing so, the PM increases team cohesion by sending the message that he or she respects the project team members’ opinions and input.
  • Address only important issues – PMs must use their ability to distinguish the difference between important issues from the unimportant or chaotic. When the project team sees this ability, it increases their respect and esteem for the PM.
  • Reach agreements – PMs will negotiate with everyone including team members. PMs will have to use their ability to reach accords with people from different perspectives to arrive at agreements.
  1. Be a decision-maker

Adopt these eight steps to make your strongest decisions:

  1. Identify and clarify the issue.
  2. Determine the nature of the issue and break it into smaller pieces.
  3. Formulate questions, gather data and turn it into information.
  4. Collate/organize/condense/summarize information and use it effectively.
  5. Brainstorm and use lateral thinking to determine the ideal way to resolve the issue as if time and resources were not a constraint.
  6. Decide if additional information would significantly help the solution.
  7. Consider all of the alternatives; choose the one that closely matches the ideal solution.
  8. Implement the decision; check on how well the chosen solution resolved the issue.

Using a blend of leadership, influence and decision-making interpersonal skills will increase a project manager’s likelihood of team success. When team members see the project manager using a well-documented, proven and transparent approach, their respect and buy-in for that role and project will increase.

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