10 Key Ingredients of a Successful Project Manager

Growing up, home-cooked meals were the highlight of any family gathering.  I learned to cook many of the family recipes that were passed down from generations, and those recipes were perfected over time.  Just like cooking, project management is fundamental and requires detailed planning to execute a project on time, within budget, and without compromise in terms of quality.  To ensure the success of a project, the project manager must possess all the right skills, or ingredients, in the right proportion to make the project a success.  So what’s the recipe for a successful project manager?

  • Heap of Effective Communication
  • Dollop of Leadership
  • Spoonful of Organization
  • Splash of Risk Management
  • Dash of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Tad of Agility
  • Pinch of Multitasking
  • Shake of Attention to Detail
  • Scoop of Negotiation
  • Zest of Ability to Command a Room

1. Effective Communication

Start with a heap of effective communication.  Effective communication means connecting with others to allow everyone to be heard and understood so the project team can accomplish its goals.  Without this key ingredient, conflicts between team members, missed deadlines, delayed feedback, and even setting the wrong expectations for a client can quickly derail the project. Knowing the right communication method is important to help get the point across, whether that’s using a visual diagram, a face-to-face discussion, or a written email. Be completely present when someone is talking to demonstrate active listening and use clear, concise communication.  Also, stay positive regardless of the topic at hand and provide direction on any follow-up action items that need execution.

2. Leadership

Next combine a dollop of leadership. Project managers can have varying leadership styles based on how they operate and work within a team. No matter the leadership style, a project manager has the ability to motivate and inspire the project team to deliver their best work. It can drive the project toward success. This means building up the project team to work together, communicate well amongst each other, and steer the ship in the right direction. In the sea of chaos, be a beacon of light to those who are following.

3. Organization

Add a spoonful of organization to the mix.  This includes the ability to coordinate schedules and available resources, making sure to have the right people in the right place to speak to the topic at hand, and being efficient with time.  To make the most of the time in a meeting, have an agenda to set a clear expectation of what is to be discussed and keep a checklist of action items as a best practice in order to prevent anything from slipping through the cracks.

4. Risk Management

Next, add a splash of risk management. Be proactive and not reactive.  This means always looking a few steps ahead, anticipating the next move by understanding the client’s expectations and reducing any unnecessary risk that may arise. For instance, if a client is taking longer than expected to make a decision on a key deliverable, consider how the timing can impact the project timeline. Request the decision to be made by a given due date to stay on track, otherwise the timeline could be at risk.

5. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving

Then, add a dash of critical thinking and problem solving. Throughout the life of a project, project managers are constantly collecting information, evaluating the information and ultimately making decisions based upon that information to benefit the project as a whole.  This is critical thinking at its finest. The key is to not be afraid to ask questions, collaborate with the rest of the project team, evaluate any potential risks or gaps, and determine the best course of action. Take the time to identify all possibilities and consequences of the decision.  Problem solving takes lots of practice and involves asking yourself, “is this the best way to solve this?” But, in the end, identifying these problems will drive the project toward success.

6. Being Agile/Ability to Pivot

Mix in a tad of being agile.  Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. In an uncertain environment, it’s important to be able to quickly pivot and adapt to  changes that need to be implemented for the project. When faced with uncertainty, think about other ways around the issue and what may work best for the team. Share those ideas with the project team to collect feedback in a timely manner and adjust accordingly to get back on track as quickly as possible.

7. Multitasking

Next, add a pinch of multitasking. Imagine an acrobat that balances on their head, on top of another acrobat, while spinning multiple plates.  A project manager operates in a similar way—they have to focus on all sorts of different items at once while maintaining balance and preventing anything from falling off their plates. And, of course, staying level-headed and keeping their cool during the process. When managing all of the moving parts of a project, there are  best practices that can help you master the art of balancing all those spinning plates, including:

  • Make a list of to-do items to stay organized
  • Set a realistic timeframe to complete each item
  • Break large tasks down into smaller, more manageable ones
  • Block out a period of time that can be dedicated to these tasks without being distracted
  • Stay focused and take breaks!

8. Attention to Detail

Shake in some attention to detail. In addition to organization and the ability to multitask, a project manager’s attention to detail is vital to a project’s success. There are many moving pieces to a project—including, timeline, budget, scope, resources, meetings, communication, client rapport and expectations, just to name a few. It is easy to lose sight of the little details in the midst of the chaos.  A successful project manager is able to ingest those details, organize/prioritize them, and communicate them back out to the team for timely execution.

9. Negotiation

Next, add a scoop of negotiation.  Negotiation skills are learned through all aspects of life. For project managers, it means the ability to work through a conflict through a structured discussion and ultimately reaching an agreement. A project manager often gets involved in the discussion to facilitate opposing views, walk through various scenarios, weigh each outcome, and ultimately drive the team to reach a conclusion that everyone agrees upon. The resolution should consider what is best for the project and the team. It’s important to stay patient throughout these discussions and understand the interest of all resources involved.

10. Ability to Command a Room

Finally, add some zest with the ability to command a room. A project manager also displays good leadership with the ability to command a room—or simply the art of herding cats. Discussions can easily go off track or go down rabbit holes. A project manager can’t be afraid to interject when appropriate and reign everyone in to get back on topic. A best practice can be to acknowledge what’s being discussed, suggest it be continued at a later time, and kindly remind the group of the objective of the current meeting. Be confident, take the lead and be mindful.

Let Zennify drive your project toward success.

At Zennify, we are committed to optimizing our customer experience through successful project implementation. And it starts with a project manager who possesses a perfected recipe of skills. Reach out to learn more about how to partner with us.

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