3 Must-Have Communications Skills

Master the art of communications for better projects and a strong track record.

9 July 2013

Listen up: Effective communications can make the difference between a project that advances your career and one that sabotages it. Of the two in five projects that fail to meet original goals, one of them does so because of ineffective communications, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession™ In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications.

To keep projects (and careers) on track, project practitioners must know how to communicate best with everyone from executives and other stakeholders to team members both nearby and globally.

“I liken good communication to a dance. Both partners must exchange and understand the signals sent,” says Erik Anderson, PMP, senior project manager and product development professional at engineering firm ÅF Technology ABa in Kronoberg, Sweden.

Become a standout communicator by mastering these three skills.

  1. Give the people what they want.

    Good communication starts with tailoring the message for stakeholders in a way they understand it. It might sound obvious, but not enough project practitioners are getting it right. According to the Pulse report, 75 percent of high-performing organizations — those that complete an average of 80 percent of projects on time, on budget and meeting original goals — communicate project information with sufficient clarity and detail. That number falls to 34 percent among low performers, those that complete an average of 60 percent of projects against the same measures.

    When NorthWestern Energy launched an infrastructure upgrade, it knew it had to educate the public about why the project was needed and why some rates might increase. So the company formed a community stakeholder group before the project even broke ground to talk through project goals and collect feedback on how to communicate about the project to the rest of the community.

    “The stakeholder group helped us understand how to bring people into the conversation,” says Bobbi Schroeppel, vice president of human resources, customer care and corporate communications at NorthWestern Energy, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA.

  2. Choose the right communication channel.

    It’s one thing to know what to tell various stakeholders, but knowing how to tell them ensures the message sinks in. According to the Pulse report, high performers (77 percent) communicate more frequently in appropriate vehicles than low performers (40 percent).

    For maximum impact, communications should be delivered in the right channel — whether it’s email or in-person communication — to each stakeholder. And deciding which method works best is simple: Just ask the receiver, says Brian Mossing, information systems project manager at security company Northrop Grumman Corp., Melbourne, Florida, USA.

    Then, he recommends creating a communication matrix, with columns for stakeholders and preferred communication methods, time and frequency.

  3. Translate strategy for the team.

    Team members — and their organizations — will only get so far without a keen understanding of strategic objectives. Pulse data shows 64 percent of high performers communicate strategy and business benefit more frequently, in comparison to 25 percent of low performers.

    If team members are in the throes of executing a project, they might have trouble seeing the bigger picture. And a project manager can communicate how the former supports the latter.

    “The project manager is the interface between the business and the technical teams,” says Mr. Mossing.

    Sridhar Peddisetty, PMI-ACP, PMP, PgMP, reinforces strategic alignment throughout a project’s life cycle. “I share a project report with team members in a blog post, updating it daily with any changes to the executive summary, including vision and benefits,” says Mr. Peddisetty, resource management group head at IT services company ProKarma, Hyderabad, India.

Communication is about sending the right messages to the right people in the right way. And both project managers and executives surveyed for the Pulse report rank effective communications to stakeholders as the most crucial success factor in project management. Executed properly, communications can keep projects —and your career — moving in the right direction.

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