Preparing for a new crop of project managers means understanding what skills they bring to the table and providing guidance.
As the retirement age creeps higher, the generation gap among employees gets greater. Most organizations see two, three or even four generations working together on project teams.
Younger generations should pay close attention because established project managers have much to teach them, but some contend that established project managers should make a strong effort to understand the younger generation—and what they bring to the table.
Comfort with Collaborative Communication
For one thing, the more technologically inclined project managers just starting out bring with them a unique and effective skill: cross-cultural collaboration.
“Good project managers need the ability to empathize with everyone around them to communicate effectively,” says Josh Nankivel, PMP, president of the blog PMStudent.com, based out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA. “Realize that new project managers may be using new technology and there are multiple ways to be effective.”
Web tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft Sharepoint and Google Wave continue to gain popularity, and many of the youngest project managers have been using them for years. These tools provide many ways to reach out to stakeholders and communicate with team members.
“I talk to team members and stakeholders in Chicago, [Illinois, USA] London, [England] and Bangalore, [India] in one afternoon. It’s becoming a much more collaborative world,” says John McDonagh, PMP, vice president of project standards and governance, Northern Trust, Dublin, Ireland.
Because social media continues to be on the rise, the profession will rely less on face-to-face and phone meetings. The technological tools will lessen the barrier of time zones. Mr. McDonagh thinks this will also enable the next generation to act more immediately and have a more of a risk-contingency plan in place than past generations have been able to.
“I think [young project managers] will tend to be much more real-time,” he says. “If something starts to go askew, you find out about it straightaway. It enables people to find more solutions in a responsive way, as opposed to it being put on a log to be discussed at the next [face-to-face] meeting.”
Chris Kindermans, PMP, principal, Proyecta bvba, Mechelen, Belgium, agrees.
“The next generation will be thinking and acting more globally. Expeditious and adequate communication is a very important element of working as a project manager,” he says.
Those entering the profession have another advantageous characteristic. In addition to having project management knowledge, they will have industry and function specialization, says Mr. Nankivel.
“Project management has already started to become a core part of engineering and business university programs and that will likely continue,” he says.
Another example of specialization is “green” technologies that are becoming the way to do business in such sectors as energy and IT. The next generation of project managers will need to have more than technical skills to find jobs in these sectors. They also will need knowledge of how to execute these “green” projects in a way that benefits the bottom line.
Further, project management is being taught as a basic skill in secondary education, Mr. Kindermans says. He thinks this will encourage more people to choose project management as a career path and will help create a strong new breed of specialists.
How Can You Lead the Next Generation?
So how can project managers of today support the project managers of the future?
There’s no substitute for good mentorship, says Mr. Nankivel. He says find the go-getters and start small.
“Whether their formal title indicates a project management role or not, tasks can be delegated to professionals who want them, and they can learn a tremendous amount,” he says.
Mr. Nankivel also encourages mentors to use personal stories rather than formal lectures as a way to reach younger generations.
“Learning through others’ experience and mistakes always works best when it’s relayed through a story where listeners can draw their own conclusions,” he adds.
Good mentoring will also increase loyalty in this new generation because they’ll feel much more support in their career path, Mr. McDonagh says.
“By having support, you enable loyalty because people feel like they belong,” he says. “It will encourage strong working relationships because they’ll feel they belong to something special.”