Project Management Institute

What executives want



Enter the words “project manager” into the search field on the popular professional network LinkedIn, and almost 6 million results pop up. That's a lot of competition. How can you stand out among a dense pack of project managers?

To be sure, budgeting prowess and familiarity with Gantt charts still are necessary to oversee projects. But nowadays, organizations want other noteworthy traits in young project managers.

Here are five attention-grabbing traits a rookie project manager needs to impress executives.


Emotional Intelligence

Executives know project managers deal with all sorts of people, and a large part of the job involves the ability to perceive and understand the complexity of emotions.

“There are always dynamics at play in teams, and being able to deal appropriately with the emotions of team members is key to motivating the team and getting it to deliver,” says Brigitte Bilodeau Cobb, program director at BMI Healthcare, a private hospital group in Kingston upon Thames, London, England.

Emotional intelligence also ensures that project managers do “not get stressed and continue to think rationally about solutions when things do not go according to plan,” Ms. Cobb adds.

Advice: Consciously work to increase your self-awareness by examining how you react to stressful situations. Do you get overly upset if a project doesn't go the way you want? Do you have a tendency to blame others for minor mistakes? By conducting a self-evaluation, you can gain a better handle on your personal relationships and control of your emotions.


Risk Management Prowess

Project managers are expected to recognize and anticipate the risks inherent in any initiative, no matter who's calling the shots.

“Risks are what can make a project fail if we don't manage them well,” says Marcelo Melero Piceli, PMP, PgMP, transition and transformation portfolio manager at tech giant IBM in São Paulo, Brazil. “In fact, project managers who can detect risks early in the project and give appropriate responses have the greatest chance of completing a project successfully.”

One major cause of concern for the executive suite is that technology advances at lightning speed, and new IT processes such as cloud computing raise new risks. Executives want to know their project managers understand security on initiatives such as a migration to the cloud.

Advice: Examine all phases of an undertaking for potential flaws, from design and development to final production, Mr. Melero Piceli suggests. Any potential risks must be carefully assessed and properly prioritized for fast action if and when they occur.

In addition, earning a PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)® credential shows executives at a glance that you're trained to address project management's increasing complexity.


Change Management Moxie

Any project that involves a new process or IT system takes a skilled hand at managing that disruption. With “change management” one of the latest buzzwords, those who have training in this skill should garner attention.

There are two main reasons a project manager must have change management skills, Mr. Melero Piceli says:

  1. To maintain the integrity of project objectives and achieve stakeholder expectations
  2. To prepare stakeholders for the alterations in the corporate environment

Increasingly, executives realize every project involves change. PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession survey revealed that more than 70 percent of respondents always or often use change management and risk management techniques on projects, which leads to higher success rates.

That shows executives understand the value of having someone assess a group's readiness and willingness to accept change.

Advice: With online courses, business school classes and seminars, plenty of change management learning tools are accessible. An immediate way to improve this skill is to seek the assistance of a mentor. Ask your employer to connect you with a seasoned veteran to learn how he or she has used such techniques as motivation and transparency to handle organizational changes in the past.


Multigenerational Awareness

One age-old trait will never go out of style: interpersonal skills. And with four generations currently occupying the workplace, what works for Generation Xers might not work for millennials.

“Project success comes down to team success,” says Gerry Tetrault, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada-based president of TetraTech Consulting Services, a firm specializing in project management. “It's about knowing how to manage people and how to put them in situations so they can win—and therefore, your project can win,” he says.

With today's workforce a multigenerational hodgepodge, project managers must communicate effectively with tech-savvy 20-somethings and middle-aged professionals with a preference for rigid work hours and traditional employment practices. In fact, conflict among younger and older workers exists in almost three-quarters of organizations, according to a 2011 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Executives want to know project managers can balance the differing demands and work styles of team members young and old.

Advice: Research issues such as the impact millennials have on the workforce and the miscommunications that commonly occur when members of different generations interact. While managing projects, emphasize common ground among team members, whether it's a similar approach to change management or shared thinking on software implementation.


Software Smarts

Cloud computing Virtualization. Social media streams. With software innovations coming fast and furiously, more organizations demand that project managers be well versed in innovative tools.

“With all these new technologies and products, it's difficult to stay up on everything,” Mr. Tetrault says. “Project managers face the challenge of having multiple technology options without a clear understanding of the impact each of these options may have on a proposed solution.”

The result, he warns, may make it difficult to build an accurate business case for technology purchases—a lack of knowledge that could mean the difference between a successful and an ill-fated project.

Advice: Follow IT project management bloggers, who often try new software and write detailed reviews. And there are plenty of relevant conversations being discussed on Linke-dIn, Mr. Tetrault says. If you can't find one, start your own. Once options have been identified within a project, bring tech experts onto your team to handle the more detailed aspects of possible solutions, he suggests. PM

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