Human resource management and project management

Book Excerpt

The project manager must organize, lead and manage people to achieve success.

Vijay K. Verma

The majority of project management problems—schedule delays, differing priorities, poor client interface, poor communication—are behavioral rather than technical in nature. Yet in the past, most projects were managed as technical systems instead of behavioral systems. Consequently, the technical aspects of project management have been highly developed, while the equal or greater gains likely to be achieved from effective management of human resources have not been realized. Today, most project managers recognize that a clear understanding of human behavior and the organizational dimensions of project management are the keys to managing projects effectively.

Human Resource Management and the Project Life Cycle

Through human resource planning, management prepares to have the right people at the right places at the right times to fulfill both organizational and individual objectives.

—James W. Walker

Just as costs and cash flow fluctuate significantly through the project life cycle, both in total and in terms of the allocation to various work packages, so the need for human resources and various kinds of expertise and specialization also fluctuates. The types of personnel and expertise for various phases of the project (from conception to termination) depend upon the varying nature of tasks, maturity level of project team members, and external and internal constraints. For purposes of illustration, a typical project life cycle consists of four generic phases: concept, development, execution, and finish, as shown in Figure 1. This figure also shows major activities, the corresponding type of personnel, and organizational design strategies for different phases of the project. The project manager must ensure that the appropriate level of skill and experience is available during each of the phases of the project life cycle. If necessary, outside help must be sought if neither the project manager nor the project team possess a required type or level of expertise.

About the Project Manager

Project managers may have different formal titles depending upon the industry, type, size, and complexity of the project: project leader, project/program manager, project/program coordinator, task force chairman, construction manager, and so on. These titles differ mainly in terms of the relative level of formal organizational authority assigned to them. However, each of them has a fundamental responsibility to foster project integration. The attributes, skills, and responsibilities of the project manager, as often spelled out in the job description, are monumental.

Project managers must be high achievers because they are required to complete their projects within time, cost, and performance constraints. According to Kerzner,11 their primary responsibility is to coordinate and integrate project activities across multiple functional lines. To meet project goals, project managers must become familiar with the operations and strengths of all functional departments and must have strong communicating, integrating, interfacing, basic management, and interpersonal skills.

Traits of Project Managers. Project managers are generally ambitious and self-motivated. To succeed, they must be very effective in interpersonal relations, building and nurturing project teams, administration, and problem solving. The successful project manager exhibits:

  • The ability to direct and recognize good performance
  • The sufficient knowledge of disciplines to be managed
  • A balanced multi-disciplinary orientation
  • Analytical, integrating, problem solving, and decision-making skills
  • People skills: communication, motivation, and negotiation
  • Energy, enthusiasm, and even temperament
  • Self-confidence, reliability, maturity, and emotional stability
  • A constructive, positive attitude
  • Independence tempered by political awareness
  • Flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty
  • A sense of humor.

Objectives of Project Managers. The primary objective is, of course, to meet project objectives. But project managers should also aim to achieve professional growth and skills, establish good working relationships and networks, assist in the development of project team members, and above all enjoy their work. In this context, a project manager's objectives can be summarized as:

  • To attain the willing commitment of team members
  • To achieve the coordination and collaboration of work groups, responsibility centers, and entire organizations
  • To place a high premium on reliability and timeliness of information, and a high cost on unnecessary or irrelevant information
  • To steer the project to completion in an orderly and progressive manner
  • To ensure that trade-offs between scope, cost, and time are satisfactory and acceptable
  • To perpetuate development of personal and professional skills and the potential of team members.

Roles of Project Managers. To get things done as effectively and efficiently as possible, project managers must play many roles in integrating the efforts of their project teams.

Figure 1. Tasks, People and Organizational Design Strategies in Typical Phases of a Project Life Cycle.

Tasks, People and Organizational Design Strategies in Typical Phases of a Project Life Cycle

Source: Vijay K. Verma and R. Max Wideman. 1994. Project Manager to Project Leader? and the Rocky Road Between. Proceedings of the 25th Annual Seminar/Symposium of the Project Management Institute. Upper Darby, PA: Project Management Institute, pp. 627-633.

  • Interpersonal roles as a figurehead, a leader, and a liaison
  • Informational roles for assembling, selecting, monitoring and disseminating information, and acting as a project spokesperson
  • Decisional roles for allocating resources, exploring new opportunities, handling disturbances and conflicts, negotiating, analyzing situations, setting priorities, and making sound and timely decisions to encourage creativity and progress.

Responsibilities of Project Managers. John Steinbeck once wrote, “People need responsibility. They resist assuming it, but they cannot get along without it.” Project managers carry a heavy load of responsibilities; to fulfill them, they require a combination of administrative, management, analytical, and interpersonal skills. The typical responsibilities of a project manager can be divided into two main categories: planning and producing, as shown in Figure 1.

Responsibilities during planning (Phases 1 and 2):

  • Establish project objectives and success criteria
  • Identify stakeholders and requirements
  • Plan for integration of interfaces and interrelationship of tasks, organization, and hardware
  • Identify risk areas and develop a risk management strategy
  • Relate the project's contribution to overall organizational strategy
  • Develop an integrated work breakdown structure, schedule and budget
  • Assemble resources from a variety of sources
  • Organize the team into integrated whole
  • Delegate appropriate tasks, while ensuring adherence to the project plan
  • Communicate across interfaces; ensure that team members communicate effectively.

Table 1. Skills Inventory of a Project Manager

Leadership/Interpersonal Project Management/Administration Technical
Visionary, credible, action-oriented, self-starter Planning and organizing multi-functional programs Technical credibility, understanding of system perspective and “big picture”
Understanding of the organization; ability to manage in an unstructured work environment Communicating effectively (written, oral) to expedite project communications and work with other organizations Understanding of technology, market trends, product applications and ability to manage these effectively
Communication (oral, written); provides clear, compelling directions Estimating and negotiating resources; attracting and holding quality people Communicating with technical personnel, unifying the technical team and encouraging creativity
Building multi-disciplinary teams and inspiring high team performance through motivation, collaborative problem solving and effective conflict management Scheduling multi-disciplinary activities and preparing budgets and cash flow Facilitating trade-offs and assisting in problem solving
Ability to achieve higher visibility and priority; gaining upper management support and commitment Monitoring and reporting work status, progress, performance and forecasting to completion Integrating technical, business and human objectives and resources
Sensitivity to personal goals, professional needs and growth opportunities Understanding of policies, operating procedures, regulations and concerns of external stakeholders Understanding engineering and technical tools and methods

Responsibilities during producing (Phases 3 and 4):

  • Execute the plan, solve problems, and remove roadblocks
  • Direct and influence the project; ensure that interfaces are recognized and tasks are integrated as a “whole”
  • Monitor, review, and update the project plan continually
  • Build the team by establishing team norms, team roles and an environment of maximum harmony and minimum conflict
  • Motivate; that is, ensure that jobs are organized to provide built-in potential motivators
  • Resolve conflicts quickly and amicably
  • Set priorities and negotiate trade-offs
  • Forecast end results
  • Ensure adequate and timely completion of documentation
  • Identify training, testing, and commissioning programs to achieve smooth, full operation on schedule.

Project managers generally have increased responsibility, but limited authority. To overcome this limitation, they must be able to interface effectively with clients, contractors, and other internal and external stakeholders who have a direct or indirect influence on the project's outcome.

Skills of a Project Manager

Today, projects are multi-disciplinary and highly complex. Project managers must be able to manage across functional boundaries and deal effectively with a variety of support personnel over whom they have very little or no formal authority. They also have to manage a variety of interfaces and cope with constant and rapid change of technology, markets, regulations, and socioeconomic factors. Generally, project managers are selected and advanced primarily based on their quantitative skills in areas such as planning, scheduling, cost estimating, financial control, and critical path analysis. However, in today's competitive environment, project managers must also have abilities to manage quality, time-to-market, innovations, subcontractors, technological changes, and clients.13 Various researchers have found that project management requires expertise and skills in three primary areas: leadership and interpersonal; administrative; and technical.14,15

Thamhain summarized skills in these areas and prepared a skills inventory of the project manager.13 To be successful, project managers must understand the tasks, the tools, the people, and the organizations. Table 1 shows a sample “skills inventory.”

Interpersonal Skills. Interpersonal skills form a major component of human skills and can be divided into motivation and leadership skills and relationships skills (communicating, team building, group dynamics, and conflict resolution).

Interpersonal skills and attitudes are interrelated. Project managers will have great difficulty in getting project participants to cooperate with them and with each other if they cannot communicate effectively with individuals involved in the project and cannot see other people's points of view.

Attitudes represent patterns of feelings, beliefs, values, and behavior tendencies directed toward specific persons, groups, ideas, events, or objects.18 They result from one's background and life experiences and influence behavior. Project managers should try to understand the attitudes that project participants hold toward their project tasks. They should be especially aware of attitudes of project team members toward job satisfaction because such attitudes affect performance and working relationships with others.

Guidelines for Improving Interpersonal Skills. Some general guidelines to improve interpersonal skills are shown in Table 2.

Project managers should remember that their role is not just to command, direct, control, and inspect, but also to take responsibility for leading, motivating, administering, guiding, consulting, and above all caring for project team members. Project managers with good interpersonal skills are generally able to resolve project conflicts and even complex problems expeditiously and without rancor because of the cooperation and trust earned from their team members. They are also effective integrators, which is pivotal in managing complexities in today's projects. Good interpersonal relationships in a project involve the development and maintenance of sound working relationships and better understanding and appreciation of the other participants' culture, beliefs and attitudes, which leads to fewer conflicts and frustration. They motivate all project participants to produce their best and help each other win.

Integration and Interface Management Skills. Integration and interface management is the essence of effective project management. Integration mainly refers to management coordination to achieve harmony of individual effort toward the accomplishment of group goals. The project manager also integrates project resources (people, materials, equipment, facilities, and information). Because of rapid advances in technology and increased complexity of programs/projects to be managed, there is an increased need for both greater specialization (differentiation) and for tighter coordination (integration).22

Interface management consists of identifying, documenting, scheduling, communicating, and monitoring interfaces related to both the product and the project.23 The problem of overall project/functional interface is discussed at some length by Cleland and King,24 who stressed that project and functional organizations are complementary to each other. They are inseparable and one cannot survive without the other. The project manager is expected to continually monitor personal, organizational, and system interfaces to identify and resolve potential difficulties.25

Table 2. Interpersonal Skills and Their Functions

Interpersonal Skills Function
Practice tolerance and understanding of the viewpoints, cultures, attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs of others Increases respect, credibility and ability to influence others
Communicate with honesty and openness, combined with good listening skills Leads to motivation, cooperation, and better working relationships
Create an atmosphere in which project team members feel free to express their ideas Fosters creativity and innovation
Assign work by request rather than by direct order Helps increase willingness to work
Delegate jobs in terms of objectives rather than procedures. Delegation involves assigning appropriate responsibility, granting authority, and requiring accountability Leads to effective delegation, promotes creativity and a sense of ownership
Be committed to increasing each project team member's contribution in terms of intellectual effort, commitment to the project, and quality and quantity of output Makes each member of the project team a valued member
Be more like a facilitator/coach than a controller Increases maturity level of teams and leads to self-directed project teams
Foster a spirit of cooperation and trust between the project manager, project team members, functional managers, and others involved in the project Leads to true teamwork and human synergy
Take pride in success of others Enhances trust and motivates the project team
Give proper recognition and rewards for jobs well done Keeps team morale high
Keep a positive attitude toward your project team members and their ideas Positive attitude is contagious!

Typically, the project manager has more responsibility than authority, especially over functional resource managers, other departments, and client personnel. Moreover, he or she must negotiate resources between top management and functional management. This role in terms of interface management can be described as:26

  • Managing human relationships in the project organization
  • Maintaining the balance between technical and managerial project functions
  • Coping with the risk associated with project management
  • Surviving within organizational constraints.

The project manager, as the key person having a comprehensive view of the whole project from its inception to completion, must be able to see potential interface and/or integration conflicts. Project managers must establish a climate of open communication and maintain effective communication links across the organizational interfaces. They must be able to accurately and quickly analyze, evaluate, synthesize, condense, and act on information and ideas from project team members and others involved in the project. They must see themselves as catalysts to motivate the project team and create an environment that nurtures their creativity.

Project managers coordinate internal actions with the external environment (i.e., dealing with public, press, and regulatory personnel). They must interact very closely with the customer/project sponsor, outside consultants, contractors, project team members, project engineer, and other third parties to meet project objectives within the specified constraints. For this reason, negotiating, a process through which parties with differing interests reach agreement through communication and compromise, is another critical skill.

Putting Traits, Roles and Skills Together

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.

Gen. Colin Powell

Project managers are expected to accomplish project objectives by using their knowledge, skills, and practical experience. During the project management process, they have to use a combination of their personal traits/characteristics, typical roles (interpersonal, informational, and decisional), and skills (basic management, interpersonal, and integration/interface management). All these should help them to be effective project managers, which involves acting as:

  • Leader (develops and communicates vision, inspires high team performance)
  • Entrepreneur (adopts and sells the plan and eventually pushes it to success)
  • Manager (carries operational planning and execution by using interface management and integration)
  • Administrator (looks after day-to-day details with a compulsion to closure or completeness).

All these roles and characteristics are equally important (in their own right) in managing a project successfully. Successful project managers are expected to and must play any one, or a combination of these roles, depending upon the situation and the phase of the project life cycle (see Figure 1).

For example, project managers should place relatively more emphasis on their role as leaders during the concept phase, as entrepreneurs during the development phase, as managers during the execution phase, and as administrators during the finish/termination phase. However, it should be recognized that although these four roles have some of their own distinct characteristics, there are also some characteristics that are common and overlapping. Effective project managers should be able to tailor their roles to the size, complexity, and environment of the project; cultural diversity of the people and overall organizational culture; and the circumstances surrounding the project management issues at hand.

Leadership. Effective teamwork is the by-product of good leadership. During my workshop presentations one participant made the point, “There is nothing worse than being on a team where communication is not open, no one trusts anyone else, and there is no team leadership.”

There is an ample body of literature on communication, teamwork, and leadership. However, it is still not very clear what project leadership is and how it relates to project management. Verma and Wideman dealt with this issue in addressing the question, Is it leadership or management that is most needed for managing projects successfully in the next century?32

About Project Leadership. There has been a spate of publications on leadership and team building by numerous authors.33 Most of them agree that vision is a primary ingredient of leadership. Batten defines leadership as “development of a clear and complete system of expectations in order to identify, evoke, and use the strengths of all resources in the organization, the most important of which is people.”34 John Naisbit probably comes closer to a definition of a leader with his description: “An ability to attract followers … a clear destination, and … a timetable.”35

With these attributes in mind, leadership in a project context can be defined in the following simple, yet comprehensive, distillation of leadership thought: Project leadership requires:

  • A vision of the destination (project goal)
  • A clear, compelling reason to get there (to inspire commitment)
  • A set of directions and a realistic timetable (project plan covering schedules, budget, etc.)
  • A capacity to attract a willing team and make it work (developing and fostering teamwork).

Pinto synthesized various leadership studies and indicated the following points about the nature of project leadership:

  • Effective project leaders must be good communicators.
  • Project leaders are flexible in responding to ambiguous or uncertain situations with a minimum of stress.
  • Successful project leaders work well with and through their project team.
  • Good project leaders are skilled at various influence tactics by using the art of persuasion and influence.

He pointed out that examining the traits of successful leaders is valuable but not sufficient. One key to understanding leadership behavior is to focus on what leaders do rather than on who they are.36

Verma and Wideman32 raised two interesting issues and questions about leadership in a project environment.

Leader versus Manager. Is there a difference between a project leader and a project manager? Careful analysis of the roles of project managers and project leaders reveals that the distinction between their styles can be attributed to how and what they focus on. Leaders focus on “doing the right things” (effectiveness) while managers focus on “doing the things right” (efficiency). The respective positions of leaders and managers on a number of issues are shown in Table 3.33

Table 3. Leader or Manager?

              Leaders Focus On:                            Managers Focus On:              
Vision Objectives
Selling what and why Telling how and when
Longer range Shorter range
People Organization and structure
Democracy Autocracy
Enabling Restraining
Developing Maintaining
Challenging Conforming
Originating Imitating
Innovating Administrating
Directing Controlling
Policy Procedures
Flexibility Consistency
Risk (opportunity) Risk (avoidance)
Top line Bottom line
Good Leaders
do the right things
Good Managers
do the right things

Successful project management requires both project leadership and project management skills. Collectively, project leadership and project managership may be called project stewardship, which implies holding something in trust for another. Project stewardship refers to a willingness to be fully accountable for meeting project objectives and for giving a higher degree of importance to project objectives than to self-interest. It entails holding people accountable without harshly exacting compliance from them.

Leadership and the Project Life Cycle. Do project leaders need different skills and leadership styles in different phases of the project life cycle? Both project leadership and managership are important to project success. Leadership emphasizes communicating the vision and then motivating and inspiring project participants to higher performance, whereas managership focuses on getting things done. Can the two be reconciled? To answer this, it is essential to turn to a fundamental principle of project management.

Project management is a structured but flexible process, producing a new end result (a unique product or service). Its success depends upon the successful application of a two-step process: first plan and then produce. This is the genesis of a typical project life cycle. Figure 2 shows these phases, along with the leadership versus managership skills needed during various phases of the project life cycle.32

For example, in the planning phases, the project leader focuses on the “right things to do” and outlines strategies to achieve agreed-upon objectives. This challenging process requires teamwork by all project stakeholders. It may be an iterative process and therefore takes time. During the planning phases the customer's needs, requirements, and expectations should be clearly fleshed out. Therefore visioning, intelligence gathering, and developing a compelling reason and appropriate strategies are all important issues in these phases. The process in these phases also forms the essential basis for effective team development.

Figure 2. Leadership and Management Skills over the Project Life Cycle

Leadership and Management Skills over the Project Life Cycle

Source: Vijay K. Verma and R. Max Wideman. 1994. Project Manager to Project Leader? and the Rocky Road Between. Proceedings of the 25th Annual Seminar/Symposium of the Project Management Institute. Upper Darby, PA: Project Management Institute, pp. 627–633.

On the other hand, the real work of project execution gets done in the production phases. In these phases, the emphasis is on “getting things done” by combining the efforts of the project team. At the same time, it is important to focus on “doing the things right,” i.e., efficiency, to satisfy the requirements of the client within the specified constraints.

As shown in the project life cycle in Figure 2, in the planning phase (phases 1 and 2), managership, as described above, has its limitations and leadership skills are more appropriate. On the other hand, during the production phase (phases 3 and 4), leadership has its limitations and managership is more effective.

Thus, project success depends upon a combination of both project leadership and project managership. To get a project launched on the right foot, the project manager must become a leader. The style or major emphasis of leadership changes as the project progresses through its life cycle. For example, it is essential to place more emphasis on project managership toward the end of the project, when efficient project administration and a compulsion for closure help to integrate and realign everyone's efforts and transfer the product to the client.

Effective Management of Human Resources—the most valuable assets and resources in a project—can be achieved if project managers evaluate and use all four factors (communication, teamwork, leadership, and cultural ambiance) to build an effective intercultural team and integrate the efforts of a diverse mix of team members. They must recognize that change is inevitable and therefore focus on developing appropriate project management strategies to convert change into opportunity by optimizing the performance of all human resources in a project. ▄

Chapter One references cited in excerpt:

11. Harold Kerzner. 1989. Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling, Third Edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, pp. 10–12.

13. Hans J. Thamhain. 1991. Developing Project Management Skills. Project Management Journal (September): pp. 39–44.

14. Michael K. Badawy. 1982. Developing Managerial Skills in Engineers and Scientists. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

15. Albert A. Einsiedel, Jr. 1987. Profile of Effective Project Managers. Project Management Journal (December): pp. 51–56.

18. J.M. Olson and M.P. Zanna. 1991. In Attitudes and Beliefs in Social Psychology, eds. R.M. Baron, W.G. Graziano and C. Stangor, p. 196. Fort Worth, Texas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

22. Paul R. Lawrence and J.W. Lorsch. 1967. Organization and Environment: Managing Differentiation and Integration, Boston: Division of Research, Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University.

23. Archibald, Russell. 1992. Managing High-Technology Programs and Projects. New York: John Wiley and Sons, p. 66.

24. David I. Cleland and William R. King. 1965. Systems Analysis and Project Management, Second Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 237.

25. Linn C. Stuckenbruck. 1981. The Implementation of Project Management: The Professional's Handbook. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, pp. 143–145.

26. David L. Wilemon and John P. Cicero. 1970. The Project Manager: Anomalies and Ambiguities. Academy of Management Journal (September).

32. Vijay K. Verma and R.M. Wideman. 1994. Project Manager to Project Leader? and the Rocky Road Between. Proceedings of the 25th Annual Seminar/Symposium. Upper Darby, PA: The Project Management Institute, pp. 627–633.

33. J.D. Batten, 1989, Tough-Minded Leadership, AMACOM; W. Bennis, 1989, On Becoming a Leader, Addison Wesley; S.R. Covey, 1991, Principle-Centered Leadership, Summit Books; Robert L. Dilenschneider, 1991, A Briefing for Leaders, Harper Business; J.W. McLean and W. Weitzel, 1991, Leadership, Magic, Myth or Method?, AMACOM; and Kimball Fisher, 1993, Leading self-Directed Work Teams: A Guide to Developing New Team Leadership, New York: McGraw-Hill.

34. Batten, Tough Minded Leadership, p. 35.

35. McLean and Weitzel, Leadership, Magic, Myth or Method?, p. 90.

36. Jeffrey K. Pinto. 1994. Successful Information System Implementation: The Human Side. Upper Darby, PA: Project Management Institute, p. 159.

Excerpted from Chapter One of Organizing Projects for Success, Volume One of the Human Aspects of Project Management series, by Vijay K. Verma (Project Management Institute, 1995). PMI will release Volume Two, Human Resource Skills for the Project Manager, this month.

Vijay K. Verma, P. Eng., M.B.A., is the group leader in the planning department at TRI-UMF, a federal research laboratory located at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. He writes and lectures about project management skills.

PM Network • April 1996



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