Rick Sanders has studied the IT staffing and services industry from every angle. As former head of marketing at MATRIX, he understands the (sometimes conflicting) motivations of hiring managers, consultants, and IT job seekers. Along the way, Rick has participated in the evolution of marketing from the print, to digital interactive, social and beyond. Working now as a contractor, Rick offers acute insight into the contracting world based on his own experience.
Today’s Project Managers Need a High Social IQ
Project management today involves much more than rigidly-defined task management and scheduling. Prescription is out. Collaboration is in. Driven largely by the excellent social task management tools, top project managers today must adopt a much more inclusive, customer-service mindset.
If you are thinking of transitioning into project management from software development or just entering the field, consider the soft skills you will need to hone in order to succeed. “Communication is 90 percent of the job” said a Technical Program Manager from Silicon Valley. “The other 10 percent is keeping track of the bigger picture.”
Why is the average age of PMP certified project managers in the mid–thirties? It usually takes years of experience to see what needs to be done, make plans for it and tailor your message to a broad range of people involved on a project – from corporate stakeholders across disciplines, to technical team leads and the technical implementation team, sometimes even customers.
CIO magazine writes about the social intelligence needed to make it all work together:
“It’s really important to be comfortable with people from different cultures. So much of business being international now. You’ll be called to walk into a situation where you don’t know the people you’re working with, maybe not even where, or their genders, and say, ‘How do I work with these people?”
This trend will only continue. A Global Recruiting Trends 2017 survey conducted by LinkedIn identified the top trends the recruiting industry will see in the next few years. The top two: 37 percent said recruiting more diverse candidates, and 35 percent said soft skills assessments.
One of the biggest success factors of this job is to see the connections that other people don’t, added the Technical Program Manager. “To do that you have to listen. Get a sense of dynamics of relationships between people. And the things that they don’t say. You can tell a lot from tone of email, types of things they respond to, and watch the things that happen between IT managers and developers on email, chats or discussion boards,” she said.
“Read what people are telling you,” agreed another Project Manager from Atlanta. “If somebody is not pulling their weight you have to understand why not. Start to look for telltale signs that individual team members have not bonded. Does the team look happy? Do they feel stressed? Are they being open about resolving problems? Or are they just throwing things over the wall and hiding out in their silo?”
The acquisition of these social intelligence skills is difficult without having the experience in having done it before. A few things you can do if you are not practiced:
- When you get the opportunity to help someone in an extended role, do it. Understand what they are doing and why. Perhaps even help them write the documentation. You will be preparing yourself for when you actually do extend your role.
- Start learning how to ask good questions. This might sound simple, but Edgar Schein’s book, Humble Inquiry, outlines how changing from a “task and tell” approach to one that values relationships and asking the right questions can improve the effectiveness of work done around us. He goes on to say that “the issue of asking versus telling is really a fundamental issue in human relations, and that it applies to all of us all the time. When we choose to ask, when we ask, what our underlying attitude is as we ask – all are key to relationship building, to communication, and to task performance.” Understanding how to ask as a Project Manager, rather than just being a task manager, is a necessary soft skill for 21st century PMs.
- Be a learner and add to your PM toolbox. There are so many new (and tried and true) methods and tools that can be used to successfully deliver products and projects – don’t limit yourself to just one! Understand which can be artfully used or activated to meet the needs of the client, the team, and the product. In other words, learn how to fit a round peg into a round hole.
- Find areas of your personal and professional life that you can test and apply your craft. For example, if there is a project at home, allocate additional time to build a project plan or a type of project board. Use this to manage yourself and your project. Another way would be to try out new methods by first applying them to internal professional projects. That way, you can become a leader by example, not just a manager.
Project managers abound, but highly effective project leaders are much harder to find. The latter are shaped not only by their technical knowledge and capabilities, but by how effectively they communicate with others at all levels. Skills like the ability to resolve conflict, deal with ambiguity, diplomacy, and reading subtle clues will be at the forefront as more projects are globally implemented, and transcend language and cultural barriers.