Are you a great project manager?

There are good project managers and then there are great project managers.

“Great project managers really have an understanding of all the various components that make up project management,” said Jon Gale, president of Vancouver-based HR Solutions Ltd., the western Canadian partner of Strategic Management Group Inc. in Philadelphia. “They understand the behavioural side, the organizational issues, and they recognize that it’s much more than just a matter of bringing a group of people together that have the technical capabilities to perform the job.”

Gale was in Toronto recently for The Complete Project Manager leadership program offered by Strategic Management Group and LTI.

According to Gale, great managers require a holistic approach, strong leadership capabilities, a high degree of organizational savvy and courage, “because they are going to be required in many instances to push back against some fairly significant organizational authority that may try and block what they are trying to do.”

And while there are many project managers who have such skills, the area where most are lacking, Gale said, is the ability to understand the full picture or impact of the project.

“Project managers lack a lot of the skills to deal with not only the technical management of the project, but some of the issues that flow from having projects in organizations — issues such as understanding the impact of projects on the organization, and the role of a project manager in terms of working inside the organization.”

Huguette Pothier, senior systems analyst at Fredericton-based N.B. Power, said her company recently incorporated a huge push towards change management, which means a greater involvement with clients, users, stakeholders and the business units within the organization. Pothier attended Gale’s workshop.

“The idea behind this type of project management is to not only work with the IT staff but with the business unit staff and get them involved in the process changes that have to come,” Pothier said. “Project managers have to do more than manage the technology, they have to go into the resources and they have to go into the process. These are two areas where traditionally people shy away from. Humans are harder to deal with than technology.”

For this reason, Gale said it is important that project managers develop behavioural skills so they can learn to compete for resources and understand the conflict that exists within organizations.

In fact, the biggest concern voiced by project managers is “senior management is not listening to us. We’re not given enough flexibility and there is too much interference from senior management,” Gale said. That, plus too few resources and difficulty negotiating change.

Marie Hobson, senior project manager with EDS Systemhouse in Mississauga, Ont. and a seminar attendee, said this is an area of major concern.

“Getting dedicated resources in projects and getting enough resources assigned to projects, that’s always a tough one. You very often won’t get them full-time and you very often don’t have a lot of authority over them,” Hobson said.

In addition, most individuals don’t understand how to deal with this problem, Gale said.

“Project managers in most organizations are given authority over projects that really exceed the amount of authority they have in the natural structure of the organization. They are being told they have to produce or create or develop something and they have to find the resources to do that, but they don’t have the authority to command those resources.”

To combat the problem, project managers must develop influence skills and techniques to get people to spare resources, he said. In addition, they need to understand how such political issues and behavioural issues drive projects.

And a great project manager must recognize that “if you don’t have those skills yourself and you’re leading a project team, then you should ensure [out of] the core people on that project some of them possess those skills,” he added.

Typically, one shortcoming of people in general, he said, is “they tend to think they have the ideal personality, and if you want a team then you want a team of people who are just like you. You put a whole team of those people together and they’re not going to function very well.”

Being able to address such a problem and reconcile behavioural issues is one of the things that distinguishes a great project manager. Gale advises getting “as much broad-based developmental experience as you can in the behavioural side and balance that off the technical skills…don’t ignore the area where a lot of the biggest problems are.”

Pothier agreed. While technology can be problematic, she said, “you can put contingency in, you can have the right skill set and you’ve got a very good shot at solving your problem.”

However, “if you’re not addressing the processes and the people that are going to be affected by the change up front then you’re going to pay for it in the end.”