5 Secrets the Best Project Managers Know

March 21, 2018 Shelbi Gomez

By: Shelbi Gomez

Good project managers do more than complete projects on time and under budget. They problem solve tough personnel and project roadblocks, report to stakeholders, and motivate and invest in their team to keep everyone moving forward. No matter the size or scope of your team, here’s how to stand out and lead.

Communicate Well

Clear, consistent communication makes all the difference in a smooth project, and a good project manager knows that it’s one of the most important things they are charged with managing.

See "What Qualities Make a Good Project Manager?" to learn more about how to be the ultimate project manager.

As a project manager, you’ll be expected to deliver project updates, break bad news about missed deadlines or budget issues, and ask for help from stakeholders or outside teams. You also need to be able to explain technical or industry-specific concepts to people outside of your team and talk about the project and its moving parts confidently.

Poor communication is disastrous for a project: it slows progress, causes confusion, and puts your team on the track to delivering an incomplete or unusable product.

So, make your meetings concise and clear. Be sure to encourage questions and honest feedback during all stages of a project, and learn the best techniques and methods to communicate with your team.

Be a Skilled Negotiator

A daily part of being a project manager is negotiation. When conflicts arise between team members or from stakeholders, you’ll need to be able to negotiate and manage expectations. While these groups might have the same end goal, they can have very different visions for how to accomplish it. You need to be able to reconcile ideas and find a middle ground that keeps the project going.

William Ury, a leading expert on negotiation and co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, says one of the keys to good negotiation is to brainstorm possibilities and disentangle the problem from the person. “Once you’ve uncovered the interests of both sides, you can then take advantage of perhaps your greatest opportunity in negotiation, which is to invent options for mutual gain.”

So, sharpen your negotiation skills, and remember that with some skillful listening and teamwork, negotiations don’t have to be stressful or taut with conflict. As you successfully navigate a few projects, you’ll gain rapport, trust, and confidence from your team.

Proactively Solve Problems

Every project hits bumps in the road, and good project managers are proactive about finding sustainable solutions for those problems.

When your team reaches a “fork-in-the-road” situation, you need to be able to make a decision that will address the issue and keep the project moving forward. Think ahead to the types of problems that come up frequently and know how you’ll tackle them:

  • Are team members struggling with their assignments?
  • Are you running through your budget too quickly?
  • Are your team members not able to stick to the timeline you established?

Being able to spot these kinds of issues early on will help you keep the project on track and prevent putting your timeline in jeopardy.

Actively Manage Expectations

Unrealistic and unmet expectations lead to resentment. The truth is stakeholders and project requesters usually don’t have the specific knowledge that you and your team do, and they might not understand the work that goes into the project.

You are responsible for managing stakeholders’ expectations because you have an intimate knowledge of the project’s moving parts and the abilities and bandwidth of your team.

Managing expectations can require compromise. Listen to what your stakeholders want to accomplish, talk about your team’s abilities and limitations, and work toward a mutual understanding of what you can realistically accomplish.

Build an Empowered Team

An empowered team is one of the best tools in a project manager’s toolbox. This might seem like an abstract concept, but here are some questions you can ask to evaluate your team’s empowerment:

  • Are your team members working on tasks that they’re suited to, or do you assign things without considering each person’s strengths?
  • Do they have manageable workloads, or are they constantly scrambling to finish things before their deadlines?
  • Do your team members decide for themselves the best way to complete a task, or do you manage each decision they make?

Peter Block, an organizational development expert, writes that empowering your team means “the ability to foster freedom, creativity, and autonomy in a workforce rather than top-down hierarchical micromanagement."

If your team members don’t have any space to find creative solutions or to make their own decisions, they aren’t fulfilling their potential. Look for ways to empower your employees and allow them to use their knowledge and skills to contribute to the project in a meaningful way.

The minute makeup of what creates a good project manager is hard to quantify, because every team is different. However, as you practice and implement strong communication and negotiation skills, identify and solve problems, manage expectations, and empower your team, you’ll set yourself apart as a leader and manager who your team can trust.

Taking the time to develop these skills is an investment that will help you throughout the rest of your career, and it will make you a more confident and successful project manager.

See our SlideShare "81 Tips From PM Experts: How to be a Smarter, More Effective Project Manager" for more ways to hone your management skills.

About the Author

Shelbi Gomez

Shelbi is an experienced public relations professional with experience in both agency and corporate marketing environments. She currently guides brand awareness, market research, analyst relations, and customer content. She has nearly a decade of BtoB and BtoC experience helping companies tell their stories in the changing media landscape — in traditional media outlets, social media, and now through content marketing.

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