Project Management: the most highly-skilled job in the world?

This week I attended a PMI UK Chapter evening, with a presentation from Mark Sharratt on “Stakeholder Management”. It wasn’t quite what I expected.

Now, I would like to think that I already know a thing or two about stakeholder management. I have worked with one of the “gurus” of the subject, Eddie Obeng.  I have written best-practice guidelines on the subject, and I have presented training workshops. It is a frequent topic in PM coaching sessions. I know how to categorise stakeholders into supporters/detractors, high-power/low-power and interested/disinterested.  So I knew what to expect of the evening.  But what we got was something different.

The clue should have been in the name of Mark’s organisation: Dale Carnegie Training. Dale Carnegie, of course, is best known as the author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, first published in 1936 and still a best-seller over 75 years later. I knew that much, but I didn’t know that the principles he devised continue to be promoted in a business context – and continue to be extremely relevant.  What this session was really about was influencing skills.

We learnt about four styles: Expressor, Driver, Amiable and Analytic.  We explored where we fit in the scheme of things (project managers are strongly weighted towards one of these – can you guess which?), and we explored techniques for dealing with each of the interactions that can arise in this matrix.

I won’t give the game away in terms of the detail that Mark took us through, but suffice to say that the 100 or so attendees strongly connected with its relevance to project management.  Whereas my previous understanding was centred on the what of effective stakeholder communication, this was more about the how. Complementary skills.

After the session, I asked Mark if he could point me to further resources for blog readers who might want to know more – and he recommended this seminar (free of charge) as a next step:

http://www.london.dalecarnegie.co.uk/events/engaging_talent_seminar/?F_c=19

This got me thinking about PM skills in general.  I have been to so many seminars, training sessions, presentations over the years: People Management, Presentation Skills, Risk Management, Stakeholder Management, Agile, Coaching, Time Management, Intercultural Skills, etc, etc.  And do you know what?  They are all relevant to project management.

“It’s not rocket science” is a strange phrase, isn’t it?  Because rocket science is really just the application of Newton’s Laws of Motion.  You eject some mass out of the back of the rocket at high speed, and the thing shoots off in the other direction.  The skills and knowledge required achieve this are really quite well-defined.  I reckon it should be possible to become a successful rocket scientist by learning a whole load of physics, maths, chemistry and engineering, but without much understanding of the business benefits, without being able to manage a team, and without managing stakeholders.

Project managers, on the other hand, need the technical skills to understand the sector that they are working in (a debatable point, I know).  They need team management skills in spades.  They need influencing skills, they need financial skills, they need time management skills, they need to be a coach and a mentor, they need to be creative and they need to be IT-literate.  I could go on, as I’m sure anyone that has managed to read this far could.  Is there any other profession that benefits from such a wide span of abilities?

Can all of these skills be learned? Nature or Nurture?  What makes a good PM?

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About Russell Whitworth (Q2 Associates Ltd)

In pursuit of PM Excellence
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