Publication date: 08/01/2005
Steven W. Flannes, PhD, combines a background of leadership, management, and project leadership positions with original training as a psychologist to create a career focused on assisting individuals, teams, and organizations in improving their effectiveness in the area of the people skills required for project and career success. He has taught at the graduate level for the University of Notre Dame and the University of California, Berkeley, Extension Program. He has conducted people skills workshops for project management professionals in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom and is a regular presenter on regional, national, and global levels for the Project Management Institute.
Ginger Levin, DPA, is a senior consultant in project management with more than 30 years of experience. She is also an adjunct professor for the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in its Master of Science in Project Management program and serves as the university’s program specialist in project management. Dr. Levin received her doctorate in public administration and information systems technology from The George Washington University (GWU), where she received the outstanding dissertation award for her research on large organizations; an MSA, with a concentration in information systems technology, also from GWU; and a BBA from Wake Forest University.
David I. Cleland, PhD
Kenneth H. Rose, PMP
“People issues” tend to be the most frustrating aspect of project work. People issues contribute to delays in project completion, reduced project quality, and increased project costs, not to mention high levels of personal stress and aggravation for the project management professional. Unfortunately, most project professionals, in their educational background or through other training, have had few opportunities to develop a concrete set of practical people skills.
This book is dedicated to giving you, the project management professional, tangible and field-tested people skills that will help you productively address the messy people problems that can surface on a project team, while also helping you manage your own career direction. We offer a set of specific, practical skills that you can use to resolve the difficult people issues so often encountered in managing projects.
The people skills that we present in this book include:
• The ability to communicate effectively on interpersonal levels with different types of stakeholders
• The ability to comfortably implement project manager leadership roles crucial to project success
• The ability to determine the personal style of your team members and other stakeholders, which will enable you to work more effectively with each individual
• Proven methods for productively resolving conflict
• Best practices and strategies for motivating team members
• Awareness of how to help a team recover after a critical incident has struck a team member or the team itself
• Career management skills you need to thrive professionally in today’s world of continual change.
Why do you need these people skills? The many reasons include the complexity of managing the people issues within a matrix management system, the increasing complexity and scope of projects, the prevailing philosophy of “doing more with less,” the increasingly cross-cultural nature of teams, and the proliferation of virtual teams and an outsourced, distributed work force.
We believe this is a unique book for the project management professional. Essential People Skills for Project Managers is based on our original book, People Skills for Project Managers, published in 2001. In this derivative version, we have tried to capture the essence of the original book and bring the key concepts of people skills into sharp focus. Project managers need information they can grasp quickly and apply immediately to their projects. We hope that this “essential” version enables project managers to do just that.
We have presented parts of this book and our original People Skills for Project Managers to project management professionals in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom during two-day training workshops. We have also given presentations in Norway, Sweden, and Iceland at the International Project Management Association’s NORDNET conferences, as well as to numerous chapters of the Project Management Institute in the United States. In these and similar settings, we hear from project managers just how much more attention is currently being paid—throughout the world—to the people component of project work. (Indeed, the first edition of this book was recently published in Russian by a Moscow publisher!)
We bring two different but convergent backgrounds to this book. Steve brings a background of management and leadership that builds on his original training as a clinical psychologist to a career focused on assisting individuals, teams, and organizations in working more effectively and productively. Ginger brings her background as an experienced project manager and project management consultant who has managed projects for companies and organizations in both the public and private sectors.
Two core beliefs anchored our writing. The first is that a project manager’s success, advancement, and professional satisfaction are directly related to his or her level of people skills. Our second belief is that while people skills may come easier to some people than to others, everyone can significantly improve those skills by investing the time to consider the insights and practice the techniques presented in this book.
We would like to express our thanks to the staff of Management Concepts, especially Myra Strauss and Jack Knowles, for their assistance in the production of this new version.
Steven W. Flannes
People issues in projects can be messy and uncomfortable. Most importantly for the project manager, people issues can hinder project success, especially in terms of meeting the project’s schedule and budget. Achieving customer satisfaction within the project’s scope and quality requirements can also be jeopardized.
As a project manager, you can, however, develop and refine tangible skills that will enable you to address people issues successfully when they surface within the project team setting. Equipped with these skills, you will not only bring added value to your organization, but you will find more personal enjoyment and fulfillment in your work as you proactively manage your career.
PROJECTS: TECHNICAL PROBLEMS WITH HUMAN DIMENSIONS
Projects are technical problems with significant human dimensions. Cleland (1999) notes that many of the skills needed for project success revolve around people skills, such as the abilities to communicate, to work with others, to negotiate, and to listen. More recently, management consultant and author Peters (2004) said that “These days, it’s the people skills that matter and will increasingly determine an organization’s success.” From other professional perspectives comes the view that project management success is 80 percent art (the people skills) and 20 percent science- or technology-based. Unfortunately, many project management professionals have not had training in the people skills required for success and career advancement; instead, they are forced to develop these skills informally as they proceed through their careers.
WHY ARE PEOPLE SKILLS SO IMPORTANT?
Nine reasons and trends clearly establish a current need for the project professional to have strong, specialized people skills:
• The cyclical and stage nature of projects
• The trend in organizations to become more project-based
• An increase in project complexity
• The continual downsizing and outsourcing underway in many organizations
• An increasing movement toward a customer-driven world
• The challenges of leading in a matrix management structure
• The increase of virtual teams and a distributed workplace
• The role of project managers as organizational change agents
• The use of people skills as a risk management strategy.
Cyclical and Stage Nature of Projects
The creation and nurturing of a project team involves guiding the team through the people issues encountered in all project stages.
Groups of individuals become a team by progressing through a number of distinct and sequential stages; each stage requires that the project manager and team members have finely honed people skills to succeed at the highest levels. The four project stages are:
• Coming together
• Challenge and conflict
• Doing the work
• Project and team closure.
What follows is a look at the stages through which a group of individuals becomes an effective project team. We identify the basic people skills inhererently required in each stage, and use this discussion of the four stages as a means to introduce specific people skills, each of which is covered in detail in its own chapter later in the book. Over the course of any project, all the people skills discussed in this book are actually employed simultaneously during each of the stages. Some skills are just more prominent in one stage than in another.
Coming Together Stage
A team begins as a collection of individuals with different motivations and expectations. An individual team member brings to this first stage a social schema, which is a personal belief system comprising views about how people and social systems, such as teams, should operate. People also bring stereotypes to a new system or group, which reflect that person’s views and attributions toward members of various groups (e.g., “engineers,” “male project managers,” “older technicians about to retire”).
During this stage, it is important for the project manager to resist making any assumptions about the personalities, values, sources of motivation, interests, and agendas of each of the team members.
• The ability to perceive individual differences (personal styles and interpersonal communication styles) among team members and stakeholders (which is the subject of Chapter 3).
Working in concert with the team members during this initial project stage, the project manager must be able to articulate a vision for the project; the vision explains “why” the project is getting done (its added value), as compared to just describing the “what” of the project (the technical specifications and the deliverables).
The two people skills required for crafting and communicating the project vision are:
• Effective interpersonal communication skills (such as listening actively and asking open-ended questions, which are presented in Chapter 3)
• The project manager’s ability to comfortably implement four distinct leadership roles, of which the “leadership” function is specifically used to communicate the project vision (presented in Chapter 2).
Challenge and Conflict Stage
Even in the best of teams, members often move into a second project stage that is marked by conflict and disagreement. During this stage of the project, conflict emerges because:
• Team members are attempting to clarify their roles by challenging peers for specific niches and identities
• Team members are anxious about the uncertainty involved in any new project
When conflicts arise, the project manager’s assertive and facilitative style helps the team create not just solutions to individual conflicts but also processes the team can use to address conflicts that resurface.
Four distinct people skills are required of the project manager to resolve initial conflict and to model positive conflict resolution behaviors:
• The ability to identify the personal styles of team members (presented in Chapter 3)
• The ability to use four interpersonal communication techniques (presented in Chapter 3)
• The ability to apply five distinct conflict resolution strategies and to know when to apply each of them (discussed in Chapter 5)
• The ability to implement the “manager” role, which is one of the four basic leadership competencies, to help the team prepare a team charter that defines the methods the team will use to resolve conflict (presented in Chapter 2).
The team charter also begins to address the project manager people skill of knowing how to address crisis situations such as when a critical incident (e.g., serious illness, death of a team member, natural disaster) strikes a team member or the team itself.
The project manager people skill of knowing how to respond effectively to a critical incident involves the abilities (discussed in Chapter 7) to:
• Assess whether a critical incident debriefing (i.e., a facilitated team meeting designed to talk through the crisis) is warranted for the team
• Know when a project recovery plan is needed, plus the ability to identify the qualities of the ideal project recovery manager.
However, one of the potential negative aspects of creating standards and group norms via a team charter is that the team may begin to display conformity, obedience, or “group think” in decision making. Group think is defined as team behavior that displays extreme cooperation, compliance, and little willingness to appropriately confront the ideas of other team members. This risk arises when team members are conflict-averse, when the project manager is very directive, and when team size increases.
To mitigate the risk of group think and conformity, the project manager needs to achieve a balance of cohesion and dissent; this process is also known as “managing agreement” on the project team. The people skills required for managing agreement involve five conflict resolution skills (presented in Chapter 5). As the team begins to address this stage of conflict by using these skills, the team starts to evolve into the next stage, which involves getting the bulk of the work done.
Doing the Work Stage
When handled smoothly, the process of creating team standards for dealing with issues such as conflict resolution allows the group to do what it has been charged to do: complete the project within the guidelines of specifications, time, and cost.
To keep the team moving forward in a positive and productive manner, the project manager needs to create the conditions for:
• An adequately resourced team
• A proactively motivated team.
• Comfort implementing the leadership role of “facilitator,” which involves an assertive pursuit of needed resources (discussed in Chapter 2)
• The ability to employ a variety of motivational approaches tailored to each individual on the team (covered in Chapter 4).
Should the project manager find that the team is not operating with the expected level of efficiency during this stage, certain people issues may be getting in the way. It is important at this point for the project manager to conduct a “people-issues audit” to determine if these issues are causing the project to veer off track.
Conducting a “people issues” audit involves:
• Determining if the team has an accurate grasp of the project vision, which encompasses a description of the added value the project brings to the customer (Chapter 2)
• Fulfilling the project leadership role of “facilitator” (Chapter 2) by spending enough time developing needed support and resources for the project with important stakeholders both internal and external to the organization.
Project and Team Closure Stage
From the people-issue perspective of project management, the last stage is the one in which individuals on the team, and the team as a whole, assess the level of goal achievement and begin the process of “saying good-bye.”
This closure process affects team members differently, and their reactions are often directed toward the project manager. During this period, the manager is trying hard to conclude the remaining pieces of the project and may be surprised at the range of feelings team members display.
When facing project closure, the people-oriented project manager should remember that:
• Team members may display a wide range of unforeseen feelings, such as anger, apprehension, fear, and lack of confidence.
• These feelings may not be logical and can have very little to do with events or issues related to the project team.
This is also the stage in which the team members begin to think about what they will be doing after this project is completed. This future orientation is natural, given the self-protective need to manage one’s career in project work.
Two distinct people skills are required of the project manager to address these team member career concerns:
• The “mentor” role (discussed in Chapter 2), in which the project manager, in conjunction with the functional manager, gently guides the team member toward a frank discussion of the next assignment
• The application of six specific, active career management skills (which are examined in Chapter 8).
In this last phase of the project, stakeholders also may be experiencing personal stress (in the form of anxiety, lowered mood, and irritation) as well as physical fatigue. Under these conditions, the project manager must work to keep the team members committed to completing the tasks in a way that does not allow that stress to hamper performance.
• Crafting tailored motivation strategies that address the individual differences of team members (described in Chapter 4)
• Offering suggestions or modeling five specific stress management techniques that can help keep team member performance at optimal levels (described in Chapter 6).
Various skills are required to address the people issues that arise during each of the stages of a typical project. While the successful project manager uses almost all of these people skills during each stage, throughout the book we have tried to highlight the most important skills needed during each stage.
Trend in Organizations to Become More Project-Based
Organizations are becoming more and more project-based. Flat, flexible organizational structures are becoming the norm, replacing the hierarchical, bureaucratic structures of the past. As organizations become flatter, the project manager’s interactions with internal and external stakeholders increases, calling for an enhanced ability to apply people skills to a greater variety of people and personalities.
This trend toward the projectization of the workplace is evidenced by the number of people who identify themselves as project professionals. When our first edition of People Skills for Project Managers was published in 2001, the Project Management Institute (PMI®) had approximately 77,000 members. As we write this edition in early 2005, PMI® reports that membership has increased to over 150,000 members in more than 150 countries. Clearly, such a steep rise in membership suggests that the project model of working is taking off on a global scale within organizations and companies, and that project management is the career choice of many professionals.
As organizations have become more project-based, a shift in management style has occurred—a shift requiring effective people skills. This management style, exemplified by the influenced-based project manager, is consensual and participative, calling for the project manager to serve as facilitator, team member, team player, and coach; hence, the importance of being able to demonstrate exceptional people skills has increased.
Verma (1997) presents some additional reasons for the need to change to a new method of management that has implications for people skills. Verma explains that rapidly changing technology and an increasingly competitive society have made the need to share information throughout the organization a critical success factor. With this need to share information comes the requirement that the project manager be skilled in communicating on both the individual and group levels—and able to communicate effectively with different styles of personalities in different cultures.
Increase in Project Complexity
The trend toward increasingly complex projects also creates a need for people skills. The norm today in project work is to work faster, with fewer resources, turning out products and services with multiple end applications and uses.
The complexity of projects is also seen through the window of continually advancing technological developments. The role of the project manager becomes more complex as he or she struggles to maintain an adequate level of technological knowledge while still responding to the human factors of the team in an atmosphere of intense competition from other organizations. With the expansion of virtual teams, project complexity has also increased as global teams are now capable of working on a project around the clock.
Not long ago, downsizing and outsourcing in organizations were exceptions rather than the norm and occurred only in times of economic slowdown. People joined an organization and tended to remain with it for their entire careers, many in the same functional area or field.
Downsizing and outsourcing have become a way of life for many organizations. Frame (1994) explains that downsizing is one way that companies can become “lean and mean.” Organizations have limited resources, and they need to expend those resources in productive areas.
Ironically, companies experiencing rapid growth in one sector may elect to downsize in other departments or units or to outsource these functions completely. For example, it is common to see a newspaper article announcing layoffs in an organization, and in the same paper or on a website, to see advertisements for job openings in the same company.
With downsizing and outsourcing now the norm within most organizations, project managers face people issues such as:
• Finding ways to motivate the “surviving” employees, who may be wondering if their jobs will be the next to go
• Motivating these same employees, who now operate under the mandate of “doing more with less.”
Movement Toward Customer-Driven Projects
Today, projects are customer-driven, as both internal and external customers assume an active role in the project from beginning to end. Customer understanding and support can no longer be taken for granted. Building and maintaining relationships with customers is a continual process for the project leader and team. It is no longer safe to assume that a relationship will continue simply because the organization has worked with a customer for a long time.
In addition to delivering a quality technical product or service, today’s project manager must also have the people skills that contribute to customer relationship management and customer retention. Project professionals are now measured by how well they interact with their customers and how well they work to enhance existing business opportunities with current customers. Business development, by necessity, is a major aspect of everyone’s job. Customer involvement, however, must be nurtured. A key goal is to understand the customer, which involves the people skills of good interpersonal techniques.
Leading in a Matrix Management Structure
The matrix organization has emerged as the organizational structure of choice for projects. Roles and responsibilities are uncertain in the matrix structure, and the successful project manager needs a variety of people skills to succeed in such an environment.
The matrix structure tends to discourage team member commitment to a project. Each team member understands that his or her assignment to a project is temporary. Team members may never again work with the project manager and the other team members once the project ends. They may also be supporting multiple projects and working for several project managers simultaneously, further diffusing their commitment to a single project or project manager. Within this mix of conflicting loyalties and commitments, the project manager must be able to apply people skills to motivate each team member.
Kerzner (1998) highlights the motivational issues facing the project manager in a matrix system when he notes that:
• Project managers have little real authority; functional managers have considerable authority
Increase of Virtual Teams and a Distributed Workplace
The virtual organization has emerged to meet the challenges of unprecedented growth, customer expectations and alternatives, global competition, complexity, rapid change, and time-to-market compression. Customers, suppliers, and employees no longer reside in the same city, but in different time zones and on different continents. The virtual organization may quickly deploy its resources to form project teams capable of responding to emerging project work. As Rad and Levin state (2003), managing organizations by projects has become the norm with the use of virtual teams because projects are no longer limited by physical boundaries. The virtual organization is the model for the future.
Such an environment presents many people-oriented challenges. It is harder to develop a group identity, share information, recognize team member strengths and weaknesses, and develop trust. Haywood (1998) investigated project managers’ perceptions of the management of virtual project teams compared with traditional, co-located teams. She found that project managers clearly perceive more difficulty in managing virtual teams, particularly in the area of communication; hence the need for exceptional communication skills for the virtual team manager. Rad and Levin (2003) further note that because the virtual team may span multiple cultural and language boundaries, the project’s procedures must provide guidelines that ensure that the resulting diversity is an asset and not a liability.
• Be a leader (using influence) rather than a controller or supervisor
• Create trust and an identity among the virtual team members, allowing them to feel free to discuss ideas without being dismissed arbitrarily.
Role of Project Managers as Change Agents
Organizations must make changes in the face of global competition and technological obsolescence. In light of the trend toward management by projects, in addition to the obvious role of completing quality projects, the project manager must now also be a change agent.
Change within organizations causes tension, which may result in lower morale, higher anxiety, more stress, and reduced productivity. In altering the organizational culture to make it more project-based, the project manager will often experience resistance, perhaps even from the most senior levels of management, who may view the project model as a threat to the power they believe they hold within the current functional model. Many project managers have commented on the chief executive officer (CEO) who says that the company should move toward working as a project-based organization, only to find that same CEO putting up various forms of resistance to implementing this change.
The project manager acting as a change agent must be able to demonstrate the people skills of:
• Articulating the vision to stakeholders at different organizational levels
• Applying good listening skills.
Use of People Skills for Risk Management
All projects encounter risks of some type. The sheer size and complexity of today’s projects places increased emphasis on managing risks. While risk management usually focuses on the deliverables of the project, it must also focus on the people component of the project; after all, projects are performed by people.
The effective project manager needs good people skills to manage the people risks in an organization. Managing these risks involves people skills in relationship management, which can reduce:
• Grievances, harassment complaints, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints
• Union activity
• Violence in the workplace
• Loss of key staff members and other retention issues
• Time lost to injuries.
In commenting on the people components of risk management, Frame (1999) suggests that if one compiled a list of risks for a project, the list of possible human risks would be the longest. He also believes that it is difficult to determine appropriate risk management responses in advance, creating a need for spontaneous, people skills-based solutions rather than the implementation of predefined contingency plans.
To help a project manager achieve project and career success, the subsequent chapters of this book offer:
• Approaches to follow in project leadership
• Methods to use for identifying individual differences among team members
• Techniques for interpersonal communications
• Best practices to follow to motivate team members
• Methods for resolving conflicts productively
• Ways to respond effectively when a critical incident strikes a project team
• Techniques for managing personal stress
• Skills required for proactive career management.
Chapter 2 discusses the four different roles a project manager must assume: leader, manager, facilitator, and mentor.
Chapter 3 addresses the importance of developing tangible interpersonal communication skills and provides a model for identifying different types of team members with differing personality styles.
Chapter 4 delves into the art of how to motivate individual team members as well as the team as a unit. Common motivation mistakes and pitfalls are addressed to guide the project manager in reducing the risks involved in implementing these approaches.
Chapter 5 describes the inherent benefits and disadvantages of conflict and presents five specific approaches for addressing conflict. Insights are offered into preferred personal styles of managing conflict, along with the benefits and limitations of these styles.
Chapter 6 challenges the project manager to create a personal stress management plan for addressing the pressures of leading today’s complex projects. Specific, research-based stress management techniques are described.
Chapter 7 covers the steps that a project manager should take when a tragedy (a “critical incident”) such as the unexpected death of a team member strikes the project team. Tangible resources that a project manager can offer the team during these difficult periods are presented, with the goal of helping team members return to pre-crisis levels of performance.
Chapter 8 concludes the book with thoughts about developing an ongoing personal performance plan, suggesting concrete career management “people skills” that every project manager should have and providing a model to use in exploring the human component of project work.
Our purpose in writing Essential People Skills for Project Managers is to provide tools, techniques, and perspectives on the many people challenges of the project management profession. Use these tools to help you solve some problems, increase your value to your organization, experience the many positive aspects of managing project teams, and work closely with your team members—in essence, to enrich your work leading project teams. This is an exciting time to be a project manager!
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