What does it take to manage a project?

In my opinion most people don’t really understand what ‘managing’ a project is actually about.

I have seen many project managers who do everything other than actually ‘manage’ what needs to be done in order to deliver the project.  And in seeing this occur I also see that the project is usually flailing, falling behind, and there are problems delivering.

So, what does it actually mean to ‘manage’ when we talk in terms of a project.

The dictionary tells us that manage is to organise; regulate; be in charge of; succeed in achieving; be able to cope; succeed in controlling.

What does this tell us about the core skills that are needed to manage a project:

  • ‘organise’ – you need to be an organiser, someone who can plan and get things in order
  • ‘regulate’ – you need to be able to deal with the ups and downs of things occurring, and find ways to smooth out the path
  • ‘be in charge of’ – you need to take responsibility for everything that’s occurring, or going to occur in order for delivery
  • ‘succeed in achieving’ – communication, liaison, negotiation are all key skills needed in order to succeed in achieving
  • ‘be able to cope’ – dealing with stress when there are tight time frames is important, being constantly under pressure to ensure that delivery occurs on time – how can and do you ‘manage’ that?
  • ‘succeed in controlling’ – do you have the respect and buy-in from the other team members of the project so that you can control any situation that arises?  You need to be able to gain this respect and buy-in, in order for everyone to be delivering on their own areas, so that the whole is achieved.

I’ve seen a number of people who call themselves project managers, without any of these skills, and they really struggle.  They struggle with themselves, as much as anything else, because they feel frustrated when things don’t happen the way that they need to.  They come in with the misapprehension that project management is easy.  It’s not.

This recent article on LinkedIn titled ‘10 Signs that you aren’t cut out to be a Project Manager (PM)‘ touched on some of the skills that a person needs to be a good PM, and that if you are missing them, it might be telling you something about your ability to be in this important role.

Managing is a skill that few people do well. Why? Because they don’t understand what it really means.  And they certainly don’t know how to deal with different people, get the best out of them, liaise all the time, create win/win situations for everyone involved in the team, deal with people who have strong views and opinions in order to get them onside and create a one team environment where there is open communication.

Some people thing that as a project manager, because they have that title (PM), they have the power to get anyone to do as they wish.  This is the wrong approach.

People in a project team need to be given responsibility, assistance when needed, acknowledgement of a job well done and above all support, in order to get what they need, so that they can give the PM what they need.


Written by Karen Munro