Why you should develop project management skills even if you aren’t a project manager – part 1

Project management requires a very broad skills set, from stakeholder management and risk management, to quality control, data collection and performance reporting.  In this series I want to explore some of the key skills required to be an effective Project Manager (PM) and how these apply in so many other work areas.  Today I look at Stakeholder Management and Leadership Skills – these have been explored together as they are both all about dealing with people.

Stakeholder Management

The process here is firstly to identify who your stakeholders are using a range of techniques.  Next you analyse them for their attitude towards your project, level of interest in it and also level of influence and power.  You can then plan how you are going to manage your priority stakeholders.  The point is to identify what potential impact they could have (positive or negative).  For example, someone with a lot of power (influence) but a negative attitude has the potential to cause a lot of damage in terms of delays or even derailing the project. 

The goal of stakeholder management is to understand who can have an impact, prioritise resources and use the appropriate tools and techniques for dealing with them.  This might be influencing or negotiation skills, or conflict resolution.  It will also always involve selecting the best method of communication.

Some applications of stakeholder management beyond purely project management.

Every single work environment has stakeholders (both internal or external).   Consider the current situation of remote working and furlough and the potential conflict that could arise.  People in your team could have any range conflicting feelings and attitudes – including vulnerability, frustration, fear and anxiety; being overwhelmed; stressed; or even relieved and enjoying being paid to be at home all summer.

So what are you going to do?  How are you going to ensure you still have a high performing people in your team?

A key element of Stakeholder analysis is to identify attitudes.  So this is the starting point – start with recognition and empathy.  If you don’t truly understand where people’s heads are at, you might not spot, let alone resolve, any potential conflict.  Once you understand people’s feeling and their levels of influence you can start to build effective strategies for dealing with them. 

For example, build empathy in others in your team as everyone needs to understand other people’s view points. And have regular touch points, both individually and as teams. If your teams are working remotely this should be more regularly than normal – we are not getting the usual daily interactions, when we work from home we are isolated and are unable to relate to others in the same way.  Also, individuals that you have identified as influential, but with negative attitudes, need to be managed closely.  These kinds of individuals can have a seriously detrimental impact of team motivation by spreading discontent.

An alternative external example is one of managing your suppliers within a production line. You could have suppliers who are very reliable, however they have quite a long lead time for the delivery of goods.  Normally this is fine as the lead time is built into the schedule.  However, imagine a situation where you need those goods supplying to a tighter timeframe to enable you to meet one of your customer requirements.   Through stakeholder analysis you identify the potential influence and interest of your supplier, you can build an effective communication or negotiation strategy to reduce that lead time. 

If they are interested in continuing work with your organisation that obviously gives you some influence to be able to negotiate for a shorter lead time even if this isn’t their usual service level agreement. However, if you are not a critical customer of theirs, this might lead you identify another supplier.   Either way, by understanding your stakeholders you are able to deal with them more effectively to bring about your required outcomes.

Leaderships skills

Leadership skills are people and relationship skills – they are critical for a PM.  The PM will always be responsible for the delivery of the project objectives, for bringing the project in on schedule, to budget and to the agreed specification.  However, they won’t always have direct control or authority over the teams delivering the project. 

Therefore they need to be able to set the objectives and motivate others towards this. They need to demonstrate why their project is more important than somebody else’s to ensure they secure resources required. They need to motivate their teams in usually high pressure situations while maintaining well-being.  A motivated and engaged team is a productive team so the PM would do well to go beyond purely getting the team to do what she wants.  It will be even more effective if she actually gets them to ‘want’ to do what she needs.  This will all require significant levels of empathy, listening, influencing, negotiation and communication skills.

Some applications of leadership skills beyond purely project management.

I guess it’s not a hard task for me to demonstrate the applicability of leadership skills beyond purely project management.  Leadership skills are needed everywhere.  They ensure that team members and stakeholders understand what the vision and goals of an organisation are.  They can be used to ensure that relationships are built and managed effectively to get the best out of people.  Where tight deadlines and critical pressure points occur,  effective leadership skills can be used to develop motivation and team collaboration. 

Using the right communication methods is also critical – for example, if we bring it back to the current situation with conflicting emotions and attitudes, you can see that to manage potential conflict to a suitable outcome (i.e. maintaining a high performing team that achieves its objectives) will require the skills of empathy and relationship building.   If your team members don’t believe that you have their best interests to heart, or if they feel that you don’t understand them, they are going to be far less likely to trust you.  Trust is critical to team formation and motivation.  Without it you are lost.

To finish, I spend quite a lot of time on LinkedIn at the moment and I quite frequently see inspirational quotes on what effective leadership means.  To be honest, I feel there is a certain repetition and clichéd feel to them after a just a couple of months, but they do serve as great reminder of what it means to be a leader, for example:

  • “You don’t inspire your team mates by showing them how amazing you are, you inspired them by showing them how amazing they are.” Robyn Benincasa
  • “Before you were a leader, success is about all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is about growing others.” Jack Welch
  • “Being a leader is more than just wanting to lead, have empathy for others and a keen ability to find the best in people not the worst, but truly caring for others.” Henry Gruland

These three quotes give you a real feel for what it means to be an effective leader and why it applies in both the personal and professional sphere.  The potential influence of being a trusted leader is huge – you inspire other people to actually want to do what you need them to do and that’s a pretty powerful influence and one that should be used wisely and with integrity.

To close, I hope that you can see a clear overlap in the value and application of stakeholder management and leadership skills in a range of context.   For anyone who manages projects or teams – those teams are your most critical stakeholders in achieving your goals.  You need them.  And effective leadership and stakeholder management skills will help you identify them, understand them, and get the most out of them.

accentuate can help you develop effective project management skills – contact us on +44 1223 752635 to find out more.

Topics to be covered in future series include – planning, risk management, requirements and scope management, schedule and resource management, governance and understanding the context of projects.