IT Career Skills Series: IT Project Manager
In the digital age, required skill sets are constantly changing. You may be looking to upskill your current team or hire new talent to fill those skill gaps. Or maybe you’re looking to elevate your own skills and career. Whatever your goals, welcome to the IT Career Skills Series. In this 10 part series, we will breakdown the top skills for each role your need on your IT dream team.
Get a FREE downloadable Career Skills List and IT skills matrix to test your teams’ (or your own!) proficiency against these must-have skills.
What Does An IT Project Manager Do?
IT project managers are responsible for managing work done by a team of people. Many people think an IT project manager is a jack of all trades and a master of all too. But is that really true or does it just seem that way? Truthfully, successful IT project managers have only mastered a small set of extremely powerful skills.
13 Essential Skills for IT Project Managers
The IT project manager is responsible for steering a group of people with vision and a road map to a successful conclusion. An IT project manager must be able to mediate, motivate, encourage and even inspire, sometimes all in the same breath. It is also critical that an IT project manager be able to analyze a situation quickly and make good decisions for the team.
Communication is an extension of leadership. The IT project manager must be able to articulate effectively with the team, project stakeholders, contractors and customers, none of which speak the same language or expect the same information. An effective communicator use more than one channel to communicate, verbal and written, one-on-one to groups to formal presentations. Communication can make or break a project.
Scheduling and Task Management
In order to drive a project to completion a timeline needs to be created and the project broken down into manageable, prioritized tasks on that timeline. This timeline must be realistic and managed to keep the project on track and drive it to a successful, on-time conclusion. The timeline, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath that iceberg, is a massive task list with added complexities of dependencies and priorities. Is also the It project manager’s responsibility to order, delegate and monitor the progress of each task on the list. Mastering this technical skill is mandatory for any IT project manager. Fortunately, there are many tools available to help master this skill, Basecamp, Atlassian, Microsoft Project and Trello are some of the more popular tools.
Risks are inherent with any project. A good IT project manager is quick to assess and control risks when those risks become a problem, whether those problems were anticipated or not. A great IT project manager can even identify and mitigate some risks before they become a problem. No one likes surprises, managing risks successfully has a direct effect on the success of any project.
You have to deliver your project on a budget, most likely a tight budget, therefore any IT project manager must be able to create a realistic budget and control that budget throughout the life of the project. Showing you can deliver a project on-time and on-budget is a skill every IT project manager must have.
Negotiating is a subset of communications, but is fast becoming a skill on its own. Whether it is negotiating with outside vendors and contractors, with project stakeholders for more budget or resources, or within your own team on issues that arise, being able to conclude those discussions in a manner that all parties feel they are getting what they want, and doing so before the conflict derails your project, is a skill, period.
Critical thinking is analyzing and evaluating an issue or situation as objectively as you can so that you can make an unbiased, but informed, decision. Much of project management can be reactive, meaning deciding with emotions. A good IT project manager must be able to turn off emotion before weighing the pros and cons of the situation and deciding how to move forward.
Yes, this is a skill because quality management is often overlooked. There is a difference between meeting a deadline and meeting a deadline with a product that works. As you create timelines and tasks an IT project manager must build-in time and effort to not only validate the work that was created but also to resolve any issues discovered during validation. For any IT project manager to be successful here, they must be proficient in the previously mentioned skills.
What was once the realm of finance and legal has now become a skill of the IT project manager, mostly as a result of companies doing more with less. Many IT projects require outside resources, such as vendors or contractors, to complete, and that puts the IT project manager on the hook to research, negotiate, acquire and manage these resources. Being able to do so efficiently and effectively is fast becoming a critical skill for IT project managers.
Unfortunately, projects get derailed all the time for any number of reasons. What’s worse is negative fosters negative. No team can move forward until the negative fog has been lifted and pushed away. Recovering any project will test everything you have ever learned about people, project management, and yourself. But being able to turn around an ailing project and get it back on track is a skill that propels an IT project manager to an elite level.
People will sometimes struggle on your team and, for some, asking for help is viewed as failure. While the IT project manager must be the task master, they must also be viewed as someone any team member can go to for help. As an IT project manager is your job to help them through this struggle in a manner that they not only learn, but thrive.
Meetings are a necessary evil in any project, but knowing when to have a meeting, who to invite, how to conduct that meeting and when to call it quits are vital to any IT project manager’s skill set.
Subject Matter Expertise
While you don’t need to be a subject expert on the project you are delivering you do need to know enough about the topic to be an effective IT project manager. Having subject knowledge allows you to more accurately and effectively plan, communicate and track project objectives as well as mitigate risks and costs.
BONUS! Sense of Humor
Not only does a little humor relieve stress, it lifts the mood around the team. Remember negative fosters negative. If a team can laugh a little under stressful times this helps to mitigate the negative fog that can build when things are not going right allowing people to think more creatively and critically about problems that arise and generally be more productive.
The challenge for every IT project manager is to keep their project on the happy path to completion and do to that, they must employ these skills every single day.
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