By Chris Pennington
How often do we hear the catch-cry, “Why do we need Project Management?
Surely, everyone knows what they are doing so why do we need to pay for someone to run around after everyone and chasing their tail?”.

An effective project manager can make things run like clockwork, giving the illusion that there is no need for any “chasing”. So we end up with a contradiction, a good project manager creates a situation that appears as though no project management is needed. How is this done?

One of the challenges with effective project management is the ability to combine multiple traits in the one individual. Furthermore, these traits appear to be at odds with one another. How do you combined pedantic record keeping with big picture thinking; on-the-couch coaching with hard-nosed negotiation. The ambidextrous project manager needs to remain ever vigilant, cognisant of the ongoing activities of the team and yet remain self-disciplined enough to ensure record keeping and processes are maintained.

All of these skills are needed to gain an effective outcome. Yet, most project managers will naturally have strengths that dominate in one area. And, much of the prescribed project management texts focus on methodology and process to define project management. This is absolutely essential, yet this is the science of project management. Real results come from the art of project management: dealing with people. The uniqueness of people with their varied capabilities, needs, agendas is something that is difficult to determine and therefore rarely defined in the handbooks of project management.

Understanding how members of a project team tick, learning to spot situations (good & bad) before they surface, dealing with conflict, knowing when to push hard and when to back-off – these are the things which make a project manager gain results which defy their fellow namesakes. Relationship Manager maybe a more apt term to describe the effective project manager.

Obvious though it sounds, spending time with the team is one of the best ways to gain this relationship; an activity which often gets relegated to the bottom of the list, pushed aside due to time constraints. Building rapport with stake-holders, the business owners, the project team, the end-users gives the project manager a unique overall insight to the project. When it comes time to make decisions, garner support, hold a firm negotiation line or rally the team a project manager who “knows” the players is likely to achieve better results.

From the sidelines, it appears effortless. A well-run project built on relationships appears to avoid pitfalls, it does not flounder or run aground. All the time those involved are unaware of the project manager’s deft skills maintain the tempo. To the untrained eye you may hear comments flow, “What did they do … nothing?”, “ There was nothing for them to do, it’s a waste of time paying for a project manager”, or “That project would haved run itself, there were no problems to deal with”.

For some people this interpersonal skill comes naturally. But if you review the list of traits that typically define a project manager, traits which are absolutely necessary to ensure the essential elements of methodology and process are adhered, they are not generally associated with strong interpersonal skills.


Which is most important? The answer is both.

To be an effective project manager, you must be able to maintain meticulously detail and processes and yet have honed your interpersonal skills. Dominance in one area alone see the job get done, but with pain and disruption. Combining both spheres will see results catapulted into a different league with seemingly effortless ease.

Rare indeed are the people that can do both (well).

That’s what makes a project manager.

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