Project Managers: Jacks of All Trades

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Designing a training program for project managers is a lot like creating a playlist on your iPod — depending on if you’re cleaning your house, relaxing with friends or jogging, the songs will vary accordingly.



The same holds true for project management skills. Building an engine, designing a Web site and writing a pitch are different tasks, and they require different skill sets. Therefore, before people can train to be better project managers, they must first know what skills are most important for the job at hand.



Dr. John Roecker, manager of Career Framework for the Project Management Institute (PMI), said there are three skill areas that apply to all aspects of project management: professional/technical, interpersonal and leadership. Within these three categories, PMI has identified 97 skills that are widely used by project and program managers. Because any given job description requires proficiency in only about eight of those skills at a time, individuals need to define their specific learning needs before efficient training can begin.



“You could identify the skills that a person needs to be a project manager in those three areas, and then you can go about evaluating someone against those skills,” he said. “And then you can find programs that would allow the person to develop the skills if they need to have some improvement in one particular area.”



For example, technical project managers could improve their job performance by seeking out further training in the technical fields that relate to their project.



“If you’re going to be managing a project of a technical nature, then it does help to have an understanding about technology in general, like having an understanding about programming for example, about software engineering or about network design,” said Fawzi Ben Messaoud, ITT Educational Services corporate curriculum manager.



To connect general project management processes with the specialized skills needed for a given project, Messaoud said individuals must run a small project that will put their skills to the test.



“The skills can only be developed through applied practice or through learning activities that will take what they learn from theory into practice by actually doing or putting together projects and taking the project form A to Z, using some of the tools, including project management applications or software,” he said.



Roecker, who has a doctorate in adult education, agrees that while everyone has different learning needs, anyone who wants to improve their project management skills should take charge of manageable project.



He cites Habitat for Humanity’s home construction projects as a good place for aspiring project managers to try out their new skills. Once someone has become proficient in a customized set of project management skills, both Messaoud and Roecker said that certification is the best way to continue learning.



“I think there are several certifications that could not only enhance someone’s technical ability and professional ability but also make them a better project manager,” Messaoud said. “Like the PMP, for example. It does cover a lot of topics, and it covers the essentials and beyond of project management, so that’s also a demonstration that for someone to earn that type of certificate that they really know project management pretty well.”

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