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5 Core Skills in Managing Projects Well

By Arnold Chan *

We live in a world which runs on projects. Everyday life projects may entail planning an office move, organising a major conference, developing a new product or implementing a quality system. Indeed, managing and leading projects are essential life skills, managerial skills and career skills.

There are 5 core skills in managing projects well. Every real project management professional or anyone who manages projects will benefit by mastering these skills to advance their careers.

1. Deploying resources

Effective leaders must learn to be great at delegation. The challenge is, some of the most competent people who become managers find it excruciating to delegate important tasks. Anyone can hand something off, but delegation requires a level of intent and finesse.

Effective delegators know how to accurately describe the desired outcome; communicate expectations; provide a possible path and give team members accountability for the results. Failing to grow as a delegator seriously restricts many managers who never rise above the level of their own personal productivity. Tools like work breakdown structure and competency matrix are enablers for the project manager.

2. Selecting the right team

The project manager needs to know how to assemble the right people to get the job done. He or she has to maximize their potentials and contributions with a very good understanding of team dynamics.

Most project managers use the RASCI chart to break out work needs, then build a position description, and recruit the most qualified people into those positions. There is, however, another effective way to staff larger teams. It involves recruiting the smartest and most productive people, and then getting them to play to their strengths.

3. Managing upwards

The entire concept of managing one’s boss can be a tricky proposition. Some people naturally excel at this, but for the rest of us, it’s an important skill to cultivate.

The art of managing upwards succeeds or fails largely upon communication. Effective leaders who practice this skill most effectively, keep their bosses well-informed about the activities they are driving and the progress they are making, along with their team. The goal here is to communicate in such a way that the boss knows how to help the project manager work to his/her full potential. The stakeholder identification process and prioritization map can add much value to the stakeholder action plan.

4. Responding to change

Many businesses have followed the philosophy that project plans were made by the smart people, and then carried out by everyone else. This approach has trickled down to project management, where the project plan has become a document that few dared to question. It has become easier (and more acceptable) to follow it than challenge it.

With proper change management controls and decision making levels, we can ensure necessary changes are identified and implemented with all options considered. Escalation processes can be built in to facilitate the communication of the changes at all levels.

5. Scheduling & monitoring

Unfortunately, many business projects are completed late. Invariably this negatively impacts the company’s reputation and costs both the contractor and their customer money. Often, the company has to pay penalties for finishing late and they incur additional costs to remain longer on the project. The customer usually faces additional costs for implementing the project late or for a longer period.

A well prepared schedule, with proper use of planning tools, allow us to detect early when a project is running late. When we fall behind, the course of action is for the project manager to effectively apply the various options to bring the project back on track.


Arnold Chan is a Trainer and Consultant of Cegos Asia Pacific. He is a Professional Member of Project Management Institute (PMI), a certified Six Sigma Black Belt and an Accredited Conference Speaker for Asia Productivity Organization. His competencies and specialization are in project management, organization design and development, strategic management, innovation quality, managing knowledge workers, negotiation, leadership and business planning.

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