As a long-term project and program manager in high tech new product development working with system level teams (and now as an independent consultant), I found that focus on interactions with people is a top priority. Being viewed as bureaucratic, template focused, “pain in the butt,” rigorous to a fault is not productive. My actions need always to be helpful to team members in getting their tasks done. Key actions are active listening and commitment to transparent project results.
Skills that get, maintain, thrive, and advance careers depend on a mindset of becoming a more complete project manager. That means embracing and integrating multiple disciplines such as leadership, influence, negotiating, project management, fun, conflict and change management, sales, market knowledge, and politics. All these skills are necessary when able to lead up, across, and down any organization, which is the mark of effective performers.
Assessments conducted during seminars and consulting engagements indicate that most of these skills are low competency, latent, or non-existent. Higher performers, and those most likely to win competition for new jobs, are versed in several or more of these skills.
A focus on people skills means awareness of emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry, and paying attention to visual cues expressed by others. Going round robin in a team meeting or training and asking each person to share intros, thoughts, concerns, and feelings is a good way to turn passive observers into active participants. When a “political jungle” is present, ask each person to describe what kind of animal they most relate to, such as lion, tiger, bear, or sheep. This is a fun way to defuse difficult situations.