The Skilled PM: What Makes a Skilled PM?

by PH Lohnes, PMP

Before delving into the basis for decision making biases as we alluded to in last issue’s inaugural piece on “The Well-Skilled PM,” the understanding of just what constitutes a skilled project manager is an necessary first step. In this article we will attempt to describe the trappings or characteristics of a well-skilled PM to assist in answering the question for your own determination.

According to the PMI’s own records there are approximately 500,000 certified project managers – a 100 fold increase over the past two decades. So as in any growing, dynamic population, how does one stand out in order to be the spearhead of one’s professional discipline?

Having spoken with, interviewed or observed well-over a 1000 of the 500,000 PMPs over the past decade, there are certain common characteristics of the top performers that can be defined. These common characteristics are:

  • Self-evaluative,
  • Self-corrective,
  • Self-innovative,   and
  • Self-expansive

The first characteristic of a well-skilled PM is that of being self-evaluative. This is the ability to evaluate one’s position, current skills, capabilities, accomplishments, knowledge, and career goals objectively against an articulated career baseline. Yes, planning one’s career as one would a project is not narcissistic; it is simply an application of sound logic and resource allocation. However, being objective about one’s future career is tougher than might be expected. A future discussion on decision making based on political biases will assist in understanding this difficulty.

A second characteristic of a well-skilled PM is the ability, closely aligned with the first, to be self-corrective. This is the ability when career performance is compared to the previously defined career baseline to take remedial action to adjust identified plan deviations. Many professionals lacking this ability can see their career for what it is (self-evaluative), but lack the objectivity to determine that if has deviated from plan. More likely they are willing to make excuses for why they are not progressing at the rate or in the desired direction. They are liable to blame others or circumstances out of their control.

Thirdly, well skilled PMs are self-innovative. This is the ability to use current skills, knowledge, capabilities, and focus to improve the status of one’s professional career. Technologists can tell you specifically when something is outdated or innovative by how it relates to the current known maturity of a specific technological discipline. Well-skilled PMs are no different in that they can tell you when their skills, knowledge, and capabilities are dated, but they do not stop with this assessment. Using their current abilities and creativity, they build on or add to them thereby improving their rate of career achievements or the quality of current assignments. They do not continue to do the same safe, tried-and-true activities expecting their career to magically blossom.

Finally, a well-skilled PM is self-expansive. In similar fashion to a project that experiences an increase in scope which requires change and impact analysis, a well-skilled PM can see the need to alter their original programming as the circumstances of their professional career offer them opportunities. This could mean a completely different course of direction, new goals, or different timelines. Examples of being self-expansive would include the decision to quit working as an employee, and begin seeking work as an independent agent or contractor; starting a new business or venture to fill an exposed need in a chosen industry or field; changing professions altogether such as taking up an academic career or starting a new career.

As in all professions, most participants remain in the “large area under the curve” or the mediocrity bubble not caring to move outside this comfort zone. The well-skilled PM is one that knows to improve oneself will improve their discipline and the impact they will have. Sitting safe does preserve one’s existence, but what horizons would have been lost if the first risk-takers had never sought to see what lay over the next hill or obstacle?

Are you a well-skilled PM? Have you been “coasting or taking it easy?” Have you wished that you could step out, take a few risks, seek to improve yourself, or your knowledge? The Well-Skilled PM each month will attempt to assist you with finding answers to these questions, and maybe help with rekindling your desire to become more than just what can be settled for…

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