What is the most important skill for a project manager?

I often get asked the question what is the most important skill for a project manager. I would say a great PM should have people, negotiation, motivation, leadership, organizational and cultural awareness skills. However, the most important skill a project manager must posess is in my eyes:

Communication skills

Most important skill for a project manager

Without project communication everyone is lost and people start doing their own things, wondering what’s going on, maybe badmouthing the project, sponsors and of course the project manager.  Stakeholders loose focus.

If you have issues/risks on the project and they are not shared with others. Well, how are you going to deal with them? Handle everything yourself and hide the eventual risk responses? In worst case the issues escalate, risks occur and no risk-responses were planned for and your project will fail.

If you don’t for instance properly communicate important ‘go-live’ dates on your project. You WILL get complaints that stakeholders are not informed. Maybe they did not do the necessary actions up front (as they were not aware of any actions…?) – And, it will cause frustration.

Having proper governance and have a communication plan in place is extremely important for all the stakeholders and for general project success.

With successful communication I’m not talking about being sweet and having a nice voice. Successful communication is based on finding the golden middle way based on the following criterias:

  • Frequency of communication. You don’t want to overdo your messages, as then you end up ignored, but don’t be all silent either. How often you communicate is of importance
  • How to communicate. Email/live presentation/webcast/conference call/F2F/other?). You don’t only want to send out emails to inform people.  Often a busy stakeholder receives 100+ emails per day – Chances are many of them don’t read your ‘status updates’ at all. Do you have some big news on your project? Put together a presentation and preferably do it F2F with the most important stakeholders.
  • What to communicate. Should all small happenings be communicated or do you focus on the milestones only? Again, separate the communication  based on scope, importance and stakeholders
  • Segment receivers of your message in to groups (PDL’s) based on audience. Main project team/extended project team (work streams)/steering committee/sponsors/all stakeholders is a good start for distribution lists. Depending on project size/scope split up stakeholders.
  • Language of communication. Think about if the language you are using is actually understood. Example: Using too complex ‘project management’ wording may confuse stakeholders. And, also with there can be members that don’t have English as their first language)

Always keep a register of the communication going out to all stakeholders. Typically stored on SharePoint or similar repository and refer to this in the communication. Of course confidential information is stored separate or with access control.

You don’t want to end up like this?

communication mess


Contact me if you need an experienced freelance IT project manager in Amsterdam.

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