Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology

ISSN 2230-4398, Volume 16, Issue 1, 2011-12

Incorporating the NACCQ publications:
Bulletin of Applied Computing and Information Technology, ISSN 1176-4120
Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, ISSN 1174-0175

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Box Refereed Article A1 :

The interdisciplinary nature of the skills needed by project managers

Trevor Nesbit
University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
trevor.nesbit@canterbury.ac.nz

Angela Martin
University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
angela.martin@canterbury.ac.nz

Nesbit, T. & Martin, A. (2011). The interdisciplinary nature of the skills needed by project managers. Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, 16(1). Retrieved June 15, 2019 from http://www.citrenz.ac.nz/jacit/JACIT1601/2011Nesbit_ProjManagerSkills.html

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to explore and analyse the additional skills that are transferrable across different sectors, that project managers require and that go beyond technical project management skills to enable them to be successful in what is becoming an increasingly interdisciplinary role.

The conclusions highlight that the project management role requires a range of non- technical project management skills and characteristics to enable project management to be carried out successfully. These non- technical project management skills and characteristics include the ability to build relationships with stakeholders; possessing formal project management certification; understanding the creation and functioning of project teams; understanding the political environment that the project exists in; the ability to work in a team; possessing leadership and management skills; possessing interpersonal and communication skills and possessing a strategic orientation.

The skills and characteristics that are perceived by the cross section of project managers as being the most important are possessing interpersonal and communication skills; possessing leadership and management skills; the ability to work in a team and the ability to build relationships with stakeholders. Interpersonal and communication skills along with the ability to work in a team are not included significantly in job advertisements for project managers, with the requirement to have them potentially being assumed and not needed to be stated.

This research provides a basis for a further study involving in-depth interviews with project managers from the information technology sector with the aim of highlighting specific projects where these additional skills have been vital to the success of these projects.

Issues surrounding the political environment of the project from the perspective of different genders; the importance interpersonal and communication skills along with team work for lesser experienced project managers; and the importance of project manager certification are also identified as areas for further study.

Keywords

Project Management, Skills, Team Work

1. Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to analyse the skills that are required by highly successful project managers. These skills go beyond the technical project management skills that are required by project managers. They are then compared with the characteristics that are being included in job advertisements for project management roles in the information technology sector in New Zealand.

2. Research Method

A literature review was conducted with the aim of determining what was seen as being the skills that are needed by project managers that result in them being more successful in their roles as project managers.

These skills were analysed and grouped into technical project management skills and those skills that go beyond technical project management skills.

Job advertisements for 107 project management vacancies that were advertised across a two month period were analysed on www.seek.co.nz with the aim of comparing them with the skills that go beyond the technical project management skills.

A survey was conducted of 54 project management practitioners with the aim of determining whether frequency of the skills and attributes included in the advertisements were consistent with the practitioner's perceptions of the importance of the skills and attributes, and to identify any differences that relate to the gender and experience of the project managers. These project managers were from a variety of industries which could create a limitation to this particular study. An area for further study that is derived from this paper involves conducting in depth interviews of project managers from the information technology sector with the aim of identifying how important the additional skills highlighted in this study have been in particular projects.

3. Literature Review

3.1 The Importance of People Skills for Project Managers

There are many technical skills required by project managers with Cowie (2003) identifying the "setting objectives, critical path analysis, work breakdown structures, resource allocation and risk management", however Cowie (2003) went on to conclude that the success of a project often rests on the understanding of people and management related aspects, and that as such these should also be included in project management training courses along with the technical skills needed. The particular people and management related skills that were identified as being important were leadership, motivation, delegation, monitoring and control with a particular focus on influencing skills.

The need for project managers to have people skills is further highlighted in Flannes and Levin (2005) as reviewed in Indelicato (2005) who identify four key roles that need to be mastered by project managers, with these roles being: Leader; Manager; Facilitator and Mentor. Idelicato (2005) goes on to point out the challenge of both communicating with a variety of stakeholders within the organisation as well as motivating the members of the project team.

The work of Neuhauser (2007) commences with the assertion that there are two aspects to the responsibilities of the project manager, with these being (a) the technical aspects of the project including planning, scheduling, budgeting, statistically analysing, monitoring and controlling and (b) the managing of the people related aspects of the project in such a manner as to motivate the project team to successfully complete the project. These two aspects of the responsibilities are consistent with the technical skills and the understanding of people and management related aspects of the project management that were identified by Cowie (2003).

3.2 Hauschildt's Typology for Project Manager Selection

A typology with the potential of enabling more effective project manager selection was developed by Hauschildt, Keim and Medeof (2000) through the identification of seven factors, with the seven factors being organising under conflict; experience; decision making; productive creativity; organising with cooperation; cooperative leadership and integrative thinking. It is of interest to note that none of these factors directly relate to the technical skills identified by Cowie (2003), but that they are more directly related to the people and management related skills that were identified by Cowie (2003).

The factors were analysed by Hauschildt et al (2000) resulted in project managers in their sample being organised into five clusters corresponding to five project manager types, with the project manager types being: Project Star; Promising Newcomer, Focussed Creative Expert; Uncreative Decision Maker and Thick-Skinned Pragmatist. The Project Star has an above average rating in all of the seven factors, with the only other type that has an above average rating in more than two of the seven factors being the Promising Newcomer who has an above average rating in all of the seven factors except for organising under conflict and experience. The other project manager types only have two factors at the most with an above average rating.

This suggests that the aspects that set aside the highly successful project managers from the others is that they have more of the factors identified by Hauschildt et al (2000), and have the potential to develop the others as the Promising Newcomer project managers would develop the experience factor in time and with that experience be more likely to develop the "organising under conflict" factor, thereby turning them into Project Stars. The consequence of this would be that the aspects that set aside the Project Stars and Promising Newcomers from the other project manager types are that they have all of the following: decision making; productive creativity; organising with cooperation; cooperative leadership and integrative thinking

3.3 The Results-Oriented Project Manager Profile

Ten competencies were identified by Gillard and Price (2005) as being required by effective project managers, with these competencies being broken down into five clusters. The five clusters and ten competencies are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Competencies of Effective Project Managers (Gillard and Price, 2005)

The goal and action management cluster is described by Gillard and Price (2005) as being the project manager's ability to keep the project on track both in terms of the project's mission and goal. This cluster is therefore consistent with the technical skills described by Cowie (2003). The remaining clusters identified by Gillard and Price (2005) of leadership; human resource management; directing subordinates, and focussing on others are consistent with the people and management related skills that were identified by Cowie (2003).

Gillard and Price (2005) goes on to describe the characteristics of the "results-oriented project manager profile" which include a number of aspects outside of the technical skills needed by a project manager. These include awareness of environmental influences, political awareness, team creation and leadership, building sound interpersonal relationships and oral presentation skills.

3.4 Project Manager or Project Champion

Kerzner (2006) draws a distinction between the role of project manager and the role of project champion that has parallels to the two aspects of the responsibilities of the project manager that were identified by Neuhauser (2007). In Kerner's comparison of project managers and project champions there are nine (9) aspects that are compared with the added suggestion that the project champion is more of a project engineer than a project manager as they are more concerned with the technical aspects of the project. The significant differences between the project manager and project champion are that the project managers tend to be more people and process related, with the project manager preferring to work in groups, being more committed to their responsibilities that technology and managing people rather than things. These people and process related aspects of the project manager are consistent with the importance of the understanding of people and management relates aspects of project management identified previously by Cowie (2003). Kerzner also suggests that just because the project champion does not have the people and process related skills, this does not necessarily mean that they would not be successful in managing projects.

A range of personal characteristics required by project managers was developed by Archibald (1976, p55) and is cited by Kerzner (2006). Of the fourteen (14) characteristics identified, very few were related to the technical project management skills identified by Cowie (2003), with the vast majority being management related or people related which is again consistent with the work of Cowie. Kerzner (2006) goes on to list the ten (10) skills for project managers that are included in the PMBOK ® Guide in section 9.3.2. Six (6) of this list including team building, leadership, conflict resolution, entrepreneurship, administration and management support which are all people and management related, while the remain four (4) are technical expertise, planning, organisation and resource allocation which are more related to the technical aspects of project management as per Cowie (2003).

3.5 The Importance of Team Building

The importance of team building skills was also highlighted by Kerzner (2006), and as part of this study Kerzner emphasised the need for effective communication, demonstrating interest in the personal growth of team members and commitment to the project. This aspect of team building skills was also highlighted earlier by Gillard and Price (2005) who identified team creation and leadership and Indelicato (2005) who highlighted the challenges of motivating team members. These aspects of team creation and leadership were analysed by Gibson and Nesbit (2006) who retrospectively applied the concepts of Belbin Team Roles to a project and concluded that having an understanding of the different roles that team members can play can greatly assist the formation of a project team, thereby increasing the chances of success of the project that they are undertaking. This suggests that the understanding of Belbin Team Roles and their application in the forming of project teams is one of the types of people and management related skills and understanding that would result in project managers being more successful.

The application of organisational patterns were also analysed by Gibson and Nesbit (2006) with respect to the same project. It was found in this particular project that the retrospective use of organisational patterns as described by Coplien and Harrison (2005) would have seen some aspects of the project organised differently, particularly as to how the project fitted inside and was managed within the organisation that the project was being completed in. This retrospective analysis suggests that having an understanding, not necessarily of the organisational patterns described by Coplien and Harrison (2005), but of how projects fit in with the external and internal political influences of an organisation would give project managers more chance of being successful. This is especially important and significant when it comes to negotiating additional resourcing for a project. The importance of understanding the internal and external influences affecting a project is also consistent with Gillard and Price (2005) identifying awareness of environmental influences and political awareness as being characteristics of highly successful project managers and with Idelicato (2005) pointing out the challenge of both communicating with a variety of stakeholders within an organisation.

4. Analysis of Literature Review

A number of issues arise from the review of the literature including that highly successful project managers need to have (a) people and management related skills as opposed to only having technical project management skills, (b) a good understanding of the political environment that the organisation exists in and (c) a good understanding of the way in which project teams can function and be created.

4.1 People and Management Related Skills

It is clear from the literature review that there are more than one type of skill or understanding that are required by highly successful project managers. Some of the writers, including Cowie (2003), Gillard and Price (2005), Neuhauser (2007) and Kerzner (2006) have separated out the skills into a group of technical related skills and people or management related skills. The technical related skills identified typically include the planning, scheduling, organising and allocation of resources amongst other things. The people and management related skills identified by the above writers include leadership, motivation, team building, and other people management related activities.

Kerzner (2006) in separating the project champion from the project manager has identified additional aspects in the project manager's armoury of skills that give them a greater chance of successfully managing projects. These include wider aspects of projects such as leadership, building sound interpersonal relationships and oral presentation skills which were some of the skills identified by Gillard and Price (2005).

The work of Hauschildt et al (2000) also highlighted the importance of people and management related skills for project managers through the development of a typology for project manager selection. Of interest in this was that only a small proportion of project managers (identified as being the Project Stars) have above average ratings in all aspects of the typology, with those identified as being Promising Newcomers having the potential to develop into Project Stars over time. The other project manager types identified had the capacity to successfully manage some types of projects, but not all types. This suggests that the highly successful project managers are those that can manage all types of projects, regardless of size, complexity etc and as such need a wide range of people and management related skills, with this wide range of skills being found in the seven factors identified by Hauschildt et al (2000).

4.2 The Political Environment that Projects Exist In

The importance of understanding and being able to operate in the political environment that the project exists in was illustrated by Gillard and Price (2005) relating political awareness and the influences of external factors, with Idelicato (2005) identifying the need for communication with a variety of stakeholders. These aspects highlight the benefit of frameworks like organisational patterns (Coplien and Harrison, 2005) as described in Gibson and Nesbit (2006) for understanding how the project fits into the overall organisational culture and environment, particularly when it comes to seeking additional resources for a project.

4.3 Project Team Creation and Functioning

The importance of team work for managing projects was highlighted by Gillard and Price (2005) with team creation and leadership being one of the characteristics of their "results-oriented project manager profile". The preference for working in groups by successful project managers was one of the aspects that set project managers apart from project champions in Kerzner (2006), with team building being one of the ten skills identified for project managers in the PMBOK ® Guide. Indelicato (2005) also highlighted the challenges of motivating team members.The use of tools such as Belbin Team Roles as described in Gibson and Nesbit (2006) demonstrate how such tools can aid in the formation of project teams that have more chance in completing projects successfully.

5. Project Management Positions Advertised in the Information Technology Sector

An analysis of project management positions advertised in the New Zealand information technology sector across a two month period was conducted with the results being presented in this section.

5.1 Method of Analysis

The literature review conducted in this paper highlighted the importance of a range of skills for project managers in general with these including people and management skills; understanding the political environment that the project exists in; and understanding of the function and creation of project teams.

Using these as the basis for the analysis a number of key aspects were looked for in the advertisements with these being shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Aspects Looked for in Advertisement for Project Managers

5.2 Results and Analysis of Advertisements

A total of 107 positions that had "IT&T" as their main classification and "Project Management" as their sub-classification were analysed. Of these positions there were five (5) that did not mention the term project management at all in the text of their advertisement, and as such these were not included in the analysis.

Table 3 shows the proportions of the positions that were advertised as limited tenure contract positions, with the others being permanent positions. This shows that just over one third of the positions advertised were for limited time periods suggesting that there are a significant proportion of the project management roles that may be for one-off projects.

Table 3. Proportions of Positions Advertised as Being Contract Positions

The key aspects that were included in each advertisement are summarised in Table 4 in descending order based on how frequently they appear in the advertisements.

Table 4. Percentage of Advertisements Including Different Key Aspects in Descending Order

The advertisements were separated out in to those that were contract roles and those that were permanent roles with the key aspects that were included in each group of advertisements being shown in Table 5 and Table 6 respectively. A visual comparison of the percentage that each key aspect appeared in each advertisement is shown in Figure 1.

Table 5. Percentage of Advertisements for Contract Positions Including Different Key Aspects in Descending Order

Table 6. Percentage of Advertisements for Permanent Positions Including Different Key Aspects in Descending Order

Figure 1. Comparison of Key Aspects across Advertisements for Contract and Permanent Positions

5.3 Discussion of Skills and Attributes of Advertisements

The data in Table 4 shows that the most frequently occurring of the key aspects in all of the advertisements is that of building relationships with key stakeholders, and when the data in Table 5 and Table 6 is observed, it can be seen that this is the most frequently occurring key aspect in both the contract and permanent groups.

In both the contract and permanent groups of advertisements the second and third most frequently occurring key aspects were (a) leadership and management skills and (b) the need for interpersonal skills and communication skills, with the least frequently occurring key aspects for both groups being the need for a strategic orientation.

The only key aspects that were rated in a different order across the two groups were those relating to working in a team and the requirements for project management certification, with those relating to working in a team occurring more frequently than the need for project management certification in the contract advertisements (34.3% compared with 20.0%), and the other way around (25.4% compared with 26.9%) in the permanent advertisements. However, the difference between the frequencies of these two key aspects in the permanent advertisements is low enough to not be significant.

This suggests that there is potentially no real difference in the order that key aspects appear in the advertisements across the contract and permanent positions. This could be the basis of a further study.

The ranking of the key aspects in Table 4 showing, the building of relationships with key stakeholders as being the frequently occurring key aspect down to the need for a strategic orientation being the least frequently occurring key aspect, may suggest at first glance that this is the order of importance of the key aspects. As indicated in the limitations of the study, this does not take into account that some of the advertisers in writing their advertisements may have taken some of the less frequently occurring key aspects as being assumed and not needed to be stated, and that as such they did not need to be included in the advertisements. This could also be the basis of a further study in which employers were specifically asked to rate the importance of the key aspects that have been the subject of this study.

With Figure 1 showing the comparison in the frequency of the key aspects across the advertisements for contract and permanent positions it can be seen that there are some where the key aspect appears more frequently in the permanent position advertisements and others where the key aspect appear more frequently in the contract position advertisements. These are shown in Table 7 and Table 8 respectively, where it can be seen that (a) building relationships with stakeholders and (b) leadership and management skills appear at least 10% more frequently in advertisements for permanent positions (Table 7).

Table 7. Key Aspects Appearing More Frequently in Advertisements for Permanent Positions

In Table 8 it can be seen that none of the key aspects appear at least 10% more frequently in advertisements for contract positions, with the biggest difference being in aspects relating to team work with the difference in 8.9%.

Table 8. Key Aspects Appearing More Frequently in Advertisements for Contract Positions

As indicated earlier in the analysis and discussion, this does not necessarily mean that there is a difference in the level of importance between the different aspects across the permanent and contract positions, but it is a signal that an area for further study is the significance of the difference in the importance of the aspects across the two different types of project management roles.

6. Survey of Practitioners

The survey was created using Survey Monkey and a link was distributed to members of the online groups shown in Table 9, with the number of responses from each group shown.

Table 9. Survey Respondents by Online Group

In the introduction to the survey the respondents were asked to indicate their gender, their length of experience as a project manager and the nature and size of projects that they have managed.

The respondents were then asked to indicate on a Likert scale from 5 (strongly agree) down to 1 (strongly disagree) as to whether they see the skill or attributes listed in Table 10 as being essential for project managers to have. The respondents were also asked to choose which they saw as being the most important and second most important skills and attributes in the list in Table 10.

Table 10. Skills and Attributes Respondents Asked to Rate Importance of

The respondents were also asked to describe what they saw as being the most important characteristics of project managers.

6.1 Survey Results

The gender breakdown and project management experience breakdown of the respondents are shown in Table 11 and Table 12 respectively.

Table 11. Breakdown of Respondents by Gender

Table 12. Breakdown of Respondents by Project Management Experience

The average Likert scale rating given to each of the skills and attributes by the respondents is shown in Table 13 with the skills and attributes being sorted into descending order based on the average score across all respondents. This table is also showing the average Likert scale rating by gender and by experience of the respondent.

Table 13. Average Likert Scale Ratings of Skills and Attributes

The frequency with which each skill or attribute was ranked the most important in the list is shown in Table 14, with the skills being sorted into descending order based on the frequency with which all respondents ranked the skill or attribute as being the most important. This table also shows the breakdown by gender and project management experience of the respondent.

Table 14. Frequency of Each Skill or Attribute Being Ranked as Most Important

The frequency with which each skill or attribute was ranked the most or second most important in the list is shown in Table 15, with the skills being sorted into descending order based on the frequency with which all respondents ranked the skill or attribute as being the most or second most important. This table also shows the breakdown by gender and project management experience of the respondent.

Table 15. Frequency of Each Skill or Attribute Being Ranked as Most Important or Second Most Important

6.2 Analysis and Discussion of Survey Results

The data in Table 13 that shows the average Likert scale ratings of skills and attributes shows the skills and characteristics in the same order irrespective of the experience level of the respondents. However, when the average ratings are compared across the genders, male respondents rate leadership and management skills higher than the understanding the political environment that the project exists in, whereas the female respondents rate understanding the political environment that the project exists in higher than leadership and management skills. This suggests that female project managers may be more aware of the importance of political issues surrounding the importance of the project than their male counterparts.

The data shown in Table 14 that shows the frequency with which each skill or attribute was ranked as the most important shows that they are in the same order irrespective of the gender of the respondent. However, when the frequencies are compared across those project managers with more than five years experience and those with less than five years experience, the less experienced respondents appear to place greater emphasis on possessing interpersonal and communication skills and the ability to work in a team relative to those respondents with more experience. This may point to more experienced project managers being able to rely more on leadership and management skills than their less experienced counterparts, who, perhaps because of having less experience, need to rely more on a team approach where interpersonal and communication skills may be more important.

The data shown in Table 15 that shows the frequency with which each skill or attribute was ranked as the most or second most important shows the top three being the top three irrespective of the gender or project management experience of the respondents. Of interest is that the attribute of understanding the political environment that the project exists appears to figure much higher amongst the male respondents than the female respondents, and much higher amongst the experienced respondents than the inexperienced respondents. This appears to be slightly inconsistent with the analysis of the data in Table 13 where the female respondents rate understanding the political environment higher than the male respondents.

When the data in Table 6 (showing the aspects included in advertisements) is compared with the data in Table 13 (showing the average Likert scale ratings of the skills and attributes), there are two particular points of interest. Firstly, interpersonal skills and communications skills are ranked 3rd in Table 6 as opposed to 1st in Table 13 and aspects relating to working in a team are ranked 5th in Table 6 as opposed to 2nd in Table 13. Secondly, issues relating to having project management certification are ranked 4th in Table 6 as opposed to being 6th in Table 13. This first aspect suggests that while interpersonal skills and communication skills and the ability to work in a team are very important, and that their absence from the advertisements for project manager positions is an indication that these skills are assumed and not needed to be stated. The second aspect relating to project management certification suggests that this may be used as a short listing criterion, but is something that does not rate or rank as being important when it comes to being successful in project management roles.

As indicated in the research method section, the survey was completed by project managers from a cross section of industries, and as such this may have created a limitation in the study as to how applicable its findings are to the information technology sector. This research does however provide a basis for a further study that involves interviewing project managers from the information technology sector with the aim of exploring how important these additional skills were in particular projects in the information technology sector. This would provide an insight into the applicability of this research to the information technology sector.

Additional areas for further research emerging from this analysis and discussion include exploring gender perceptions when it comes to understanding the political environment of projects; the differing perceptions of the importance of team work and interpersonal and communication skills of project managers with different levels of experience; the importance of project management certification, and indeed other forms of industry certification in an IT context, when it comes to advertising for and selecting staff.

The characteristics of successful project managers that have been identified in this study are those that appear in the literature and that are perceived by project managers as being important for success. It would be of interest to follow up this study by investigating successful and unsuccessful projects as to whether the extent of the success of these projects was related to the project managers involved possessing these characteristics.

7. Conclusions

Highly successful project managers need to not only have the technical project management skills identified by writers such as Cowie (2003), but need to have a very wide range of people and management related skills as can be found in the seven skill factors identified by Hauschildt et al (2000) as well as a good understanding of the political environment that the project exists in.

Possessing all of the seven people and management related skill factors identified by Hauschildt et al (2000) would enable a project manager to manage a wide range of different types of projects, whereas project managers possessing only some of these skill factors would be more suited to managing a narrower range of project types.

The skills and attributes needed by successful project managers as found in advertisements for the IT sectors are similar to those perceived by a cross section of project managers, with the exception of aspects relating to teamwork and aspects relating to interpersonal and communication skills, where these may be assumed and not needed to be stated when advertisements are placed, but are highly important when it comes to staff selection and ongoing success in project management roles.

Project management certification may not be and essential requirement for project managers in their roles, but may be used as a short listing requirement for some positions.

Lesser experienced project managers may place more reliance on interpersonal and communication skills along with team work than their more experience counterparts, who may place more reliance on leadership and managements skills which have the potential to have grown due to their increased experience.

This study does highlight that the people and management skills that go beyond technical project management skills are both (a) seen as being very important by a cross section of project managers and (b) are sought by those advertising to fill project management roles in the New Zealand information technology sector.

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