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The Project Manager Skills Gap

Fotolia 51544070 XS2According to a recent survey, 87% of manufacturers and distributors cannot find the skills required to successful run their businesses. These results didn’t surprise me as each day I go into a client, attend a Board meeting of one of the trade associations I lead or talk with my colleagues, someone has decided to retire, a key employee is leaving for a better opportunity or my client just cannot find enough skills to fill critical project roles. It has become an epidemic.

I’ve found these are three key areas to ensuring success in proactively addressing the skills gap: 1) Retaining top talent. 2) Training & developing top talent. 3) Being on the lookout for top talent. As it seems the simplest yet is the most often overlooked solution, retaining top talent is a secret to success. How do we retain excellent project managers? Understand what motivates each project manager and start there. In order to do that, it helps to start by defining an excellent project manager. Which qualities are essential? 1) Leadership. 2) Communication. 3) The ability to synthesize data and tasks. 4) Execution ability

  1. Leadership: Undoubtedly, there are too few leaders! Since project success directly ties to leadership, it cannot be overlooked. Who has the capability to influence others (whether in the power position or not)? Who does the team look up to? Who is willing to address the roadblocks upfront? Answer these questions, and you’ll have your answer.
  2. Communication: One of the surprising facts that arose from the skills gap survey is that communication and presentation skills have risen in importance. Even in traditionally technical fields including project management, executives need significantly improved communication skills. Are you willing to communicate the bad news? Do you just drop it on your colleagues or find a way to bring them into the fold on potential issues and gain their input? Do you keep everyone up-to-speed on the project’s progress? Do you communicate why the project will deliver value? Does each team member understand his/her value? Do you seem interested? No one is interested in following someone who makes the project seem boring – or worse yet, isn’t able to effectively communicate to gain support throughout the organization?
  3. The Ability to Synthesize Data and Tasks: You can be the most effective communicator; however, if the project team discovers that you are unable to synthesize the data and tasks to understand the scope of the problem or situation on a quick enough basis, you will quickly lose respect. This does not require that you perform all the tasks yourself or that you understand the topic upfront, but it requires that you are able to ask effective questions, see trends and connections and draw conclusions. Otherwise, you’ve wasted essential time and resources with nothing to show for it.
  4. Execution Ability: Are you willing to do the blocking and tackling? Do you follow up? Request status? Provide thoughtful ideas. Help your team overcome roadblocks? Have a rigorous focus on priorities? Manage the critical path relentlessly? In my experience, I’ve noticed that those who have a great ability to execute appreciate solid leadership. Thus, why leadership is #1 – it will create a success loop.

So, now that you’ve identified these skills, you need to find and retain top talent. First, open your eyes. During the last few years, I’ve seen some of the best resources go unnoticed or unappreciated. Forget about the fancy three-ring binder reports and interesting conversations about the latest fad and take a step back to see who is delivering results in your organization. It might surprise you. Once you find this person, retain him/her. It all depends on the person – some people appreciate a simple thank you. Others appreciate interesting work. Yet others appreciate the recognition of their value and autonomy in decision-making. Sometimes it’s as easy as supporting their decisions – how hard is that? And, remember, the bottom line circles back to leadership.

Next, depending on what you find within your organization, search for this talent in the market. Executive recruiters are saying it’s a tough market to find high-skilled resources. Instead, you must be diligent. Do not settle or hire the less expensive resource and hope for the best. This strategy will not deliver the results required to succeed. Typically, relationships and personal connections are your best source. Invest the money in a top executive recruiter – it isn’t expensive if you think about the lost time and money wasted on not delivering results. Do not give up! If you are the leader with access to excellent project managers, you will have a leg up on the competition and deliver exceptional bottom line results.

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