May 20, 2015

New Research Reveals a Perception Gap Between Leaders and PMs

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin in Project & Program Management, Demand Management, Human Capital, Project Management Research, Project Management Training, Resource Optimization | 0 Comments

The top skills exhibited by project managers in high-performing organizations are leadership skills.

Over the years, our research has consistently shown that having an effective project manager on the job makes the difference between project success and project failure.  So we aren’t surprised by the results from PM College’s latest study, “Project Manager Skills Benchmark 2015,” showing that organizations with highly skilled project managers get significantly better project and organizational results.  What was a little surprising, however, was the deep divide between executives and project managers on a number of important questions.  Executives and project managers differ widely when identifying the most important skills, as well as in gauging the degree to which skills need to be improved.  It’s interesting to note that executives feel that communication skills are those most in need of improvement for project managers! Poor communications in itself may be a root cause of the leader/project manager divide.

PM College surveyed 314 project management professionals from all size organizations in various industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, technical, finance, and government. The purpose of the study was to understand what skills project managers have, what skills they think are most critical, and how those skills impact project and organizational success.

You can read the full report on the PM College website, but just to hit a couple high points, the study found that only 15% of participants rated their companies’ project managers as “good to excellent.” That leaves tremendous room for improvement.  The question is, of course, where to start?  Which are the most important skills?

Here the design of our studies helps to chart a path.  Because the studies also include a battery of questions designed to elicit information about the participants’ overall project and organizational success, it’s possible to group study respondents into those who work for “High-performing organizations” (organizations whose responses to the performance questions place them in the top 25% in this study), and compare their project managers’ skill levels to those of project managers in the low-performing quadrant. The top skills exhibited by project managers in high-performing organizations are leadership skills, especially displaying integrity and honesty, building relationships, and building trust and respect. The skills cited as needing the most improvement include managing project risks, managing benefits realization, planning strategically, championing and managing change, and communicating/listening.  In this the high performers are closely aligned with executives.  Project managers in low performing companies, by contrast, seem to be distracted from the big picture by low level technical issues.  They overrate the importance of computer skills, for example, while failing to recognize the importance of aligning projects to strategy.


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