What practitioners consider to be the skills and behaviours of an effective people project manager

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2011

27 Pages



It is recognized by academics and the community of practice that the management of people plays an important role in project management. Recent people skills research expresses the need to develop a better understanding of what good people management is. This paper proposes what project management practitioners consider to be skills and behaviours of an effective people project manager. A combination of literature review, face to face interviews and focus group meetings was applied to complete the research objective. Six specific skills and associated behaviours were identified and considered as being important. The results suggest that project managers would benefit from adopting these skills and behaviours to strengthen their managing people skills and behaviours to improve the successful delivery of projects. The findings also suggest that some skill sets and behaviours may be more appropriate for application in certain project environments such as IT or the Construction Industry.

1. Introduction

1.1 Introduction

The importance project management plays in today's and tomorrow's changing working environments and working practices has increased quite dramatically since the 1990s (Turner, 1993; Gareis,1990 and Cleland, 1994). More companies than ever before have adopted project management methodologies and processes such as Prince 2, Six Sigma or Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) to deliver work packages in a more cost-conscious and controlled way, to make best use of their often limited human resources to create competitive advantage and to meet customer requirements. Morris (1994) suggests that 'Management by projects has become a powerful way to integrate organisational functions and motivate groups to achieve higher levels of performance and productivity'. Customers have also placed higher demands on product and service quality. They no longer accept product or service limitations forced upon them by suppliers such as limited colour choices or design options. This has led to widespread organisational restructuring across the industries to respond appropriately to these new demands. Crawford (2000) suggests that as more organizations adopt project management as a modus operandi to deliver work packages, and the demand for project managers grows, that there is an increasing interest in the people skills of project managers and in standards for development and assessment of project management competence. Blackburn (2001), Huemann (2002), Dainty et al. (2005) and Moore et al. (2003) suggest further insights that support the need for new and improved effective people skills and associated behaviours for project managers. Findings presented in this paper suggest that people skills and associated behaviours can be adopted by project managers anywhere in the world provided that people consider, for example, that project managers in the West have different expectations to project managers operating in the East or Asia Pacific areas. There are corporate cultural differences, too. What works well in one company, for example, does not necessarily work equally well in other companies. The suggested skills and behaviours considered by this paper are not limited for application in any specific industries such as profit and non-profit organisations and construction, or types of projects such as infrastructure and software development. This paper discusses people skills and associated behaviours for project managers and, therefore, had to deal with the meaning that people put on their observations. As a consequence, their descriptions have been collected, analysed and interpreted by applying a constructivist interpretivist approach within a phenomenological research paradigm. Deductive reasoning has been applied, starting off from the more general (literature review) to the more specific (face to face interviews and focus group meetings). The rest of the paper is structured as follows: first the outcome of a literature review of the general and project management literature is presented on what is already known about effective people management. The research methodology and data analysis are described next. And finally, the results are presented, discussed and concluded.

1.2 Literature Review

A general review of the management literature suggests that the early motivational theorists and authors such as McGregor (1967), Blake and Mouton (1964) and Likert and Hayes (1957) consider that an effective manager needs to show concern for people, build trust, show sympathy and involve people’s emotions, for example, in solving problems. Honey (1988) developed this further in the early 1980s by suggesting that interpersonal skills are face-to-face behaviours that people use when they wish to achieve something useful with the help and through others. Peters and Waterman (1982) consider that it is behaviours and competences that make an effective people manager. They suggest that an effective people manager needs to be able to communicate well, inspire others, lead their people and show empathy. It appears that, in more recent years, there has been some development in the perception that managerial competences, on their own, do not make an effective people manager. Fisher (2006) suggests that the behaviours that underpin these competences are becoming increasingly recognized as the driving force that makes a difference to the effective management of people. Kets de Vries (2001) suggests that the well-functioning of the individual should be high on managers’ agendas. He considers that behaviour is observable and that managers need to display open and authentic or genuine behaviours if they wish to build long-lasting relationships with their project teams. Managers need to build an understanding of what it is that makes the other person tick or what is important to them. He refers to this as authentizotic behaviour. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1993, 1997) consider that understanding different cultures is an important people skill. They suggest that managers need to understand the values and beliefs people from different cultures hold, why this is the case and what the direct impacts are on their behaviours in certain, for example, work situations. Managers need to understand what works well in one culture, does not necessarily work equally well in another culture. They suggest that managers need to develop an understanding what the various trends, sequences and traditions are for the people they work with to manage people effectively at international level. This is an important consideration. More businesses operate at global level, often stretching their business activities beyond the borders of many countries simultaneously. As part of a general review of the project management literature, Kliem and Ludin (1992) consider that successful project managers recognize the importance of managing people in projects effectively by having and applying a number of managing people skill sets. They suggest that project managers need to develop and apply good interpersonal skills such as showing empathy for the feelings of others, being able to see things from the perspectives of others and respecting others for what they are. Verma (1996) considers that conflict management in a project environment is as inevitable as change. He suggests that project managers need to understand that there are a number of levels of conflict and that each level, for example, requires a different approach to resolve it. Project managers need to adapt their behaviours, depending on the type and level of conflict they are dealing with. Thamhain (2004) considers that effective project leaders inspire their people and make everyone feel proud to be part of the project organization and its mission. Clarity, purpose and alignment of personal and organizational goals are necessary for a unified team culture to emerge. He suggests that effective people project managers encourage their people, show personal recognition for work achievements and make the details of contributions highly visible to others within the organization. This refuels and sustains people’s commitments and unites the team behind its mission. Kadefors (2004) suggests that the building of trust is an important people competence for project managers to have. She considers that project managers need to build levels of loyalty with team members in such a way that both parties show respect for each other and what they stand for. They need to show high levels of caring and display this in an open and genuine way.

Rosenau (1998) considers that project managers are more likely to accomplish their tasks if they win the respect of their team members by displaying behaviours such as being polite and reasonable. People will respond more favourably to such approaches. Project managers will find their wishes are carried out voluntarily and frequently with enthusiasm. He suggests that effective people project managers must be people-oriented with strong leadership and superb communication abilities. They must be flexible, creative, imaginative and adaptable to cope with a myriad of unexpected problems, Project managers need good and effective people skills rather than technical skills to manage the people in their projects. Edmondson et al. (2005) consider that effective leaders of people create an environment that is conducive to team learning. They consider that project managers need to be accessible in order to make clear that others’ opinions are welcomed and valued. They need to be available, not aloof and create an atmosphere of information sharing that can be reinforced by an explicit request from the project manager for contributions from team members. Wysocki (2007) suggests that effective people project managers encourage their team members to think ‘outside the box’ and find creative solutions to problems and to make informed decisions based on the strength of evidence from collected information. Project managers should apply a collaborative approach to resolve conflicts in projects, encouraging team members to take an active part in the resolution of conflicts and not to seek to create conflicts unnecessarily.

This paper acknowledges that different managing people skills sets may be required for different types of projects such as Information Systems (IS), Integrated Project Management environments and the Construction Industry. Jiang et al. (2003) addressed the concerns of an article by Byrd and Turner (2001) who reported that interpersonal skills on the part of information systems personnel had a negative influence on the success of systems as measured by competitive advantage. They consider that users and IS staff must come to an understanding of what skills are required to deliver an IS system. Jiang et al. (1999) suggest that some people skills that make an effective project manager are: being diplomatic and tactful when dealing with others, showing empathy, understanding what motivates individuals, effective conflict management and reinforcing messages to others through gestures and facial expressions. In the context of integrated project management (bringing components of the whole project together in an operating system), Barkley (2006) suggests that effective people project managers create an environment of honesty, trust, open communications, pride of workmanship and commitment. They motivate team members to perform and improve. They develop a positive ‘can do’ attitude and they listen actively to others. Dainty et al. (2005) investigate the behaviour profile of superior project managers working within the construction industry, one of the most complex and dynamic project-based industrial sectors, to suggest what makes a good project manager. Their review of the literature and existing project management competency standards reveals that standards for the assessment and development of competence are grounded in skills and performance-based competences, rather than the behavioural attributes that support effective performance in a functional role. Huemann (2010) considers in a more recent longitudinal multi-method case study of a company from the Telecom industry that Human Resource Management (HRM) needs to play a far more proactive role in developing and supporting project-oriented management. This includes developing project managers’ competences such as leadership, team building and managing people skills and behaviours. The case study contributes to a better understanding of developing a company towards becoming a project-oriented company through the development, for example, of the people skills and behaviours of their project managers.

Some authors of recent project management publications such as Cicmil and Hodgson (2006) suggest that project managers, it appears, are play-acting rather than apply authentic behaviours. They imply that project managers who work within these constructed entities, perhaps also display acted behaviours in order to conform. Lewis (2003) suggests that people generally behave consistently with their beliefs. It does not matter what people say they believe in-it is usually possible to tell what they really believe in by observing their behaviour. In a project management environment this means that many project managers are play-acting either to live up to expectations or to fulfil their own self-esteem needs. Whitty and Schulz (2006) consider that project managers often act the part. They put forward the argument that project management is spreading because it is a well-adapted collection of memes, giving the appearance of capability for productivity rather than actual productivity and using speech, gestures or rituals to do so.

They suggest that project managers are like actors within the theatre of project management and that they wear costumes, read a script and use props, in front of an audience made up of senior management and key stakeholders within their projects.

The literature review for both the general and project management publications has revealed that some people skills from the early management years such as effective communications, negotiations and conflict management have now become part of what management experts refer to as general management practice. More recent publications suggest appropriate people skills managers should have and adopt such as authentizotic behaviours, being culturally aware, apply some play-acting and managing the emotions of people. The literature review revealed a number of people skills but did not provide conclusive evidence which of these skills makes an effective people project manager. There was a general lack of suggesting what the associated behaviours should be to underpin the people skills. This would have provided a major insight into what makes an effective people project manager. This paper considers that it is the application of the associated behaviours that are important to the successful application of the people skills. The main research questions (Section 1.3) need to be answered to lead to the following desired outcomes:

1. To suggest what the most important people skills are that make an effective people project manager 2. To suggest what the associated behaviours are for each of the these skills

1.3 Main Research Questions

The main research questions for this research are:

1. What are the most important skills practitioners consider make an effective people project manager?
2. What specific behaviours do practitioners associate with each of these skills?


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What practitioners consider to be the skills and behaviours of an effective people project manager
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People Skills, Behaviours, Managing People
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Dr Eddie Fisher (Author), 2011, What practitioners consider to be the skills and behaviours of an effective people project manager, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/184084


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