How to find the project manager within yourself

I would make a dreadful project manager. When I was based in Computerworld's Auckland office I would often come up with good projects like 'let's go for a cup of coffee' and 'let's go out to lunch'.

I would make a dreadful project manager. When I was based in Computerworld’s Auckland office I would often come up with good projects like "let’s go for a cup of coffee" and "let’s go out to lunch". I guess I was successful in these projects eventually — because we usually did make it to a drinking/eating venue, but it was a major effort getting everyone there and I used to become quite frustrated (not a good look in a project manager). Everyone would agree that my coffee/lunch projects were a good idea. But try getting a group of five or six journalists to agree on where to go and then try to get them to the elevator at the same time. "I’ve just go to the toilet", "I’ll just look at this email", "I’ve just got to finish War and Peace". (One of our journalists, Paul Brislen, came up with a scientific theory for this: for any given number of people in a group (n) — the number waiting at the lift will be n-1, regardless of the size of n.) Anyway, "arrrrgggh" I would yell upon seeing we’d lost part of the group on the way to the lift. All in all, I was too impatient to manage these minor drinking/eating ventures. However, project managers, says recruitment company Business IT Support sales manager Des Morrison, have to remain calm and unflustered. ("Yes, take all the time to finish War and Peace, I don’t care if I don’t eat until tomorrow.") Says Morrision: "They need to be able to work to tight deadlines under all sorts of pressure — they need to have a pretty good sense of humour. They’ve got to be able to work under pressure and not spit the dummy or blow their stack at the team, because that’s not achieving anything." People management and motivation skills are also a must, as well as a combination of excellent verbal and written skills. "This is both for the team members, who will be technically oriented, and upward to the project owners, who will typically be executive-type people." Project managers should have a good knowledge of whatever project management methodology or packages are going to be used on the job. He says, particularly at the higher level, they don’t have to be programmers or analysts, but need sufficient knowledge of the hardware, software, network and telecommunications products that are being used on the project. "That enables them to select the right skill sets on the team members and also to measure and manage them. Also, you win the respect of the technicians if you have enough knowledge to at least know what they’re talking about." Good project managers must also be able to make hard decisions using their initiative and not wait for someone else to make the decisions. He says there are lots of openings for project managers. However, although good managers should fill these openings, that isn’t always the case. "Sometimes there’s been poor selection or else the person is [already] there so they get it by default." Even if you’re a good manager in other areas, Morrision says it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a good project manager. Some IT managers who get into contract work end up being project managers, while others come into it through the programming ranks or through non-IT management roles. Morrison says if you’re interested in project management, it’s sensible to talk to others who already have experience in the field. "It might look good from the outside but there might be elements of the job that people don’t want to do. It’s not an easy job." Although there are project management courses available, run by groups like the New Zealand Institute of Management, much of the training for the job is done on site. Morrison does believe some people aren’t suited to it — particularly those who aren’t good at communicating clearly. There are different levels of project management. At the lower level, technical capability is more important than at the higher level. Project management pay can vary from about $70,000 to $150,000 a year or $100 to $200 an hour, says Morrison. Mills is Computerworld’s careers editor and can be contacted at kirstin_mills@idg.co.nz or ph: 03-467-2869 or fax: 0-3-467 2875.

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