I’ve often mentioned that a project manager is the CEO of his or her project. Knowing that a CEO needs to be able to communicate in many ways, the project manager has to have a wide variety of communication skills in order to be effective.
Verbal Communication Skills
The most obvious and critical communication skill is the ability to speak. The project manager spends most of his day speaking to people. I’ve known a lot of people who can talk. But sometimes they say very little. The project manager must be able to speak concisely. Why say seven words when four will do.
When reporting to an executive on the status of a project, she doesn’t want to hear every detail. Talking in circles and never getting to the point can be even more annoying. When describing an issue or situation to an executive, the PM has to determine how much detail to provide. It is important to know how to build it into an understandable story that gets the point across as economically as possible.
I’ve found it better to provide just enough details to get the basic point across. If the executive asks for more detail, provide a few more details until they are satisfied. It always depends on the executive. Some want as much detail as possible. Others want the bare minimum.
When talking with team members, it is important to speak to them as equals. Assuming a superior attitude may intimidate them. This could result in receiving less information than you need. It also creates poor relationships on your project.
Written Communication Skills
Just like verbal communication, a project manager’s written communication must be concise. Co-workers receive emails, reports, and many other forms of written communication. When someone opens a 10-page email, their eyes are likely to roll back. Their likelihood of reading what you wrote is just as unlikely.
A project manager should also write clearly. Proper grammar is of the utmost importance. It is distracting and unproductive for someone to read and reread a sentence trying to figure out what the author is trying to say. A strong vocabulary is also essential. Do not mistake having a strong vocabulary with having knowledge of long and confusing words. A good vocabulary means knowing the right word for the right situation.
Graphical Communication Skills
Whether you like the tool or not, MS-PowerPoint is a staple of the business tool kit. It has a reputation of being overused and, to many, boring. One of the main reasons that people dislike PowerPoint is that people don’t use it well to communicate.
We’ve all seen PowerPoint slides with more text than a page from a Shakespeare play. And most of us have seen diagrams with the complexity of a nuclear submarine design.
It is important for a project manager to be able to create clear and concise PowerPoint slides that have the proper mix of text and graphics that make it pleasing visually, while communicating a point.
If you must show a complex diagram, it should be broken down into manageable pieces on subsequent slides so that the audience can break it down mentally and put it together easily when you are done.
PowerPoint is the tool of choice in most business settings. The Project manager’s job is to learn how to use it as an effective communication tool.
Technical Communication Skills
Many project managers work in technical arenas. Industries such as information technology and health care rely on technical language and complex details.
A project manager often plays the role of liaison between technical workers and business people. It is important for a PM to learn how to translate business requirements so that they are understandable to technical people.
It is even more vital for a PM to understand technical issues that have been explained by the technicians. Once understood, these issue need to be translated into understandable terms to the project sponsors. This description should also address how the technical issues affect the business.
Know your audience
As I addressed above, who you are talking to determines much of your communication. You obviously communicate to executives in a much different mode than to technical team members.
Each level within the organization needs to be considered. Copying a director on an email to one of her direct reports may be acceptable on a regular basis. Copying the vice president at the next level may not be. If there is an acceptable time to do that, extra scrutiny should be taken. You may want to have it reviewed to ensure it is clear and uses appropriate language.
Knowing your audience includes having a flexibility of tone. If you are communicating with a business associate with which you have a close personal relationship, it may be appropriate to joke around and discuss personal issues. This would be inappropriate with someone you don’t know well. The formality of the language you use is determined by the rank and familiarity of your audience. It is also is governed heavily by the culture of the organization.
One of the most important skills a project manager develops is the ability to communicate. It requires many modes depending on how, why, and to whom you are communicating. It also requires being a liaison that can explain issues between people with different skills and education levels.
What communication issues have you experienced on your projects?
If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.
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