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What are the Different Types of Project Manager Competency?

M.J. Casey
M.J. Casey

There may be as many different project manager competencies as there are project managers, or at least, project manager theorists. Many of the instructors of project management courses will cover three major themes: the ability to manage time, resources, and expenses. The three arenas are not independent of each other but are useful for discerning the appropriate competencies required to be successful as a project manager (PM).

Time management is the consideration of schedules and deadlines and the avoidance of delays. A key project manager competency in the management of time is the development of a detailed work description. This is often presented as a Statement of Work (SOW), including a scope that limits the project and defines an end, and a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), which outlines the project into summary tasks, tasks, subtasks, and task detail or into as many levels as necessary. A graphical representation of the WBS against time is usually drawn up as a Gantt chart or other format. A PM is responsible for the development and approval of the SOW, the scope, the WBS and the schedule.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

To ensure that the WBS and time schedule are feasible, the PM needs to demonstrate another project manager competency: the ability to communicate with departmental managers without the benefit of a reporting relationship. Functional managers are primarily concerned with performance in their own area and less with integrating with other functions. Therefore, the PM employs both people skills and an in-depth understanding of the total project, it’s technical deliverables and the time frame and budget to draw out the detailed information that might otherwise threaten the schedule if not discovered quickly.

Substantial understanding of the project itself involves being familiar with or learning all of the functional department tasks that have any project costs. Knowledge of the legal stance of the project also is useful, which may include the project’s patent portfolio or patent plans. Functional areas from which data might be gathered include quality control, product testing, change management and engineering, among others. None of these functions actually makes the product, but there are numerous tasks each of these must perform to support the project.

Resources refer to any source of energy or material that are required by the project or will aid the completion of the project. The acquisition of appropriate resources is often the responsibility of the procurement manager. Buyers will take specifications and attempt to order those materials that meet the requirements without excessively exceeding them at the best possible cost. The procurement manager often has a long history of buying for similar projects and knows the vendors and markets well. By taking advantage of that knowledge and building upon it to consider new vendors, substitute materials or to negotiate better pricing, a PM exhibits another project manager competency.

The human resources (HR) department can be a great resource to the PM by handling the hiring process and helping the PM and functional managers decide on appropriate staffing levels, ideal candidates and negotiating the acceptance of job offers. A key project manager competency is the ability to translate the WBS into manpower needs and finally into job descriptions. The HR department has the references to enable the functional department managers or the PM to evaluate the project’s needs against the talent pool available.

Expense control is dependent on many factors, including those beyond the control of project management. The PM demonstrates a project manager competency by mitigating those risks by anticipating there will be overruns, equipment failures and schedule changes. While the exact nature of the difficulty is unknown, as is the timing, the PM can greatly increase the expected good outcome of the project by adding redundancies, flexibility and savings to the project portfolio whenever given the opportunity.

Accounting and finance represents a need for project manager competency as well. The PM must understand general accounting principles, how the project accounting software works, and be aware of any finance structures that may affect the satisfactory completion of the project. Creation and maintenance of the project budget is a key project manager competency. The PM should know how to read the budget and how the line items are related to each other.

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