Project Management

Books for Building Power Skills

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.

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Categories: books, leadership


This month on ProjectManagement.com we’re talking about ‘power skills’: all the things that help you lead effectively and make a difference in your work. The skills you need to advance your career and be the kind of project manager that everyone wants to work with.

I’ve done a couple of training courses in my career that changed how I approached work and gave me additional skills that I could put to good use. Early on in my career, as a graduate trainee, my cohort did a course on management approaches and I remember learning about situational leadership. That was a game changer for me.

Later on, I did an assertiveness course (another game changer) and then a day-long seminar on conflict management. To be honest, I use that one less in my day-to-day life but it was fascinating to learn about best ways to help people come to agreements.

However, I’ve read a lot more books than I have attended courses, and I have learned just as much from those as I have from being in a classroom. Today, I wanted to share a few of my favourites with you: books that will truly give you those power skills to be an excellent project manager.

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

This book fundamentally changed the way I saw negotiation and gave me practical tips to use in high-stakes conversation. I mean, not that I’m in high-stakes negotiations very often (read: never) but the book also gave me some tools for ‘normal’ conversations and has also been very useful at home.

If you have to negotiate with stakeholders, or even have the requirement to simply understand their perspective and what is important to them (and be honest, who doesn’t as a PM?), then this is a great read. The stories of his job as a hostage negotiator are pretty awesome too.

This one is available as an audio book if you are having difficulty carving out time to read.

Exactly What to Say by Phil M Jones

Subtitled, The Magic Words for Influence and Impact, I read this book a while ago and still flick through it now when I’m trying to craft conversations or project communications that HAVE to be just right.

It’s easy to read and full of handy tips that are simple to implement. Basically, changing a couple of words in what you say can make all the difference, so think about your communication intentionally and start to see improved results.

It’s a small format book that is nicely laid out (i.e. with some pages just taken up with a giant quote) so it won’t take you long to read and it’s tiny enough to go in your bag.

The Grit Factor by Shannon Huffman Polson

A book about courage, resilience and leadership but one of the first US female attack helicopter pilots. There are some shocking stories of misogyny in here, but also a lot of takeaways about building an intentional career, being brave enough to go for what you want and taking calculated risks to get you where you want to be.

This is an interesting and thought-provoking read, especially for women in (or wanting to be in) leadership positions.

And finally…

Getting It All Done by Harvard Business Review Press

This is a collection of essays from HBR contributors, from their Working Parents series. It’s a relatively quick read, and project managers will be familiar with some of the tools and techniques suggested as things to help us balance work and home life – for example, a family Kanban board or regular ‘stand up’ meeting around the kitchen table.

However, what I took away from it – and what makes me want to include it in a list of books about power skills – is that it’s hard to be an awesome leader and meet the requirements of your job and also be an awesome human, showing up for your family and community at the same time. And that doesn’t even include having the ability to take time out to look after your own health and mental wellbeing.

The people in the book have a support network and systems that allow them to prioritize. From shared calendars, flexible working and understanding managers, they have built flexibility and balance into their lives by being intentional. I think that’s a real power skill: knowing what is important to you and showing up for that first, and then everything else second. I mean, isn’t that part of the agile principles, prioritizing requirements? And isn’t your family a higher priority than you work?

Have you read any books that have changed your thought process on what it means to be a good project manager? I have some space on my shelves for some new reads, so let me know what I should be looking at next!

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Posted on: July 13, 2021 08:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Dear Elizabeth
Very interesting theme that brought to our reflection and debate
Thanks for sharing and your suggestions.

Some books that changed my life, in order of importance:
1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey

Habit 3, First things first was the subject of a book that helps us manage our lives in terms of the time we all have.

2. The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

The eighth habit is "Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs." Voice is Covey's code for "unique personal significance." Those who inspire others to find theirs are the leaders needed now and for the future

3. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving in - Roger Fisher, William L. Ury

4. Working with Emotional Intelligence -
Daniel Goleman

5. Good to Great - Jim Collins
One of the chapters is about leadership

6. The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership - Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee

7. The Servant: A Simple Story about the True Essence of Leadership - James C. Hunter

8. Leading at a Higher Level: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations - Ken Blanchard

I could add to this list as many books that address topics related to teamwork, innovation, change management

@Luis, thanks for this list, there are some great reads on there!

Great! Thanks for sharing.

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