When my son was a little boy, he was a great enthusiast of world-class soccer players and enjoyed questioning me: "Is a great soccer player born with talent, or did they practice harder than the others?"
Being the native consultant that I am, I replied to him with another question: "What do you think?" From then on, I was amazed by his train of thought being developed through this old yet complex question.
Through my many years of experience in consulting (and my licentiate degree), I got close to many people who were interested in growing their careers as project management professionals. I acknowledge a sense of pride in having collaborated in different ways with many of these stories. But, as an outside observer, every now and then I find myself asking the same well-grounded question brought up during that talk with my son: "Can a project manager achieve excellence through training and experience, or are there innate characteristics to this professional?"
Perhaps I should begin this reflection by attempting to identify what makes a project manager a successful professional. As it has already been written about before by many others, and aware that the list takes many characteristics into account, I will stick to those traits that I most like to see in a professional:
- As I like to put it, "projectized thinking," which is basically a mental model where one considers the actual risks and ramifications of these paths. This is someone always seeking to look at what is expected to happen next—they envision a sequential view of activities that consider the troubles inherent to the path and serve as balance points.
- I also like to emphasize the mental organization capacity of the professional. This ability keeps topics from being forgotten, or having their importance miscalculated.
- Interpersonal skills are also vital—such as common sense, negotiation capacity and politeness—in addition to other techniques such as communication and technical expertise in project proposals.
- All of that—as if it were not enough—must be supported by a strong skill to "read" other human beings, which enables us to minimally understand what is going on with stakeholders and what their real interests are.
We probably think that we have some (or all) of these skills. By admitting shortages, it is also natural to imagine that these skills may be developed through some specific training. I agree with that. However, I believe that we may recognize how rare (and challenging) it is to identify all of these characteristics at a high-level within the same professional.
The truth is that there are no effective tools to identify how great we really are in these skills. That's probably why it’s so difficult picking the ideal professional for the job. This is neither good nor bad. Bottom line: We were not born with a binary code that always allows us to go beyond expectations and break the simplistic view that we were destined to become something that we will be until the end of time.