Project Management

The 4 P’s of Successful Modern PMs

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Dave Wakeman

November 2023

I recently wrote about the nature of artificial intelligence in project management, and I think people might have been confused that I’d put the highlight so heavily on the person managing the project.

My take has nothing to do with not believing that AI can be a powerful tool, if used well. Nor should my take imply that you should ignore AI.

As always, my take is about the people involved in managing a project. The things that only us humans can do.

With that in mind, I wanted to revisit some of the foundations of the human skills that we need to be successful PMs, no matter what kind of project we are working on.

1. Presence: You need to be there when you are working on a project. You need to listen to the stakeholders and team members you are talking with. You need to be aware of the situation you are involved in. You need to not try and juggle many things at once.

Great project managers are in the moment, working through the task at hand, even when there are tons of other tasks demanding their attention.

2. People Skills: People manage projects. People work on projects. Without people, there are no projects.

To be successful as a PM, you have to be successful in dealing with people. This doesn’t call for over-the-top extroversion, but it does require that you be able to build coalitions, negotiate and get people to take actions.

One of the challenges we all struggle with from time to time is our individual area of responsibility, but the best PMs recognize that everything is connected.

3. Perception: Another name for this is business acumen. I’ve written about business acumen in the past. I’ve even hinted at it in the point above. The key for PMs is that you need to know the context of your project and be able to actually take action on what’s going to deliver the most value for your organization and the stakeholders you serve.

Perception requires you to bring context to every encounter with team members, stakeholders and sponsors. It isn’t enough to look at the scope of work; to be truly successful, you have to go beyond the first level and look deeper to the core value that the project is creating in your world—and the world around the project.

4. Proficiency: You have to be able to deliver. As a PM, proficiency might come in the form of great negotiation skills. You might need the ability to get people to see their responsibilities and roles from a different situation, a more expansive POV.

Proficiency is also likely to change from moment to moment because one of the biggest skills we all need is managing change and uncertainty. Being proficient at that is likely the most important skill we can all develop, now and into the future.

Let me ask you: What are the core skills that you feel need to be in the tool kit of the modern PM?

Let me know in the comments below.

Posted by David Wakeman on: November 30, 2023 09:56 AM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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Luis Branco CEO| Business Insight, Consultores de Gestão, Ldª Carcavelos, Lisboa, Portugal
Dear David
The topic you brought to our reflection and debate is very interesting.

The 3 P's constitute a proposal to take into consideration

I would add to the aS toolbox:
- Flexibility
- Adaptability
- Leadership (which includes vision and sense of mission)
- Critical thinking

Markus Kopko, PMP Principal Project Management Consultant| Karer Consulting AG Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
Dear David,

Your reflection on the essential human skills for project managers, even in an era increasingly influenced by artificial intelligence, is indeed insightful. The emphasis on presence, people skills, perception, and proficiency underscores the irreplaceable value of human elements in project management. In addition to these fundamental skills, here are a few more core competencies that I believe are crucial for the modern project manager:

Adaptability and Flexibility: The ability to adapt to changing circumstances and be flexible in approach is critical. Projects rarely go exactly as planned, and a project manager must be able to pivot as needed, handling unexpected changes or challenges effectively.

Communication Skills: Effective communication is key in project management. This involves being an active listener. Project managers must be able to communicate with a diverse range of stakeholders, from team members to executives, and tailor their communication style accordingly.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ): This involves the ability to understand and manage one's emotions and empathize with others. High EQ helps in building strong team relationships, resolving conflicts, and creating a positive work environment.

Strategic Thinking and Vision: A good project manager must have a clear vision of what the project aims to achieve and the ability to think strategically about how to get there. This includes setting goals, planning, and foreseeing potential risks or issues.

Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking: Projects often involve complex problems that need to be solved. The ability to think critically and devise practical solutions is essential for a project manager.

Leadership and Team Building: Effective project managers are also strong leaders. They must motivate, inspire, and guide their teams, fostering a collaborative and productive environment. Building a cohesive team and nurturing individual talents are vital aspects of this skill.

Risk Management: The ability to identify, assess, and manage risks is crucial in project management. This involves not just foreseeing potential issues but also having contingency plans in place.

Technical Proficiency: Depending on the project's nature, a certain level of technical knowledge or understanding of the specific area (IT, construction, healthcare, etc.) can be extremely beneficial.

Cultural Competence: In our globalized world, projects often involve working with diverse teams and stakeholders from different cultural backgrounds. Understanding and respecting cultural differences is crucial for effective collaboration.

Ethics and Integrity: Upholding high ethical standards and integrity is fundamental in building trust and credibility as a project manager.

These skills collectively form a comprehensive toolkit that equips project managers to handle the multifaceted challenges of modern projects effectively. It's important to note that these skills are not static; continuous learning and development are key to staying relevant and effective in the field of project management.

Reflecting on your experience, how do you see these skills playing out in your project management journey? Are there specific areas you focus on for personal development or see as increasingly relevant in the future?



Ruby Jacob Shelton, Ct, USA
Well said! I would like to add another ‘P’ - Perseverance. When faced with setbacks, challenges and obstacles, Project Managers need to march towards achieving the project goal without giving up.

Kwiyuh Michael Wepngong Senior Accountant| Africa Eye Foundation; Magrabi ICO Cameroon Eye Institute Yaounde, Centre, Cameroon
The balance that people skill and a project focus PM produces is so vital for project success

Kassirim Onyeri Houston, Tx, USA
This was a good read. I would add "Adaptability" as well. Today's world is more robust and ever changing. The rapid evolution of technology and global urbanization puts a high demand on being able to adapt to a vision that could incur many changes. Therefore, contingency and the ability to adapt is vital and this is where AI could assist in rapid changes. However, I agree that there has to be a level of oversight and people and organizations with good intentions leading the charge.

David Wakeman Principal| Wakeman Consulting Group Washington, Dc, USA
Thanks for all of your comments.

People skills seems to be a topic that people are coming back to with a greater clarity.

As far as the framework, all of the additions totally fit. The challenge with any of this is that you need to make a framework or a plan easy enough to understand and easy enough to be acted upon.

As I learned in marketing class, it is easy to create products, but great marketers kill them. It is the same with ideas and parts of a plan, it is easy to put things in, we all need to strive to make things as simple as they need to be to achieve results.

Jihad Hamdan Projects manager| Arrand engineering consultants Beirut , Haret Hrek, Jem, Palestine, State Of
Thank you

Antonio Villarruel Project Management Coordinator| Saputo Inc. San Fernando, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Great article! Thanks for sharing

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