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Project manager skills relationship manager

Box-checkers need not apply

The versatile project manager

Marlene Bockler | July 16, 2015

Marlene Bockler is no longer working at Slalom.

The traditional specialized project manager role that checks execution boxes, tracks issues, and provides status has become archaic. Today’s businesses need versatile project managers with a range of skills spanning delivery, operations, organizational effectiveness, business, strategy, and technology.

In 2003, Tony Davis and Richard Pharro predicted the next generation of project managers would be relationship managers. In their book, The Relationship Manager, the authors stated, “The project management role is now changing and the total impact on the business needs to be addressed more effectively—enter the Relationship Manager.”

Of the different hats a project manager needs to wear, the hat labeled: Relationship Manager has become the most used and the most critical. As more teams and clients become geographically dispersed, the project manager’s ability to communicate in different business languages (strategy, technical, marketing, operations) can make or break a team or project. Without strong and authentic relationships, the project manager cannot drive change, motivate teams, or successfully work through project hurdles.

Maintaining the PM edge

In my career, there have been times when a client has tried to explain their vision for a project but was not fluent in the language of developers or vice versa, creating a frustrating barrier between the client and developers.

As a project manager, understanding the client’s goal and the technology allowed me to intercept and break it down for the developers. This led to better communication and a cohesive solution proposal.

Most recently, Gartner’s Research Vice President, Michael Hanford, stated in his Project Management in 2020 webinar that the versatile project manager is "the kind of person who thinks of themselves as a business person, a technologist, a leader, a facilitator, an administrator. Someone who literally has a closet full of hats and depending on the situation, reaches into the closet and puts on the right hat, with the right label in front of the hat to say ‘hey, this is who I am today.’”

For example, when I am in a stakeholder meeting, my hat varies from topic to topic. I am a business person as the roadmap and KPIs are planned. I am a technologist when top-level solutions are discussed. I am a facilitator during brainstorming moments. I am a project manager as hasty timelines or scope topics demand leadership.

With the evolution of the project management role, some embrace the change while others resist. I believe there will be a place for the traditional project manager for another 10-15 years. However, like the declining need for mainframe programmers, traditional project managers will become obsolete.

Project managers have longevity as long as they are versatile and engage with the business side of projects. A good project manager will maintain their skills and ensure their projects are successful from discovery phase approval to execution. A great project manager will continue to always build on their skills and evolve with the demand.

Marlene Bockler

Marlene Bockler is an avid student of emerging technologies, passionate about building bridges between IT and business, and a martial artist. Follow Marlene on Twitter: @bockler96.


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