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  • Writer's pictureDr. Stefan Fourier

Project success is only possible with excellent communication

What Makes an Excellent Project Manager?


The project manager is crucial to the success of any project. For highly complex projects with uncertain outcomes, it is essential to have not just good project managers, but excellent ones.


What distinguishes a good project manager from an excellent one?


1. Expertise

Firstly, it’s about expertise. For any project, especially demanding ones, expertise is necessary. The project manager must possess not only solid knowledge in the relevant field but, more importantly, experience. This experience helps them make the right assessments when facing unknown challenges in a complex project. In unclear and surprising situations, they must be able to make the right decisions quickly, even beyond the limits of their own knowledge and that of their team. This requires decisiveness and experience in the field.

So, expertise is a necessary condition for an excellent project manager, but it’s not sufficient. They must also excel in communication.


2. Communication Skills


The rule of thumb is:


The more complex a project, the greater the communication skills required of the project manager.


What does this mean concretely?


Information Management

The foundation is that the project manager ensures that necessary factual information is available to all participants in the required quantity and quality at precisely the right time. This is easier said than done. It requires three things:


  1. An exact plan that outlines the information requirements.

  2. Resources and discipline in implementing this plan.

  3. A system of reassurance, such as asking, "Did you receive this? What exactly did you understand? Can you handle it this way?"


This basic part of project communication can be ensured through a good project assistant.


Trust Building

The project manager’s communication must build trust. This is best achieved when the communication is reliable and factual, and everyone can always rely on being well-informed. There should be no contradictory statements, no frequent changes of direction, and no avoiding difficult topics. Here, the project manager is personally challenged. Functional basic communication (see above) is a prerequisite, but the project manager’s personal statements carry special weight.


Motivation

The project manager’s communication must motivate. This means explaining the reasons behind individual actions to employees and partners, always clarifying the connection to the larger task. More importantly, it means creating room for input from conversation partners with the way they communicate. This can be achieved by simply asking, "How do we want to do this?" instead of just giving directives. It can also be achieved by having employees work out details and present the results themselves. Sometimes, a brief word of encouragement or praise and acknowledgment of the other person’s abilities can be enough.


Crisis Communication

A special challenge for the project manager is communication in crisis situations when the project is in trouble, or mistakes and omissions have occurred. Often, meetings are called where all participants analyze and find solutions.


This is absolutely counterproductive! Why?


Because in such critical project situations, everyone tends to be cautious, holds back opinions in public—and project meetings are public. People throw up smokescreens, embellish their behavior, and cover up mistakes. This isn’t a reflection on their character; these are natural defense mechanisms that are hard to dissolve. An excellent project manager will therefore hold individual conversations and piece together the reality of the project from what is heard. This approach requires more effort but brings them closer to the actual situation in the project and fosters a positive atmosphere in the team or prevents negative developments.


Summary

The necessary condition for an excellent project manager is expertise, predominantly experience, and the sufficient condition is excellent communication skills.


Here’s the rule of thumb again:


The more complex a project, the greater the communication skills required of the project manager.


I repeat this because, unfortunately, I have often seen this aspect underdeveloped in many projects. Mistakes are frequently made even in the selection of project managers. Often, despite the best intentions for good communication, project managers become so overwhelmed by daily operations that they no longer have time for the most important thing: conversations.


Given that excellent project managers, those with both expertise and outstanding communication skills, are rare, there is an interesting alternative: co-leading. This involves an outstanding external communication talent leading the project alongside an experienced internal expert. At Humanagement Project GmbH, we have a special program for this and have had very good experiences with it. It is definitely worthwhile for a company to carefully select the leadership for complex projects and consider involving an external expert. The additional effort will pay off.


How a critical project was brought back on track

A lot depended on the project. The entire board was aware that delaying the product launch by a month would cost more than 5 million. When he compared the various reports and presentations from the re

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