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How to Identify, Fill and Keep the Skills Gaps Closed in Strategy Execution

Project Management Skills

In a previous blog, Six Ways to Improve Business Performance, we discussed how finding the right training programme will improve strategic outcomes and overall business performance. But in order to do this leaders must first identify what skill gaps there are,  before they can fill these in and prevent future gaps through training and development.

Employing the best processes in your PMO will not overcome disappointing results if the fundamental skills of project managers remain weak.

Technical skills – the fundamental skills of project managers which reflect ability and process to drive projects forward – are the easiest to diagnose because they are the most visible. To assess a project manager’s technical skills, a PMO should check the following:

  • The quality of the deliverables, such as how detailed the reports and notes are
  • Scheduling and how the manager navigates interdependencies
  • Whether risks are completely identified and appropriately managed
  • The quality of contracts for outsourced work
  • If all stakeholders have been included in the project as expected

Relational – or soft- skills on the other hand, are harder to see but if your team scores highly on the technical skills, this may be because there are hidden relational-skill gaps.

Feedback is a useful tool to reveal how well a project manager is getting on with their team, or how much they are leaving key stakeholders out of the decision-making process.

Feedback such as this, or on performance behaviour within the team and with clients, can be gathered by asking the project teams and clients the following about the project manager:

  • Do they motivate team members and rally them through stressful times?
  • Do they engage stakeholders in key decisions?
  • Do they facilitate interactive meetings with many contributors?
  • Do they communicate clearly and effectively particularly when translating organisational strategy?
  • Align projects with organisational goals?
  • Think analytically and adapt thinking quickly as situations evolve?
  • Changed leadership styles as project needs dictated e.g. from hierarchical to flexible as part of an Agile project?

Once any weaknesses have been identified, there are two primary ways to fill them:  learning and development or recruitment.

The former is preferable in most cases to the latter as it focuses on employee development within the organisation, and allows for the retention of highly trained talent.

Recruitment is more effective as a means to acquire skills for immediate strategic need or to kick-start a cultural shift.

Although no skill is unteachable, recruitment is a way to fill an immediate need for a skill. This is never a quick fix though because it takes time to hire and train any new employee.

Hiring is also a tool for effecting cultural change. If a skill gap comes from a cultural problem, hiring someone to shift the balance such as an extroverted project manager who offers incentives for feedback and encourages discourse will be change agent.

So hiring someone who is a good cultural fit is more beneficial than the extent to which they are technically able.

Training and Development

A project management learning programme should balance technical and relational skill sets, with a combination of training and coaching, which allows managers to absorb new skills then apply them in real-life work environments.

A course like Leading Complex Projects will not only teach project managers how to deal with and manage the technical complexity of a particular project, the course will also show that executing on a complex project is also about interactions, motivation and organisational culture.

Coaching and Mentoring

While training is about attaining new skills, coaching and mentoring is about helping managers to practice and contextualise their skills under guidance. It’s also a way to address individual strengths and weaknesses.

Training can fill common skills gaps across the PMO, but coaching can focus more precisely on the exact skills the individual needs to raise his or her game – which is especially useful for newly hired or promoted project managers.

Successful coaching programmes do not happen without buy-in from senior leaders, but this support builds a culture of two-way mentoring. Executives can coach senior project managers toward advancement while project managers can build the executives’ project management skill sets and bring them to the attention of the C-Suite.

Keeping the Gaps Closed

Long term PMO success requires a permanent commitment to education and project management development. Running periodic skill assessments, surveying project teams through feedback and encouraging continuous education will ensure the skill gaps stay closed.

This will be easier once you facilitate a culture that values learning and risk-taking. It’s much easier to fill skills gaps when managers buy in to training.

It is also worth looking at what the broader organisation may offer. Collaboration can help fill existing gaps while at the same time helping to build organisational synergy.

The end goal is to create a culture of learning that promotes employee growth and development. At the same time, learning programmes tell employees that you’re willing invest in them.  That’s a vital tool for talent retention and, ultimately, business growth.

But ultimately, committing to lifelong education relies on the continuous application of new skills in a project environment, but even if there are no more lower-than-expected-returns it is still worth periodically auditing project managers to make sure they’re operating effectively.

For further on diagnosing skills gaps and how to fill them read the full whitepaper: Optimising Project Performance: Identifying and Filling Your Skill Gaps.

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About Nadine Rochester

Nadine Rochester
Nadine is a marketing director at Strategy Execution.

A experienced marketing strategist and technologist, Nadine is also passionate about project management, business analysis and agile PM, managing and contributing to the company PM blog servicing 40,000 monthly users.

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