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You can learn to be a great project manager

August 19, 2016

Projects are governed by a different management logic than day-to-day responsibilities of a manager.

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Interview with Prof. Martina Huemann: The Academic Director of the Professional MBA Project Management at the WU Executive Academy on the specific qualities of a good project manager, the characteristics of cross-border project management and intercultural challenges.

How is project management different from traditional management in a hierarchical organization?

Projects are governed by a different management logic than day-to-day responsibilities of a manager. The fundamental difference is that a project has a deadline, which means that management has to be very careful and focused on achieving their targets. At the same time, a project requires detailed allocations of tasks and roles, and definition of processes.

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The fundamental difference is that a project has a deadline, which means that management has to be very careful and focused on achieving their targets.

What qualities should an executive who manages projects on a daily basis possess?

First of all, a project manager should be a leader with a clear vision of how to achieve the project's objectives, able to inspire other members of the team with this vision. At the same time, such a person should have the ability to create specific structures and processes. Larger projects are often complex and their structure poses considerable challenges, involving many individuals and departments within the organization. Each of these individuals brings in his or her own objectives and vested interests, which may conflict with one another. The role of the project manager is to meet different, often divergent expectations, and reduce the anxiety that always accompanies change. Therefore, a good manager needs to be mature and resilient to pressure.

How do good project managers pick their team members? Can this skill be learned?

Unfortunately, project managers are rarely free to choose their teams. Under such conditions it is important for a project manager to contribute significant social capital, to be able to manage decisions effectively and to have the necessary knowledge to run the project. The skills to work with people and manage a team are very important, particularly with large projects, when many members of the team do not know each other and even come from different countries and different cultures.

What is the hardest part of learning project management skills?

It is not particularly difficult to master the most important techniques of project management, on which project managers rely in their work – such as Work Breakdown Structure, bar charts or Milestone Plan. The challenge is to manage teams and create a vision for the project, as well as communicate with team members, suppliers, partners, politicians and the media. No two projects are exactly the same; therefore, a good manager must be able to reflect and learn every day, so as to benefit from new experience.

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The main task of a project manager is to communicate with team members in a language they all understand.

What is most important in international project management? What are the priorities when team members live and work in different countries?

Probably the most important factor is the mutual understanding of cultural differences and of the fact that each person reacts differently to different stimuli. The main task of a project manager is to communicate with team members in a language they all understand.

Do you use any special teaching methods at the WU Executive Academy's Professional MBA Project Management program in Vienna?

We use a mix of various teaching methods, such as working with texts, written assignments, role playing (with students assuming the responsibilities of a project leader), special get-away sessions and group interactions. A core feature of the curriculum is that students take on the roles of consultants working on specific projects. This provides them with many opportunities to put the newly acquired theoretical knowledge into practice. Moreover, these projects are highly relevant to the industries in which students work in their jobs.

How do students learn the practical skills, crucial to successful project management?

By participating in special training sessions and by visiting project-oriented companies, where they learn how such organizations deal with various practical problems. Such visits also offer invaluable opportunities to meet other project managers and authorities in the field, ask questions, compare notes and share experiences.
Simulation games are another important way in which students acquire practical knowledge. We practice various scenarios that students may encounter in their jobs, and we try to find solutions to their problems and challenges. Students receive feedback not only from their teachers, but also from their peers, which allows them to test various strategies and hone their leadership skills.

By Anna Dobrowolska, Polityka

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