Teaching a Project Manager new tricks

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 17:30

By Leon Gettler

This article originally appeared in Project Manager Magazine, AIPM’s bimonthly magazine for members.

In a flat economy and competitive job market, project managers differentiate themselves through added qualifications and skills.

Many project managers may benefit from looking beyond traditional, technical knowledge to polish their presentation skills. Others might consider a postgraduate qualification like an MBA or a business diploma. And with an increasing emphasis on stakeholder management, training courses in human skills related to leadership are sought after.

The Australian Institute of Management (AIM) offers courses from diplomas to MBAs, as well as short courses such as Leading With Emotional Intelligence, Managing People Effectively, Dealing with Difficult Behaviours and Finance for Non-Finance Managers.

AIM Chief Executive Officer Daniel Musson says about 30 per cent of its business comes from short courses, 60 per cent diplomas and the rest in higher education (graduate diplomas and MBAs). And while students prefer to do accounting, finance and economics in class, the demand for leadership and management courses is online.

“It’s a move from product-centric to customercentric education and allowing people to get the education and access just in time for the next career move, promotion or job, so that they can get skills close to where they need them,” Musson says.

“We will find [professionals] in their mid-30s looking for a career jump or getting general management skills. That’s the time when they’re looking to build their technical base with management skills.”

He says students who might have missed out on formal qualifications want to stand out in a competitive market.

“One way is to make postgraduate education flexible, accessible and practical so we can attract people who may not necessarily go to a name-brand business school.”

Even professionals with degrees need practical skills of a diploma, he says.

“A growing number of graduates find it difficult to get work [and] are coming to do a diploma. They might have technical project management skills but they also want people or performance management.”

These skills can fast-track their career and allow them to differentiate themselves, he says.

DEVELOP DYNAMIC PRESENTATION SKILLS

Project managers needing presentation skills should consider NIDA Corporate, the business arm of the National Institute of Dramatic Art. It has a popular public speaking boot camp and courses on Creating Excellent Communicators and Influential Women.

NIDA Corporate Senior Course Manager Diane Smith says the institute employs experienced actors to share their techniques.

“We use the tools of the actor to make their presentations and interpersonal relationships with clients better,’’ Smith says.

“We get them to work their voice and their body and to use their imaginations and do improvisations.”

While they don’t turn project managers into actors, NIDA uses actors’ methods to deal with nerves and reactions to others and “transform that to a business context”. Actors’ skills include learning about intention, motivation and impact.

“Businesspeople know what they’re doing but there’s often a block communicating it to the boardroom, sales staff or clients.”

BECOME BETTER PROBLEM SOLVERS

Swinburne University in Victoria offers a Masters of IT Project Management that teaches business analytics. Course coordinator Paul Scifleet says it attracts PMs from many sectors.

“Project management is seen as a critical part of any business professional so our students are people who want to add project management to their skillset,” Scifleet says. “The units are presented in the broader context of management innovation systems and requirements modelling to contemporary issues in business analysis.”

He says project managers are becoming “organisational problem solvers”, moving beyond step-wise management to relate to stakeholder engagement and setting definitions upfront. “That will see the project implemented on time [and] in alignment with the business needs.”

The Chifley Business School at SA’s Torrens University has courses ranging from graduate certificates in project management, public health and design to business and MBAs. Significantly, it links to industry bodies including the AIPM. Its Masters of Global Project Management course is accredited with the AIPM and institute members are offered a 30 per cent discount on course fees. The university’s pro vice-chancellor Hurriyet Babacan says project managers must embrace life-long or continuous learning.

“Skills are constantly being updated. We are in an environment where qualifications are important and some people have come through industry without the appropriate qualification, some are trying to gain qualifications, others are trying to upgrade their qualifications,” Babacan says.

“And because we focus on employability where we try to focus on employment outcomes, we tend to attract those sorts of students.”

So an MBA graduate may come back for a graduate certificate in project management as they upgrade skills to be more employable.

“Employment and industry are changing, which means people who studied 20 years ago are coming back to study on an ongoing basis.”

If you’re looking for courses and qualifications that will provide the expert knowledge and skills you need to lead projects, AIM has an unrivalled breadth of options available. From short courses such as Applied Project Management and Project Management Fundamentals through to qualifications such as a Certificate IV or Diploma of Project Management, we can provide the expertise you need to succeed.