Are project management skills generic?
Jack’s a good friend of mine. A few days ago we were talking about this and that, when the conversation veered to project management:
“By the way, ” he said, “we’re looking for a new project manager for the CRM project I told you about last week. Would you know anyone who might be interested?”
“What kind of person are you looking for? Do you want someone with significant PM experience or do you want a CRM expert?” I replied. I have this annoying habit of answering a question with several questions.
We went back and forth a few times and ended up drafting out an advertisement for the position.
Let me ask you now: what do you think is more important for a project manager – domain knowledge (i.e. expertise in a specific subject area ) or project management skills and experience?
My opinion? Although some domain knowledge is helpful and perhaps even important, many key attributes of a good project manager are skills which are applicable across a wide range of industries. I’ve thought so for a while, and this paper which I reviewed in an earlier post, appears to strengthen my position. After all, if practices are generic, skills should be too.
I set about performing an (admittedly unscientific) survey to see if this is indeed so. Here’s what I did: I looked at several online job postings for IT project managers. On sampling ten of these at random from a well-known local job site, I found that many advertisements listed similar skill and experience requirements. Below I list the skills and attributes that appeared most frequently in the advertisements surveyed (frequency of appearance in brackets).
- Communication skills (8)
- Problem solving / analytical ability (6)
- Vendor / stakeholder management (6)
- Ability to work under pressure (6)
- Negotiation skills (5)
- Understanding of project lifecycle / methodology (5)
Note that I’ve incorporated similar attributes into a single point – e.g. Exceptional written and oral presentation skills and Good verbal and written communication skills have been combined under Communication Skills.
It is interesting that domain knowledge does not appear in the list. This attribute came in just under the cutoff mark, with four ads specifying it as a requirement. What’s even more interesting is the skills and attributes listed above are generic – i.e. they are applicable across projects in any domain. So, my survey, for what it’s worth, indicates that the answer to the question posed in the title is, “Yes, the most important project management skills, as determined by what employers look for, are indeed generic.”