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Hiring a Great Project Manager!

What type of Project Manager do you want to oversee your Grant Funded Projects?


What makes a Good Project Manager?

When you're applying for a Grant, you're usually applying for a project-in-waiting. If you receive the award, you'll be implementing a project, in other words. So - when you hire your project manager, what are the key characteristics that you look for? The Grants House did a poll of some of its members, asking this very question and several of the top elements included:

Project Management interviews.  Hiring for Grants Manager.  Hiring for Project Manager.

"We hire for culture."


"We hire for experience."


"We hire for technical or sectoral expertise."



In a sample of 100 recent project management job descriptions (in international development) on recruitment sites, less than 2% of them specifically listed Project Management certification as a prerequisite. We then looked at Grant Manager job descriptions and those mainly looked for 3-5 years of sectoral expertise, ability to work under pressure, report-writing ability and experience writing proposals. Again, no mention of project management skills specifically - except for perhaps a few related items.

The Grants House. Grants expertise.  Project expertise. Hiring for sectoral expertise.

The same poll we did also asked if agencies tend to hire for management or for sectoral expertise as a priority, when hiring for a Chief of Party or Project Manager. The majority reported 'sectoral expertise.' So if they are doing a water or education project, they would look for someone with expertise in WASH or a related education field, etc. We found that the rigour dropped when hiring for a Grants Manager - even though a grants person still needs to manage, to know the phases and processes of a project cycle and, how to design a project from inception to closure. Writing that winning proposal still requires a strong level of project management expertise.

Project managers versus program managers

I also noted, over the years, that Program Managers and HQ Grant Managers are often asked to step in (temporarily) to manage projects where there is insufficient funds or overhead to hire a full-time Project Manager on a grant-funded project. This is more worrying, as a Program Manager is usually hired at a higher strategic level to supervise long-term strategies and multiple program targets - not the day-to-day activities inherent in project management.

But - Can't anyone do project management?
Project Management. Program versus project management.

This is a frequently asked question - and more frequently applied as a stop-gap (a hold your breath and hope for the best approach). Let's consider it this way, though - What is Project Management? I'll break it up in its two parts to explain.


First, a project is defined by 5 key elements. Time, Goal(s), Cost, Uniqueness and Scope. Most importantly, it is 'finite!' It has a definite start & end-date. There is a goal of some kind - a product, service or result. It comes with a cost, because you need resources to achieve the goal(s), whether in cash or in-kind. It's unique, because it is not an ongoing operation of an organization or a program. Every project will be unique in how it is managed, delivered, and perceived by community stakeholders. And because they're unique, they'll come with their own specific risk factors. Finally, there will be inter-related tasks or activities that will lead to outputs (deliverables) from the project - hence, scope.

Project Managers have to manage the 'triple constraint' of projects - because let's face it - Time, Cost and Scope frequently change in uncertain environments, and a change to one will impact the others - and ultimately will impact the quality of each. Thus, Project Managers must be adaptive, in addition to being good planners!


Second, let's look at the word 'management.' The definition of Management is a process of planning, decision making, organizing, leading, motivating and controlling the human, financial, physical and information resources of an organization to reach its goals efficiently and effectively. When you think about it – it’s pretty straight forward. A manager has to consider the costs, manage how s/he spends, work with partners in a team, determine how to collect and use information and finally, how to report on goals effectively.

In a sample of 100 recent project management job descriptions (in international development) on recruitment sites, less than 2% of them specifically listed Pcontinuousoject Management certification as a prerequisite. We then looked at Grant Manawe have partnered with a leading Human Data Analytics company, providing just that type of Psychometric Assessment Service. Contact us if you're interested in a low-cost tool that your Human Resource department can use on a continuous basis to keep your teams healthy and to recruit the exact type of Project or Grant Manager that you need.


A model project manager

The Iberoamerican Journal of Project Management (June, 2019) described the characteristics of a good Project Manager. Interestingly, nearly 80% or more of those are

Management soft skills. emotional intelligence. cultural intelligence.

‘soft skills’ and not the ‘hard skills’ that you’d learn if you were project management certified (see the diagram). In other words, there are some traits that are difficult to teach (team skills, relationship building, adaptability, dealing with stressful environments, etc.). So, a Project Manager needs to have 3 very important qualities:


1. Intelligence (IQ), naturally, to navigate the requirements and the many tasks that s/he will have to perform on a daily basis. Experience blends with 'smarts' and can take someone a long way on technical jobs - but more is required.

2. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is proving to be the more important of the two (IQ & EQ). In fact, some management companies have suggested that the top CEOs in the world have a much higher EQ than IQ and that this is a more important factor in leadership. EQ is a two-way street - it is an individual's ability to manage their own emotions but it is also their ability to recognize and influence the emotions of people around them.

Have you heard of CQ?

3. Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a newer characteristic and many are not yet familiar with it - but it is probably the most important quality of all, especially in international development. For anyone that is travelling around the world working in multi-nationals or humanitarian affairs and development, this could prove to be the most important quality you can have - and yet it is one of the most under-appreciated.

An article in the Harvard Business Review first noted the importance of CQ. It was defined as "the ability to make sense of unfamiliar contexts and then blend in. It has three components—the cognitive, the physical, and the emotional/motivational" (2004). While similar to EQ, it goes further by equipping a person to distinguish behaviors produced by the culture in question. Individuals with a high CQ are in a unique position to adapt quickly to new contexts and to adjust rapidly to new ideas, people, language and practices. Familiarity and comfort with these differing cultures can result in much greater success and better decision-making in complex office work environments.

I Quit! ...er...my manager...

These 3 characteristics - IQ, EQ & CQ - are so important, because the experience of managingor being managed - is different for everyone. Most staff who leave an agency say – ‘I quit my manager!' Interestingly, staff often don't quit 'the agency' - and there's a good reason for it. Despite how smart we are, we're not all cut out for managing - or being managed! A 40-year study of PhDs at UC Berkeley found that employees were 4x less likely to leave a job where their manager had a high EQ.

I’ve trained a lot of people over the years and I realized that when it comes to being a great project manager, you need to know the science - but you need to have the art too! You'll often hear me say that the science is only about 20% of the job! These are the learned skills, tools, processes, policy and compliance regulations. And they’re important – no doubt. But these are all things that can be learned and you can get training on it.


However, that means that 80% of your work is going to be the ‘art of management’ that you learn and acquire through experience, through failure and through the school of life's hard-knocks. And it will be intermingled with a person's own personality traits. There’s a reason that Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War”, not the “Science of War,” to describe a great tactician.

Because of the mixing of these 3 character traits, you can appreciate that no two Project Managers will be the same in terms of their oversight of a project - even if they have the same hard skills training. Every manager will be different. Just reflect on the last time you had to re-hire a project manager half-way through a project. This can be very frustrating for teams and staff if the project sees a high turn-over of management during a project’s life-cycle - which often happens. That is why we should look for those high levels of EQ and CQ in our new hires, while ensuring that they have a strong acumen in Project Management science.


Conclusion

When I am in the field and running a project, I have a single mantra! It is based on the old adage of Murphy's Law:

‘If it can go wrong, it probably will.'

As a result, I apply the Project Manager's best defence, which is to 'hope for the best but plan for the worst!' In international development, can we afford to have the wrong person in the command seat when that risk occurs?


Sure - staff hate to see their manager planning for a bad scenario but risk is part of every project and a good Project Manager will know how to balance motivation, while ensuring risk is calculated and mitigated at every turn - and will help the project teams to adapt easily. To do this well, however, requires a special kind of person who is talented in project management systems but has the emotional and cultural intelligence to read and guide his teams and decisions to a successful Project Closure - every time!

I'm Dr. Phil Tanner, founder of The Grants House. I recommend that you reach out to an expert who can help you identify that 'right fit' for your team, who possesses all of those important characteristics of IQ, EQ and CQ. At The Grants House, we have partnered with a leading Human Data Analytics company, providing just that type of Psychometric Assessment Service. Contact us if you're interested in a low-cost tool that your Human Resource department can use on a continuous basis to keep your teams healthy and to recruit the exact type of Project or Grant Manager that you need.


Next Up: The 20 Elements you need for that Winning Proposal!

@The Grants House, 2023

1-416-456-4718

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1 Comment


I enjoyed reading this blog. As a project manager myself in the international development field, I thought these points about a model project manager were very relevant.

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