Psychology for Project Managers

Filed under Becoming a PM, Lessons Learned | Posted by PMStudent
psychological project management
psychological project management

By Leif Rogell

Anyone who carries out routine work in a traditional organisational structure, e.g. paying salaries in a large company or manufacturing screws in a factory, can in principle work with more or less the same colleagues from training to retirement. During the process, you get to know them well, both the good and the less desirable sides and characteristics. Over the years, an order and team structure are established in the department and you learn how to deal with other colleagues individually.

In project work, new tasks are constantly being mastered. Since different tasks require different competencies, the project organisation and the project team are newly assembled for each project to meet the upcoming challenges. This way of working together is becoming increasingly popular and can be observed in the form of e.g. matrix organisations.

If the working group, the project team, is constantly being reorganised, the probability increases that colleagues who do not know each other so well will have to work together. It is also true, of course, that the risk of misunderstandings and conflicts in such situations increases considerably.

Dealing with such ‘superficial relationships’ within a project team is part of the everyday work of a project manager. Those who understand the psychology of such situations can better assess the behaviour of their colleagues and, if necessary, steer them in the right direction. It is about what happens when people see each other for the first time, how people react differently to unfamiliar situations, how behavioural norms in project teams establish themselves very quickly, how a project team develops from a project group, how corporate culture influences project work, and how personal conflicts can quickly become disruptive factors in project work.

For example: In projects, basically new, one-off and temporary tasks are mastered. Of course, if you are doing something for the first (and only) time, you cannot know in advance how to do it. This, of course, means that you have to teach yourself first (or along the way) how to perform the tasks. Therefore, there are great similarities between how to teach new skills or knowledge and how to approach a project task. For this reason, it is important for the project manager to know and understand how learning processes work and what different learning styles there are, as these can give hints and explanations for the behaviours in the project group. Some people approach new tasks by reflecting and observing, others prefer an active experimental approach. Interesting in this context is that, some learning styles work better than other during different stages of the project life cycle. Imagination works brilliantly when working on the project scope, reflecting works well during planning and the hands-on-mentality is good for the project execution. A project manager aware of such phenomena can help the project team emphasize a helpful behaviour.

A successful project manager is expected to be able to deal with all these aspects of human behaviour, to take them into account in his project management and steer accordingly. Hence, a project manager must not only be well versed in project management methods, economic issues, economic goals and project organisation, but also in psychological aspects of human cooperation within the project environment.

About Leif Rogell

Leif is the owner and founder of bad project e.K. in Mannheim, Germany, and the author of ‘Psychological Project Management.’

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