Why Communicators Need Project Management Skills

Last month, I led a workshop on project management for 100 public relations leaders as part of the PRSA International Conference. On November 12th I’ll be teaching the same workshop to members of the International Association of Business Communicators at the Heritage Regional Conference being held in Richmond, Virginia. I have found that investing in my own development by studying project management techniques, terminology and tactics that I have been asked to take on higher level executive leadership initiatives as a project leader.

According to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) global survey, Pulse of the Profession 2018, around $2 trillion dollars per year is wasted in American business due to poor project management. At any one time 37% of an organization’s projects are at risk of failure. And by 2027, employers will need 88 million individuals in project management oriented roles.

I believe that communications professionals need to develop additional skills in order to stay relevant in today’s marketplace. And one of the top complementary skillsets to have is project management. It’s a myth to think that only technical professionals like IT managers and engineers can learn and apply the basics. When I look at what makes a good project manager, I believe that communications leaders are a natural fit for this type of work. The characteristics include love of their work, clear vision, strong team building skills, structure and alignment, strong interpersonal skills, discipline, and excellent communications skills. The most successful individuals in the PR space have all of these attributes.

The Project Management Institute, or PMI, is the professional association that project managers join and sets the global standard. The comprehensive authority on project management practices is the “PMBOK” or A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. What I’ve learned through PMI is that project managers bring strategy, customer insights and opposition insights to the table – just like strong communications professionals. PMI advocates that project management pros have a combination of technical, leadership and strategic/business management expertise. This is referred to as the “Talent Triangle.” A strong business communications leader often has just these traits as well.

Why Projects Fail

When we look at why projects fail, we see that scope creep is the number one reason followed by overallocated resources and poor stakeholder management. The other big problem is organizations often do not have a systematic and well-planned approach to change management. Some of the factors that drastically improve the results of a project include an engaged executive sponsor, frequent internal team planning sessions, as well as detailed stakeholder planning and outreach. One of the critical roles that project managers play is to manage interdependencies and resources across the organization before, during and after a project is launched.

There are nine key knowledge areas for any project that include: scope, schedule, cost, quality, resources, communications, risk management, procurement and stakeholder management. PMI training covers all of the inputs and outputs for each of these knowledge areas and the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification tests your grasp of each area.

As communicators, we are trained to scan the internal and external environment as we craft the strategy and messages that a particular issue touches. The same is true for project managers when they are leading a large scale enterprise-wide effort or even a divisional business initiative. Everything from organizational culture, geopolitical issues, employee capability to marketplace conditions, legal restrictions and industry standards or regulations–even the weather–can play a factor in the success or failure of a project. To successfully lead a project, it is recommended that you have a robust risk management plan for each of the possible scenarios.

Tracy Imm
ABC, APR; Director, Public Affairs
 Maryland Insurance Administration
Catch Tracy’s session on Becoming a Project Management Ninja with Your Communications Activities
 at the 2018 IABC Heritage Conference.