Communication just might be the single most crucial skill a project manager can master.
Communication is Critical in Project Management
It’s been said that communication takes up as much as 90 percent of a project manager’s duties, and I’ve found that to be pretty spot on … except for the times when communication takes up more than 90 percent.
Wrap your head around that for a moment: 90 percent of what a project manager does pertains to communication. And the importance of communication in project management hits another level when you’re working remotely as a project manager or working with remote teams.
We tend to get hyper-focused on learning processes, memorizing steps and formulas and learning how and when to use PM-esque buzzwords and yet, 90 percent of what we do is communicate.
These are things we all know how to do already, and most of us do them frequently in all aspects of our lives.
That doesn’t mean we do them well.
And even if we do, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find ways to improve.
I majored in Communications and have been writing, editing, speaking in meetings and leading project pitches and delivering reports for much of my career, but I still have much to learn and improve upon when it comes to communication in project management.
Odds are, you do, too.
And if you want to be a successful project manager, you should give this particular Knowledge Area the time and attention it deserves.
Improving Project Management Communications
Let’s take a look at some ways to level up your project management communication game.
Seek Out Communications Courses
You’ll find many communications courses online and in colleges and universities.
Do a little digging and find one that resonates with you. It absolutely does not have to be tailored to communication in project management in order to be relevant and helpful for you as a project manager.
The best Comms courses will dig into basic sending and receiving skills that can have a meaningful impact on many aspects of your life.
I found a great communications course offered by the hosts of the PM Happy Hour podcast, and it was an absolutely amazing experience that left me with a lot of tools and techniques that I use every day.
Whatever you choose, working on your communication through course settings — either online or in person — can really help sharpen your abilities as a project manager.
Read Books and Articles on Effective Communication
The Project Management Institute has very well-written white paper on the importance of communication, referring to effective communication as “the very bedrock of business.”
The paper goes on to describe the importance of communication in delivering projects that meet their goals, and it outlines some steps you can take to improve as a communicator. Well worth a read.
During that communications course I reference above, a handful of reading material came up from both the instructors and my fellow students.
One that stood out to me, which I purchased, is “Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high.” This New York Times Bestseller claims to have changed the way millions communicate, and I believe it.
As you might have guessed from the title, the book keys on effective communication when the conversation gets “crucial,” which is to say, it helps you navigate communicating when things start to become heated, or awkward, or intense, or any number of other scenarios that tend to throw us off and make it difficult for us to communicate effectively.
I highly recommend Crucial Conversations, but it’s far from the only written work on how to become a better communicator.
I would love to hear any recommendations you might have for books, articles or blog posts that have helped you improve your communication; drop a line in the comments below.
Practice More Efficient Communication
This one is an ongoing challenge for me, particularly when it comes to writing. I have a tendency to overwrite, whether it’s an email, Slack message or blog post (c’mon, you were already thinking it), and so I create exercises for myself to work on that.
Here are the steps I go through before sending a message; try them out!
- Read and then re-read what you’ve written.
- Think about the recipient, about the time it will take them to digest your message, about the thoughts and responses they might have.
- Think about the messages you’re attempting to deliver, the essential information or key point you need to make sure you get across.
- Did you bury your key point in a mountain of text? Is your recipient going to have the key takeaways you intended, or did you muddy things up too much?
- Rewrite or pare down accordingly.
It’s a lot to think through, but I highly recommend this approach, particularly if you’re sending text-based communications to a busy stakeholder or someone high up the chain who simply doesn’t have time to digest more than the essential information.
There’s a well-known concept in writing and editing circles about the difficulty of getting your point across succinctly. A quote, often attributed to Mark Twain (though it’s unclear whether he actually said it), sums it up nicely:
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
Practice makes perfect, as they say, so practice communicating, and remember that communicating is not just about delivering messages; it’s about receiving them as well.
Practice being a better listener.
Practice taking notes effectively while fully ingesting what’s being said.
Practice writing succinctly.
Practice speaking with confidence and getting your message across.