This is a guest post by Michelle Symonds, on behalf of Parallel Project Training.
Clearly, men and women are different and deal with situations differently in the workplace. The skills that they naturally excel at rarely coincide and it is the innate talents of women that help to make them better project managers than men.
The industries in which women work as project managers vary and few work in the still male-dominated ones such as construction and engineering, but there are plenty of female project managers in industries where the majority of workers are male even though it might not be entirely male-dominated, such as IT.
So just what are the natural talents that a woman might have that make her a more successful project manager and that differentiate her from her male colleagues?
Good communication skills
For a start women are good communicators – they like to talk to people and will instigate impromptu conversations – being a good communicator is something very different from gossiping or being chatty, but it is this inclination to talk that helps a woman in a project management role.
Regular, informal conversations with the project team make it much easier to raise concerns or highlight problems that might eventually derail a project if not discussed openly. They also make it more likely that the project manager herself will have noticed an issue before it becomes a problem.
Good communication is not just about talking and listening to the team – it is also about documenting effectively, producing clear reports and passing those on to the interested parties.
Making the complex simple
It is about striking the right balance between easily understood documents and reports, but which also contain enough detail to highlight potential issues and provide reassurance that the business objectives are being met. It is about inviting feedback and encouraging discussions in a non-judgemental way and creating a working atmosphere in which ideas and lateral thinking can flourish.
Women project managers do not use complexity or technical jargon to impress or overwhelm their peers and will only add complexity where necessary to clarify requirements. Even then, the best female communicators will make a complex issue seem uncomplicated.
Motivating the team
Good communication also motivates a team – by taking a personal interest in individual team members and being sympathetic to their concerns, women project managers build loyal, motivated teams who are willing to be flexible and adaptable. And motivated teams will always have the advantage when it comes to delivering a successful outcome, particularly in complex projects.
Men can, of course, motivate a team but these talents within female project managers can feel innate and effortless – they know instinctively when to praise and when to criticise.
Women can bring out the best in a team by discouraging individuals from competing against each other. They are also adept at defusing conflict and, when under pressure, they do not lose sight of the fact that a motivated team will always work more effectively than a disheartened one.
So communication and inter-personal skills, and team-working and team-building expertise are areas where women excel in a project management environment.
Creating an environment for success
But the best women project managers also combine a logical, meticulous way of thinking and working with creativity, and this combination encourages innovation. And innovation is often the way to truly successful projects – projects that exceed expectations.
We so often talk about successful projects coming in on-time and on-budget and meeting the requirements or business objective. But why not aim for projects that are delivered early, under-budget and exceeding expectations. Is that really too much to aspire to?
Women also appreciate that projects can fail when egos get in the way and different groups or departments do not work cohesively together to reach the shared goal. They understand that any work environment that allows a blame culture to develop or flourish will have a far worse chance of delivering projects successfully than one which has an attitude of accepting something has gone wrong and moving on.
Women’s multi-tasking abilities give them an advantage when it comes to managing change and unexpected risks efficiently. They are unlikely to be fazed by changes to priorities, requirements, budget or staffing levels. That’s not to say they will not plan for such events – every experienced project manager knows that any, or all, of these factors can affect a project but they will simply deal with the issue efficiently or put the contingency plan into action with minimum fuss.
So maybe women are better communicators, are more collaborative and have the multi-tasking skills to manage projects better than their male counterparts but the definition of “better” will always raise issues of how success in projects is actually measured.
Nevertheless, a 2007 survey of experienced project managers in the U.S. reported that female project managers considerably surpassed male project managers on similar projects in these essential areas:
- Fewer projects abandoned
- More projects delivered that met or exceeded expectations
- Substantially better adherence to the project schedule
- Better results with respect to the budget.
The survey by the Project Management Perspectives research group even suggests that, in the data they used, the projects carried out by women were more difficult, based on resource effort required. Even if women manage the small, cheap projects, the level of difficulty is greater.
Of course, project managers can be good or bad regardless of gender. Female project managers do not have all the advantages when it comes to project management but never underestimate their natural skills and talents – they could be a major factor in the final outcome of a project.
**Update, 5 September 2011. Michelle’s companion article to this one, called Do Men Make The Best Project Managers? is now available on the Parallel Project blog.**