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The Skills You Need to be a Top Communicator

Communication Skills

“The successful project communicator is a good networker and builds effective working relationships within the project, across the wider organisation of which the project is a part and sometimes externally,” writes Ann Pilkington in her book, Communicating Projects.

You need good communication skills in order to be able to do that, but what are ‘good communication skills’? Ann sets out some of the technical and soft skills you need to be able to communicate effectively on your project. Here’s my take on her conclusions.

Strategic skills

You need to be able to communicate as a “strategic adviser”, as Ann puts it. This includes:

  • Working at board level
  • Providing strategic counsel when asked (and, I imagine, sometimes when not asked)
  • Having advanced stakeholder management skills
  • Having advanced influencing skills
  • Understanding how to use research to inform strategy
  • Being able to speak in terms that the rest of the business understand
  • Building effective relationships
  • Drawing on best practice and the latest thinking to inform what you do.

Strategic communications are used for:

  • Supporting change
  • Building engagement
  • Generating feedback
  • Supporting the communication skills of other managers/team members
  • Advising upwards.

Strategic communication gets your project in front of the board and helps you get involved in strategic discussions that affect your project. This puts you in a better position to advise on the project in general but also on how communication should be managed more generally.

You’ll need the respect of your board-level team if you are going to be successful in this capacity, and if you don’t have the gravitas to do it justice, bow out gracefully and get your project sponsor to do it instead.

Technical skills

Communication also has to happen at a more hands-on, technical level. This requires the project manager to have:

  • Good writing skills, for example the ability to write clear project management reports
  • Experience at managing a range of communication channels (e.g. email, social communication, presentations etc)
  • An understanding of the management of design and print projects for preparing printed communications like leaflets
  • Attention to detail – nothing like a mailing out to people with incorrect names to undermine credibility in your project!
  • An understanding of the project management methodology and how communication fits in.

Technical project communication results in defined outputs like:

  • Posters
  • Emails
  • Newsletters
  • Magazines
  • Intranet and social media sites
  • Presentations
  • Status reports.

Project communications involves a wide range of techniques from being able to brief a designer for your desk drop leaflet to building a wiki to capture project lessons learned.

Good technical writing skills will help you construct a story, tailor it to your audience, present it clearly and then follow up to see if your message has been understood. (Of course, you could pay my company to do it for you, if this isn’t your strongest skill.)

Overall, confidence in your ability is important as this will help you avoid wishy-washy communications or that feeling where you don’t know if it is good enough so you don’t do anything at all.

Communication is often very tricky to get right and very easy to get wrong, so have confidence in your convictions, plan it properly and go for it!

Read my review of Communicating Projects.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

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