Method is important, but knowing how to use it is more so

Chris McLean, Head of PM at Fujitsu, makes statements that aspiring project managers should heed (Inbox, Project Magazine June 2011). Although he was specifically commenting on getting a balance between academic courses and soft skills to create resource pools with broad and deep capability, similar advice can be given to those PMs focussing only on method and controls, sometimes to the exclusion of training and development in soft skills.
Broad adoption of competence based assessment such as RPP across industry should help to drive this movement, but there seems reluctance to consider PM as a set of transferable soft skills rather than some technical specialism or method. Evidence of this is seen across most job ads and agencies, which continue to ask for sector specialists, application and technical expertise, and even vendor knowledge. I have never seen ‘Insufficient technical or sector knowledge’ in any of the NAO or Chaos reports on reasons for project failure. As Chris points out, CXOs have known for some time that it is usually soft skills / emotional intelligence that are the difference between success and failure.
Some in the know go even further. James Reed, Chairman of blue chip recruitment agency Reed, headlines in the Appointments supplement of the Sunday Times (5th June) with ‘Attitude is worth more than skills’. This reminds me of Professor Rodney Turner’s definition of PM as ‘An attitude of mind’.
At a presentation by some of the UK’s most influential CIOs at the BCS in May, Christine Connelly, CIO of the NHS, responded to a question on tips for reaching the top with, ‘In the 90s we were recruited for our knowledge; in the noughties we were promoted for our skills; and now our career depends on our behaviours.
Whether you go this far or not, it is time for PMs and the recruitment industry to face up to the fact that it is development of Emotional Intelligence that will decide on how far people progress in their careers, not deep knowledge of technology or method.  Though knowledge is important, it is not useful by itself.   Or as Bob Assirati, recently retired major project director of the OGC said, ‘Method is important, but knowing how to use it is more so’.

[This appeared in the letters page of Project Magazine July 2011]