Five ways to retain your skilled project managers

Project management is no longer the preserve of big business or specialist sectors such as engineering and construction. 

In an agile world, where businesses of all sizes need to be ready to adapt and bring new products and services to market ever more quickly, almost every manager must be a project manager.

Project management skills are in high demand in a job market in which the power is now in the hands of the applicant, according to Bersin by Deloitte’s Predictions for 2015: “Today, thanks to tremendous transparency in the job market [and access to social media], people with in-demand skills are flooded with targeted job opportunities online.”

Over a third of companies plan to hire staff with project management skills in the next 12 months. Yet many businesses, even the largest enterprises, are failing to take simple and often cost-effective steps to recruit and retain project managers effectively. 

SMEs looking to attract and retain the brightest and best project management talent can compete with the big boys without blowing the budget.

1) Communicate

Use every opportunity to understand what inspires and engages current project managers. Appraisal processes are vital to retain the best talent and should never be tick box exercises.

2) Foster personal development

Develop their careers through training in best practice and also provide diverse challenges. Avoid the temptation to assign project managers to the same type of project again and again just because they have completed that type of project successfully in the past. 

These project managers will soon begin to feel that they are stagnating and start to look for an opportunity that offers more challenge and a chance to keep their skills up to date.

3) Take a strategic view of recruitment

Don’t just recruit to fill the same post when people leave. It may work better to hire new staff at a junior level and train them up or hire interim freelancers. When training budget is limited, prioritise candidates with good soft skills. 

If a person seems to have good soft skills, but does not tick all the accreditation boxes, then it might be easier to address through training rather than trying to develop people skills which may not be so intuitive.

4) Use consultants wisely

Too many organisations hire in consultants when they don’t need to, failing to use the opportunity to recognise and develop existing talent. Other organisations drive away their best project managers with an overly heavy workload when they could benefit from external consultants to share the load.

5) Champion a positive project management culture

Create a clear pitch to sell the organisation’s benefits to potential future project managers.

Candidates will be comparing remuneration packages but once you have got that right and created a competitive package, the next step is to make sure that potential candidates know exactly what your organisation is about so that the right candidates are attracted to you and the best match is made.

Project management does not have a widely recognised, clearly defined career path. Some larger organisations in certain sectors will have so many project managers that they are able to create a hierarchy and offer promotion through the ranks. 

However, most companies of any size face the challenge of creating their own individual project manager career lifecycle that will keep the most effective project managers onside. This will incorporate intelligent recruitment, training, coaching and developing a more varied career path. SME businesses that get this right will be well placed to challenge and retain the best staff. 

Dennis Sheehan is senior training consultant at ILX Group and Chris Jones is managing director of Progility Recruitment.

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