Succeeding as Project Manager

By Rui Miguel SANTOS

Rui Miguel SANTOS is one of the key trainers of our Executive Training course on EU Project Management. Rui accepted to answer some of our questions and provide a few tips, a couple of weeks before the beginning of the next edition of the course. The EU Project Management course offers a five-day interactive journey through the lifespan of European projects, from EU funding opportunities to tender writing, project implementation and evaluation. The next edition will take place in Bruges from 18 to 22 November 2019. We will also have a Summer edition from 1 to 5 June 2020.


What would you recommend to anyone wanting to become a project manager?

Resilience is certainly a key word. Project management is an extremely demanding, stressful activity where most of the time we have to face unforeseen events that require immediate action. It is also important to clearly define the market segments where you want to work in the future. Working with public or private funds, in industrialised or developing economies, in grants or service contracts require different skills and knowledge. Define clearly your career path and find the adequate educational background to frame your practical experience.

There has been an increase in the demand for project management skills on the job market. How can you explain this?

Investment decisions became extremely conservative in recent years, especially after the global economic crisis. Thus, the quality criteria to assess project proposals (both in the public and private sectors) became more demanding and meeting them requires specific professional skills. The same (higher) level of requirements and expectations also applies to the actual implementation of approved projects. 

What makes an excellent project manager?

Nowadays, the capacity to understand and adapt to cultural diversity is absolutely critical. 20 years ago, a project team would have included 2 maybe 3 different nationalities. Today a same project can involve a team with professionals from over 10 different countries and backgrounds, working in 3 different time zones and according to different calendars. This being said, a good project manager should also have solid technical background combined with social and soft skills. 

One of the main challenges that project managers face is being able to work and deliver under a lot of pressure and tight timeframes. Any advice or tips here?

Always keep in mind that the purpose of a project is to produce results for your target group(s). Establishing priorities on the basis of this ultimate goal is one of the keys to success. 

You have managed EU-funded projects for over 25 years and have trained a number of professionals on project management. What have you learnt and how do you think that project management of EU-funded actions could evolve in the future?

I believe that in the future, project managers will be first and foremost accountable for the outcomes they can deliver to the target groups rather than for the implementation of activities or delivery of outputs. The accountability ceiling of implementing parties is moving upwards on the results chain. There will be less focus on the delivery of products and services and more responsibility for the actual results produced for the benefit of the target groups. This small (enormous) change will most likely have an impact on all dimensions of project management including administrative and financial procedures, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and reporting systems.  


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