There is one major skill that does not get mentioned enough on projects and that is about the ability to manage upwards. Managing upwards on projects is not just about the quality of reporting, and it is certainly not a “kiss up, kick-down” mentality, but rather the opposite.
Managing upwards means that the project is driven by a dialogue between the technology and the business. It means that the project manager must validate that the business case is genuinely sufficient to justify the existence of the project, that the requirments have been prioritized with an appropriate break down between what is most important and what is least important, and that the users give reliable feedback when they verify deliverables.
Managing upwards on projects does not imply that designers and engineers, developers and testers, decide what the customer needs, but that they help the customer to frame their requirments in terms that are adequate to start and to continue developing a useful and usable solution.
Managing upwards uses measures and indicators with enough bravery to communicate not only what is important, but also what is easy to measure. It gathers and shares knowledge ('known knowns') as early as possible, admits that there are uncertainties ('unknown unknowns'), analyses and takes ownership for risks ('known unknowns'), and understands that it is the lack of communication across disciplines and up and down organisations ('unknown knowns') that can kill off success.
Managing upwards includs understanding the way different managers and decision makers like to receive their information; some like it in visual format, graphic, text or numbers, or in the right combination, the big picture or the detail, the riskrs, the goals, the actions or the options. It means communicating according to people's preferences.
Managing upwards is about the tactics of delivering the appropriate message that leads to the best decisions; showing red when you need help, orange when problems are under control and green when you are getting the progress and the support that you need. It's about demonstrating that you buy into the strategy and understand the context of the business and not just the project. It's about being a positive team player and not a moaner, and being a leader by showing that you can generate energy rather than stress.
Managing upwards relies on stakeholder management skills, which is another way of saying that you need to understand the organisational and institutional complexities, that you can communicate, lobby, promote, sell; market, persuade, influence and, in other words, exercise political nous in a way that preserves trust.
Managing upwards is a skill that organisations need quite badly as they adapt to a world of changing technological possibilities.