We exist in a world built by projects and ongoing projects.
No, seriously: think about it. The screen you're reading this on? It's because of a project. The chair you're sitting in? Another completed project. The community you manage or hope to manage? That's a project too.
I never thought of project management in this way, at least not in my work, until I started working with Project Managers (PMs).
I've worked on the Project Management Institute (PMI) social media team for almost two years. A huge part of my work is managing the 370,000+ member PMI Project, Program, and Portfolio Management Group on LinkedIn.
Working with a community of PMs has taught me a lot about the significant role project management skills play in our everyday lives and work. In fact, managing this community has made me realize that everything in life is a project, even you and me. We are projects because we have the ability to learn, grow, and ultimately improve the world around us.
So if we're all living in a world of projects, what exactly is project management? At PMI, we define it as "the use of specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to deliver something of value to people."
It's a project-driven world, and we all have projects to manage. That's why you need to make sure you're cultivating the right skills.
At PMI, we believe every professional toolkit requires power skills, often called "interpersonal" or "soft" skills. PMI’s 2023 Pulse of the Profession explored these abilities in depth. The report shows that organizations that prioritize power skills, such as empathy and problem-solving, see benefits that include better project outcomes and organizational agility.
With that in mind, let's get into the 5 power skills Community Managers should prioritize in their project work.
Technical skills are definitely important when it comes to community management, no doubt about it. But here's the thing, technology is constantly changing, and the platforms we use today might not even exist tomorrow. With AI becoming more prevalent, it's worth wondering if technical skills will be as crucial in the future.
But one thing that will always remain in this line of work is the people. And you'll have to keep using your power skills to interact with them.
That's why I will focus on soft skills rather than technical ones in this article.
Communication isn't always easy. I have two degrees in the subject, and I'm still amazed by how much there is to keep learning and improving upon.
Project Managers work with a number of people at any given time, and, for work to run smoothly, they often have to practice this skill in their day-to-day work.
Similarly, Community Managers need to be excellent communicators. Think about all the audiences we reach — externally and internally! It's not only important to communicate well within the community you manage but within your place of work too, especially when you're showcasing your community. Your project's success depends on it.
Consider the following main types of communication and how you might sharpen these skills or apply them in your work:
Whether it's meetings, presentations, event hosting, interviews, or just a one-on-one conversation, you have a lot to say as a CM because you have to! So you should make it count.
When I felt like I struggled to articulate my thoughts, feelings, and opinions concisely, I took a course called "How to Make Your Point in 1 Minute or Less" from Arizona State University. It was a part of a learning initiative at my job at the time and I took the opportunity to learn.
I noticed an improvement in my verbal communication almost immediately.
Here are a few takeaways from the course:
Don't be afraid to step back and reflect. You may already be a strong verbal communicator, but be critical so you can master it.
I interact with people from all over the world through my job at PMI. For many, English is not their first language. But body language is one everyone understands and can improve.
You convey much about yourself, your community, and your company just with your presence alone.
If you believe you struggle with this, you might consider practicing with someone else or recording yourself and watching it back. A tool like uSpeek might be a good fit if you'd prefer an instant, AI-powered report on your body language, words, and vocal tone.
It's always good to step back and look at yourself with a critical eye to consider where you could make changes.
Both PMs and Community Managers heavily rely on this type of communication. However, just like any other form of communication, anyone can improve their writing skills.
Although it's crucial to follow your organization's guidelines and writing style, here are a few tips to enhance your visual and written communication:
Be yourself: There might be an overall script to follow, but that doesn't mean you should be a perfect reflection of it. You need to be authentic; otherwise, you won't build your personal brand, which is important as you build relationships in and around your community.
Keep it simple: I write for a global audience. So, I often need to think about how my writing translates across cultures. That usually means skipping the metaphors and anecdotes. Everyone should use plain language in their writing as much as possible, as it can prove beneficial for those with cognitive disabilities—and everyone else too!
Have you thought about how you would respond if — or, perhaps more accurately, when — something goes wrong?
Project Managers will know that many things can go wrong in the middle of a project, and communicating that to an entire team without causing widespread panic is an essential skill.
No community is perfect; crises will always arise when people are involved, whether externally with your members or internally with your team.
Thanks to my background in journalism, one of the most valuable guidelines I follow is that credibility is fragile. It can take a lifetime to build, but it can be challenged, damaged, or worse, gone in an instant.
👉Actionable tip: Whether or not you have experience in this area, consider handling mock crises with your team now and then to stay sharp. Create a hypothetical situation and roll with it as practice.
Consider exploring some crisis communication courses too. There are free options available through LinkedIn Learning.
You have to act as the go-between for your community and the business leaders in your organization. So you should hone your listening skills in face-to-face situations and make sure you're documenting and relaying what your community members have to say.
Good storytelling can increase the odds of a project succeeding. Use this skill to communicate messages, connect with stakeholders and advocate for your work.
CMs often need to advocate for their community, and storytelling is a great way to do that — for cross-collaboration and within your community as well.
In my organization, like many others, stories are told through marketing materials and blogs penned by experts themselves. Within my community, I try to provide opportunities for people to share their own stories simply by prompting them to introduce themselves, especially if they are new.
We also implemented a “Weekly Wins” feature for everyone to share positive updates about themselves at the end of each week. Storytelling does not always need to be a periodic, reflective look back. It can flourish in real-time too.
When I worked on the social media teams of a couple of local television news stations, I witnessed firsthand how valuable community stories can be. The numbers didn't lie: the reactions to national coverage paled in comparison to local features. Why? More personalized experiences resonate well, especially when people see themselves in others. Communities are filled with like-minded people with shared yet unique experiences.
Tell stories. The world, and your community, need it.
Community and project management is all about relationship building.
This is a powerful skill that's not only relevant to your community itself but with your coworkers and other partners as well.
Think about how you can strengthen trust among people that can help you with your projects. For example, you may want to host an in-person event for the first time. How would you pull that off? Certainly not alone. You'll need the support of others you've formed relationships with.
👉Pro tip: The best way to get started with relationship building is to introduce yourself. Set up some one-on-ones with your superusers, collaborators, or other coworkers. The more time and energy invested, the deeper the trust between you and those people.
Silos are community killers. Collaborative leadership will improve your ability to work with others, regardless of departmental or other boundaries.
Like PMs, Community Managers must actively promote their work within their organization. Make sure everyone understands the importance of your community, and encourage them to collaborate with you where appropriate. Make it communal for them too. Invite them in. Again, your ability to communicate effectively will come into play, especially with listening and reporting.
The actual Project Managers working in your organization could be a great resource for you as you look to extend into other areas, especially if you're newer to your role. Odds are they've already worked with just about everyone across all departments. Talk to PMs about your work; they may be able to help you make project-oriented connections that will serve you well.
The bottom line is institutional knowledge is a tremendous asset to Community Managers, and extending your reach helps set you up for project success.
As PMI puts it, this skill is how you "recognize the needs of others and actively seek ways to help them." Communities thrive when it's present — not just in you but in others too!
PMs have to perfect this skill to ensure the success of their projects, decrease misunderstandings, and make sure everyone involved in the project feels understood.
Consider how you can make being helpful a norm in your community.
As a Community Manager, you can really set the tone for this. In my work, I try to answer as many questions as I can, mainly about PMI services. And, given the LinkedIn group I manage is made up of professionals, there is a constant flow of knowledge and advice sharing.
A lot of what I see includes veterans helping newcomers obtain their certifications, those conducting research about the field receiving assistance on their surveys, and an exchange of other career tips related to anything like job hunting or dealing with difficult problems.
If all my community members were physically located in the same place — such as a neighborhood — I believe everyone would behave most neighborly. This may not directly translate in all settings, but wholesome and helpful are ideal descriptors for any community.
For PMs, strategic thinking focuses on finding and developing unique opportunities to create value for the company by reaching out to and enabling people who can affect a company's direction or a project's success.
I work with a huge group. If I get into a habit of mentally chunking everyone together, that could be detrimental to the overall experience for the members. Not everyone has the same needs or trajectory, so they must be approached differently.
The community I manage is a mix of project management veterans, newcomers, and everyone in between. Some are just learning the ropes, while others have literally helped write the book on it. So being strategic about how I interact with them can mean the difference in members choosing to stay or leave our community.
Strategic thinking is a vital power skill to develop for situations for customer conversion too.
In his article, 3 Ways to Turn Members into Customers, Mac Reddin suggests separating members into three buckets: hot, warm, and slow-burn. It is essential to understand the nuance of different members at different stages so that you can cater to their individual needs.
Communities are comprised of — and exist because of — individuals. Understanding that can help you deliver personalized experiences in a large group setting.
Periodically step back and take stock of your community and your organization as a whole. This can help you connect the dots between the strategic initiatives of both.
Identify overlaps and capitalize on opportunities through your projects. There's undoubtedly a bigger picture, so always maintain awareness of your place in it.
Every day I'm reminded of the benefits of being surrounded by project-minded people. It's helped me gain a better understanding of both how and why I do what I do. It has made me a better Community Manager.
If you feel like you still have a long way to go with the power skills I mentioned earlier, think of yourself as a project that's always a work in progress. You can continuously improve and develop. Taking the time and putting in the effort to enhance these skills will help you on your journey and benefit those around you.