In a successful project-based organization, it can be easy to stand by and allow the project machine to work. Indeed, it is designed to operate efficiently with the consistent application of resources: people and time. But too often we take for granted that the grease for the cogs in this machine comes in a skillset that is difficult to measure: Informal Project Management.

In the project environment, informal project management has come to mean several things. It is the work of project managers applying formal project management tools to small, disorganized bodies of activities. It is also the work of project managers applying social skills and community wisdom to motivate and inspire team members to do more effective and efficient work. Here are four critical skills that the best project managers cultivate in their own informal project management efforts.

  1. Know when to ask… and when to tell. In well-planned projects, it’s easy to get lost in definition. After all, the team put in the time and the energy to document project tasks at an exhaustive level in order to let task definition go when it comes time to do the work. But sometimes, the best and most profound inspiration can come from team members who are actively involved in project work. Know when to ask the team for their wisdom, how to take criticism on the project, and how to tell them to stay focused on the work at hand.
  2. Know your team members … and their skills. When a sweater begins to unravel, it begins with just one loose thread. So it is with unravelling projects, too. It will start with one team member who has misrepresented their skill level and is falling behind on their tasks, and it will end with chaos, as those tasks begin to affect other tasks, until eating away at the critical path. Take the time to get to know your team’s skills so that you will better trust their estimates, and have a framework for resource discussions.
  3. Know your role as project manager … and as conductor. As a project manager, every task is important. But there is a tempo to all projects, and a good project manager will stand before the team not as a task master, but as a conductor, tapping out the tempo to keep things moving toward completion. Get intimate with your project schedule; use it to motivate when your team hits the critical path, and to relax when things slow down.
  4. Know when to get in line … and when to push. Most companies do not organize around projects. They are organized around process and procedure — process and procedure that can impede your projects. Expert project managers know when to move outside the system to keep their teams moving forward, and how to rebuild bridges that may have been destroyed in the process.