Technical vs Charismatic Project Leader

Would you want a project manager to be technically adept as if you were raising a lead that has vast experience on the project? Or are you looking for some one to manage the people on the project and hope that team has the expertise to get the job done? The

optimal solution would be to find some one that is a practiced expert in both sides of the equations. Finding a true leader that is a subject matter expert is like finding a needle in a haystack. Once found or created hold on to them because it’s worth it for the productivity and efficiency a true leader/technical expert can bring to a company. We’ll examine both technical skills and people skills in the capacity of the software project manager. Also, advantages of each type of skill will be gone over and then weighed. Advantages to the business will answer the question, if you had to choose one over the other or one in greater proportion to the other, which would be more beneficial for a project manager to have.

Advantages of Technical Skills
With a varied skill set, it allows a project manager more perspective and different angles of attack when it comes to problem resolution. Often linked to experience, it allows for multiple ways of scrutinizing an obstacle or difficulty faced by the team. Being technically proficient allows for quicker resolution of these impediments to the team. Which in turn help to save precious time and energy, resources that are at a premium on any development endeavor. Another precious resource, money, can be saved through proper upkeep and upgrade of hardware and software. They have a practical understanding of the systems that they use.

Say that the company wanted to put up a website to show off a new product, think about all the technical skills that needed to make a fairly simple site. Registering a domain name, DNS, Configuring an Apache web server to host the new site, HTML, PHP, Making forms, MySQL, CSS, FTPing files, SSH, Search engine submissions. Technically savvy (geeks) people don’t go to retail stores to buy a computer either, they build it themselves. Technology depreciates so rapidly, and since component quality can vary widely, knowing how to buy great value at a great price is a very practical skill. Lastly, we have confidence. Competence creates confidence with new technology. The more technical wisdom you gain, the faster you’ll adapt and feel in control of technology instead of intimidated by it.

Advantages of People Skills
The project manager manages all the resources on a project. One of the most valuable resources in any company is its human resource. Managing human resources take great skill and effort. It is not learned over night and people are not born great managers of others. Rather, it is a learned skill much like becoming technically proficient with information technology. You can be a manager without interpersonal skills and still get the job done but not as effectively. The people under you are affected the most by your management style/skill. A Manager that can pull a team together and keep them cohesive using people skills has an easier time managing any project because quite a few of the problems that arise on a project are a clash of personalities. Those that possess people skill are leaders that can bring vision to the team and are the oil in the business machine that keeps thing running smoothly. They are “includers” not “excluders”, and bring the necessary skill sets together and work to minimize interpersonal friction on the team. With a harmonious team, productivity goes up and problems encountered are more apt to come to a resolution faster because people have a genuine interest to help each other because the leader has turned them into stakeholders.

Effective communication is the cornerstone for any good leader. The ability to get across the goals of the project and motivate people towards that end even when they think it should be going in another direction. Leaders are consistent but not rigid; can make decisions but just as easily accept input from team members. They put your fear and uncertainty to rest knowing they are working to get the needed resource that will allow the team to accomplish their tasks. Another name for a manager with people skills is motivator. Most people do things because of what they get out of it. Whether it is money, prestige, or recognition, a good leader becomes a motivator and figures out what works best for his team. What works for one person may not work for the next. It is not enough to be motivated to do a good job; they have to work as a team to accomplish the task.

Technical Versus People Skills
The question is which is better to have as project manager, someone that is technically adept or the manager with charisma and can get people to get along and be productive. The answer is that it depends. It depends on what your short term and long term goals are. If you have a pressing need and have problems that need to be solved now, the technically skilled person is the “tool” that you pull out to fix it and get it up and running in short order. Now, if you want your business to run smoothly and retain good people, look to the manager with people skills. It is the leadership attributes of the manager that determines the ease of acceptance and implementation when it comes to company policy. This would imply that the team is eagerly applying and trusting of the direction, not being forced to implement it and questioning its feasibility. When looking at the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) for software [2] that Finney describes in his essay [1], level three and beyond require a team effort to bring it to the next level and to maintain that level within an organization.

A manager has a larger impact on the overall success of the organization’s profitability, thus a lack of leadership has the greatest effect, both positive and negative. Leadership is the number one component of professional development for any manager. You can’t have a manager that is just technically savvy nor can you just have one that is people oriented and have no technical knowledge of the project. You need to have the right mix of experience. Early professional leadership development ensures that it is ingrained when the management opportunities arrive.

Again, if you need a task oriented manager go with a higher technical to people skilled manager. For guiding, coaching and inspiring a team to bigger and better things look to the rare and hard to find leader with the technical element and the unique ability to truly inspire their subordinates to achieve more than they ever thought they could. You will get greater benefits from the manager with people skills, because they will be mentoring the next generation of leaders for your organization.

[1] Finney, Russ (Date 1999), Winning Project Teams. Retrieved on 30 Jul 2007 from

[2] Royce, Walker (Feb 2002), CMM vs. CMMI: From Conventional to Modern Software Management. Retrieved on 31 July 2007 from