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Project Management Starts with Relationships


My dad has had several careers throughout his adult life: Army officer, knowledge management associate, leadership consultant, and ministry coordinator. Through each of these career shifts, his management style has never changed. He put the needs of others above his own and built strong relationships with and among his teams. No matter the job, duty station, or role, I have memories of his co-workers telling me how much they appreciated working with or for him. Ever since I left home, I have always loved checking in with him. I share stories from my classroom, adventures, and family. Even though he was an eager listener, we never had much in common work-wise... until I started integrating Project Based Learning in my classroom. As I became an experienced practitioner and coach of PBL, we found more and more overlap in our careers. We began to swap stories and strategies for managing the learning and project process.


We live in a project-based world. Just about every career and task in life is a series of projects - putting a new floor into your home, buying a car, planning a family event, etc. This is one of many reasons that we at Applied Coaching for Projects are champions for using Project Based Learning in k-12 classrooms. We believe that it's essential for students to experience High-Quality Project Based Learning so that they can develop the skills and competencies necessary to be successful in life.

As a quick refresher, the criteria of HQPBL (versus a traditional project) are:

  • Intellectual Challenge and Accomplishment

  • Authenticity

  • Public Product

  • Collaboration

  • Project Management

  • Reflection

In some previous blogs, we outlined resources and strategies for some of the " criteria. I described how you might enhance student interest in projects by leveraging Intellectual Challenge and Accomplishment and Reflection in "Are Your Students Losing Interest in Your Project? Borrow Strategies from Science Classrooms!". My colleague Gina offered some ideas for Intellectual Challenge and Accomplishment, Authenticity, and Collaboration in her blog "Student-Led Projects: Artistry Through Choice".

Project Management

The HQPBL framework makes a case for Project Management: "Whether it's on the job or in their personal lives, people work on projects, and it helps to know how to manage time, tasks, and resources efficiently" (HQPBL pg. 5). This is evidenced by my dad and I suddenly finding connections between my classroom and his consulting world. He was excited that my students were developing this skill set because he knew it would give them an advantage in life. In fact, as I started collecting resources for this blog, he encouraged me to refer to the works and publications of the Project Management Institute (PMI), whom he refers to as the "industry standard". Coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally), PMI's philanthropic arm, the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation, was a partner in defining the HQPBL framework.

I spent some time digging into how the business and project management world describes the criteria of the ideal project manager, referring to resources from PMI and other partners in the industry. I discovered that: (A) project management is incredibly complicated, and (B) there's no consensus on the criteria. Most sources agreed on many of the skills you'd expect: organization, knowledge of the industry, communication, collaboration, etc. The skill that stood out the most to me was building and sustaining relationships in teams and with stakeholders. In his book, "Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers: The People Skills You Need to Achieve Outstanding Results," Anthony Mersino stated,

"Relationships are the key to success as a PM [Project Manager]. This includes the relationships with our team members as well as with the other project stakeholders. Strong relationships with all project stakeholders will buffer us during difficult times, help us gather more complete information, support us when we need it, and enable us to make better decisions." (p. 15)

This makes me believe that it is essential to teach our students how to develop and maintain relationships to prepare them for Project Management. Relationships can reduce the friction of decision-making and make accountability more authentic. We're more likely to thrive in conditions where we feel we belong and are seen. Do you remember what I mentioned about the things my dad's co-workers often said? They recounted an appreciation for him, what he meant to them, and how he made sure they were seen. I'm confident that the people we remember as the very best managers have some consistent competencies.

Three Project Management Competencies

I recently found a conference paper called "What are the core competencies of a successful project manager?" by Nathalie Udo and Sonja Koppensteiner. They defined three project management competency areas: knowledge, proven experience, and personality. Udo and Koppensteiner emphasized the importance of the personality competency and described it as having two pillars:

"The first pillar contains personality characteristics such as can-do attitude, confidence, enthusiasm, open mindedness, adaptability, and personal integrity. The second pillar contains people management skills such as ability to communicate, ability of motivation, ability to influence and political sensitivity." (Udo, N. & Koppensteiner, S. 2004)

I was intrigued, especially by the second pillar. Their conference paper includes a checklist that can be used for hiring project managers (or even for preparing oneself to interview):

  • Build and manage interpersonal relationships

  • Ability to influence and win respect

  • Know when NOT to manage

  • Politically sensitive

  • Active listening

  • Role model

  • Fairness

(Udo, N. & Koppensteiner, S. 2004)

Are you noticing anything? I see strong ties between this aspect of project management and ACP's domains of collaboration and CASEL's domains of Social and Emotional Learning. Personality, especially in the realm of management, has often been the subject of "nature versus nurture" debate. I believe that personality can be developed, and the ability to foster relationships is at its core. As with all skills and knowledge, developing this capacity begins with intentionality. What aspects of relationship building are you intentionally helping your students to build? How will they be empowered to continue? How will they know if they've grown? To help you get started, we've created a chart that aligns with the checklist outlined above.

Download a PDF below

Project Management Skills
Download PDF • 131KB

As you review the chart above, you might be wondering what tools and strategies you can use to scaffold the development of these important skills. Don't worry! We've got you covered! Be sure to download both of our free ebooks: SEL Connected and Connecting Together. The insights and advice in these books can be used to furnish you with resources to strengthen your practices. You might also explore some of the strategies, tools, templates, and posters on our resources page.

If this world is project-based, and if we're trying to equip our learners with the skills they need to succeed, then helping our students learn how to develop stronger relationships should be imperative. As we envision our students in the future, we should hope for them to be people like the best managers that we've experienced in our lives. (I know that I would love for more folks to be like my dad and other mentors I look up to.) Why not start today?


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