Critical Thinking & Project Manager Competence

How would you establish these 8 manager competencies for your project teams? 

1. Respecting & Commanding Respect.

2. Developing Support

3. Creating Involvement

4. Results-Orientation

5. Creating Clarity

6. Managing Information & Maintaining Control

7. Organizational Orientation

8. Self-confidence & Flexibility

We received this challenge years ago from researchers who had isolated the competencies associated with successful project teams. The researchers sell assessment surveys to measure competencies, so proactively wanted to be able to recommend how to remediate any weakness.  Here is what we recommended based on our decades of experience helping teams improve thinking collaboration with our workshops. In this article we’ve added the factors other researchers identified with exceptional high performing teams.  We recommend teams (team members and managers) attend workshops together to practice the skills.

Here are our one-day workshops for teams: Systematic Project Management, Systematic Decision-Making, and Systematic Problem-Solving.  And our two-day Critical Thinking for Leaders two-day workshop for project customers/sponsors.

#1 Respecting & Commanding Respect

We’ve found that the whole project team must understand and trust the thinking process that defines, plans and implements the project.  The value the team puts on the process relates to the value the team puts on the project manager. The manager is given respect based upon their own competence and ability to coach, guide and direct team members in an effective and supportive way. Training the full team puts them all on an equal footing.

The process should be useful, simple and relevant to gain rapid and willing cooperation. [Needless complexity can lead to confusion – and confusion to fear.  Fear dampens thinking and elevates negative emotions.]  Clarity is critical to establishing a clear, elevating goal for the team – one of the foundations of the world’s most unified and successful teams. (SAGE: Larson & LaFasto).  Team members must trust the manager to respect them. The manager should demonstrate personal and professional integrity and not pursue hidden agendas.

Critical Thinking Workshop recommendations for manager Competency #1:

SPM COMP-Article.doc/7.2024

Project Management, Decision-Making, & Problem-Solving

#2 Developing Support

Project teams are taught how to identify key stakeholders and determine each stakeholder’s most desired objectives.   This clarifies the project’s purpose, constraints, measures of success, and will help key decisions that arise during the project. Decision quality is optimized gaining enduring stakeholder support. 

Plus, documenting how the decision was made and why invites others to understand and encourages their support.

Critical Thinking Workshop recommendations for Competency #2:

Systematic Decision-Making

#3 Creating Involvement

There are critical thinking processes for solving problems, making decisions and planning the project.  The team translates the customer’s parameters into a step-by-step project plan with each team member’s responsibilities clearly stated and organized. The process reveals opportunities for parallel actions shared among the team to save time. 

Problem-Solving is a structured way to give the team a full understanding of any problem and create interim or corrective actions while avoiding muddled actions. Decision-Making involves the team in thoughtfully making choices.

Three Critical Thinking Workshops for project team Competency #3:

Project Management, Decision-Making, & Problem-Solving

#4. Results-Orientation

The Critical Thinking project management process is purpose driven and fully aligned with the project customer’s desired results. To begin, agreement is secured on the project parameters and the criteria for success. Deliverables are agreed to up front along with their timing.  The action steps are derived from the agreed upon project parameters. Therefore, each action step is directed to accomplishing what the customer wants and what the team agreed to accomplish (i.e. results). Critical Thinking Workshop recommendation for team Competency #4:

Systematic Project Management

#5. Creating Clarity

Project clarity refers to [1] purpose, [2] the action plan to accomplish that purpose, and [3] individual responsibilities for the assigned actions specified in the plan.

Purpose clarity explains the genesis of the project (i.e. Why it is being undertaken.) This gives a context for necessary decisions on what and how things are done.

An Action Plan is created by the manager and team.  It grows from the project parameters agreed to by both the project manager and the customer/sponsor.

Individual responsibilities for specific action steps are agreed to and entered into the project’s Master Plan. Progress is tracked through the plan including initiation and completion dates of each action step. The project manager uses the Master Plan to monitor the project’s progress making necessary reports to the project customer/sponsor.

Overview.  Clarity begins with the first meeting of the project manager and sponsor where the project parameters are agreed to.  Clarity is carried through the team’s developing the project plan based upon the agreed upon parameters.  An evaluation report is included as a final deliverable of the project, so it is clear what was and was not accomplished with team suggestions for the future.

Reaction to unplanned problems and decisions is accomplished with Problem Solving and Decision-Making processes which document analyses.

Critical Thinking Workshop recommendations for team Competency #5:

Project Management, Decision-Making, & Problem-Solving

#6.  Managing Information & Maintaining Control

The electronic forms included with the Systematic Project Management workshop are used to document the parameter agreement with the sponsor and includes the project’s Master Plan used to plan and track the project by the project manager.  The manager has a clear view of how the project is progressing between team status meetings through reference to the online Master Plan.

Critical Thinking Workshop recommendation for Competency #6:

Systematic Project Management

#7. Organizational Orientation

The meaning of the term “organizational orientation” was vague.  But the researchers may be referring to decision making that fits the project into existing norms and does not conflict with current initiatives.  The project manager must communicate this constraint clearly to the team members. 

We should note that our experience is that customers need help in clarifying project parameters (upfront at first meeting).  The project manager needs a means to clarify and manage the expectations of the customer up front.  Phase 1 of Systematic Project Management is “AGREE”.  It supplies the means for the project manager to document the project agreement with the customer.  This agreement is shared with the project team to unify the team’s understanding.

The decision to do a project is more important than how the project is done because if that decision is wrong (based on a false belief) it is likely that nothing can achieve its purpose.  [“There is no right way to do the wrong thing.”] So organizational leaders who create projects should have a strong rational reason for each. (For example, projects to increase sales should be based upon knowing why sales are low and not just be about doing what competitors do.)

Customer/Sponsor: Critical Thinking for Leaders two-days

#8. Self-confidence & Flexibility

The three one-day workshops taken together (Project Management, Problem Solving and Decision Making) equip a project manager and team for #8.

Flexibility is a function of seeing reality and making good choices.  Armed with a complete set of planning, decision-making and problem-solving tools, the project manager will have the means to structure work with the project team and sponsor. Being prepared to think through issues as they arise manifests flexibility.

TEAM: Project Management, Decision-Making, & Problem-Solving

SPONSOR: Critical Thinking for Leaders

The following are psychological needs for members of project teams which the project manager must work with.  These were derived from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Training the team members and managers is necessary to use the required processes for need fulfillment.


     Project Team Need [with Maslow’s Hierarchy need]

  1. Clear Elevating Goal [Self-Actualizing]
  2. Participation Role [Esteem]
  3. Full involvement in the process [Belonging]
  4. Trust in: leader, team, & process [Safety]