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Having great communication skills is widely acknowledged as a must-have for any aspiring or seasoned Project Manager, and communications regularly cited as a key success (or failure) factor in projects. I don't recall ever seeing a job advert for a PM that didn't include "outstanding/exceptional/advanced commnunications skills" or a PM candidate who didn't claim they had them. I personnally embrace the idea that the ability of a PM to communicate well can make or break a project.

But in practice, how do you evaluate a Project Manager's communications skills? What sort of tangible evidence do you look for?

EDIT - To clarify the question: the need to evaluate a PM's communications skills pertains to both interviews and individual performance management.

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It is a rather subjective assessment. During the interview, you can easily assess their verbal skills and non verbal skills as they are answering your interview questions. Likely, the way the candidate is resonating with you is due to their communication skills and not due to your prediction of their future performance. You can assess their writing skills based on the messages they send you before and after you meet them, but you will not know if they received some help. You can always test them when you are with them.

However, PM communication skills are way more then their ability to talk and write. Project communications involve specific processes that enable two-way communications, understanding stakeholder communication needs based on the various segments, reporting tools and mechanisms, archival, setting comm cadence, etc. I would argue this is far more important to a project than a single person's ability to talk.

  • +1 for arguing that communications skills go far beyond verbal skills. – Angeline May 5 '14 at 12:28
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For me, the communication skills are mainly around the following:

  • Being able to convey complex topics in a way that is relevant to different audiences (technical and non-technical);
  • Knowing when and how to give bad news about project progress / cost overruns / risks and issues in a way that allows constructive discussion;
  • Being able to take the lead and facilitate discussion about how to resolve issues and problems, or how to develop an approach to allow solutions to be identified and developed. This requires the ability to elicit input from groups of subject matter experts who won't all be equally effective communicators, but who may all have something of value to add;
  • Being able to stay on track when others are trying to pull the discussion into different - often irrelevant - areas, and to do so without upsetting people.

But your question was about evaluating the skills. This is a complex matter which can only really be done in hindsight. However, assuming that you are looking for methods to use in interviews, one option may be to ask the candidate for examples of when he or she had communicated the different types of message in the past: ask what exactly had to be communicated, how was it conveyed (verbal? in writing?), who were the audience, and what was the outcome. Add on "what would you do differently now?" and you have a reasonable set of questions... but you must still be aware that some people will always "talk a good game" while others may be less confident, but equally effective.

You might also ask about the normal means of communicating in a candidate's previous organisation, and ask for a description of the pluses and minuses of each. The candidate should be able to explain what works and what doesn't work for the different types of communication - so, for example, a few PowerPoint slides really isn't enough to communicate a complex technical design, but a regular weekly update on progress might be done using that medium. Equally, a weekly status report might possibly be done as a verbal update (depending on the circumstances), and should almost certainly not be a 40 page densely written report. If the candidate can explain this sort of thing, they have at least a grasp on what good communication looks like, and that's a major step in the right direction.

  • +1 for the suggested practical examples and questions. My original question about how to evaluate is both in the context or interviews and performance management (have edited question as such). – Angeline May 7 '14 at 10:23
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If you want to test the communication skills of a manager, there are quite a few ways to do it in the interview by asking various questions, giving tasks to perform, getting information from their previous workplace, etc. However, i would say that first you need to understand what communication skills you are looking for. When looking for a project manager you know the type of projects they will be handling, the type of employees that will be in their team and what are the most common issues in those cases.

Depending on these factors, you will know if you need someone that is good at explaining the tasks, relaying information, managing the workflow or resolving disputes between team members/clients. Then you can test the project managers abilities based on these requirements. Also, when you know the requirements it will be easier to come up with ways to test them as you will know exactly what you are looking for. For example, according to the skills needed you will be able to pull real-life situations from your past and see how they would cope with them. I would think it would give you a better understanding of the project managers abilities, before you see them in action as part of your company.

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You can evaluate a persons communication ability by giving him simple tests which can test his communication skills on three parameters 1. Clear 2. Concise 3. Complete

I had been to one interview where there was a test to listen to a telephonic (recorded) conversation and then answer questions based on the conversation

Then we had a written test to draft emails in response for certain type of situation

And then there was face to face interview where we were asked to talk about self for 2 minutes.

This tested the listening, writing and spoken abilities of a person.

A manager is supposed to have honest, clear, concise and complete communication with all stake holders. If you can design the test/interview for your candidate based on the above factors you will have an awesome candidate.

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