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T-shaped project professional

T-shaped project professionals: The secret to broader skills and deeper expertise

Project managers are known for being adaptable, flexible and ready to turn their hands to anything.  With this, it can feel like they’re a jack-of-all-trades. But in addition to these broad capabilities, some project professionals possess a deeper knowledge of specialist subjects. A term which has been coined, the T-shaped project professional.

What is a T-shaped project professional?

T-shaped professionals are individuals with deep expertise in a particular area (the vertical bar of the 'T') along with a breadth of knowledge across multiple disciplines (the horizontal bar of the 'T'). This unique skill set enables them to effectively manage projects, foster innovation, and drive success in complex, multidisciplinary environments.

The term T-shaped skills is not new, with the concept being endorsed by organisations and individuals since the 1980s. In 2001, Morten T. Hansen and Bolko von Oetinger argued that T-shaped professionals not only contribute to their own business units but also foster growth and efficiency company-wide by sharing ideas and expertise. However, due to missteps and teething problems in its early adoption, the trend hasn’t come to the forefront until recently, with organisations now seeing the benefits of a T-shaped team while learning from the challenges of early adoption.

What are the benefits of employing T-shaped project professionals?

T-shaped project managers stand apart due to their ability to connect their area of expertise with a wide range of other skills and disciplines. Here’s a breakdown of what makes them an asset in project management:

Enhanced communication and collaboration

T-shaped project managers excel in fostering an environment of enhanced communication and collaboration. Their broad skill set enables them to understand and translate the needs and languages of various disciplines within a project, ensuring all team members are aligned and informed. This capability not only improves team dynamics but also enhances the overall efficiency of project execution.

A team of T-shaped professionals can create a collaborative approach where each individual is responsible for their own areas of specialism and expertise, while comfortably supporting others when needed.

Flexibility and adaptability

The flexibility of T-shaped professionals makes them invaluable in today’s dynamic project environments. Due to their broad understanding combined with deep expertise, they adapt quickly to changes and can manage multiple aspects of a project. This adaptability is particularly crucial in managing unexpected challenges and shifting project scope.

With a central topic of expertise, T-shaped project professionals will usually have a primary area of work where they can use their specialist skills. However, with T-shaped teams, individuals will each have their own unique view and perspective on project activities, which can help foster new ideas and a culture of continuous improvement.

Comprehensive project oversight

T-shaped project managers maintain a unique ability to see the "big picture." Because they understand multiple aspects of a business or project, they are uniquely positioned to see how all the pieces fit together.

This comprehensive oversight allows them to anticipate potential issues, integrate various project facets, and maintain a clear focus on the project’s objectives. Their holistic view ensures that all project parts align with the overall goals.

Being able to see and articulate the big picture also makes T-shaped professionals influential in shaping the direction of projects and the attitudes of their team members; this can be vital in project leadership, stakeholder management and building influence.

How to build a T-shaped skillset

Developing into a T-shaped project manager can often happen through career progression from building experience, supporting a variety of teams, being involved in an extensive range of projects and undertaking specialised training in a core knowledge area.  However, there is a more strategic way to develop T-shaped skills:

  • Self-assessment: Start by conducting a thorough self-assessment to identify your current skills and areas for improvement. This initial step is crucial for setting a baseline and planning your development path
  • Build core competency: Focus on gaining in-depth knowledge and skills in a specific domain that interests you or is central to your career. This might involve pursuing advanced training and certifications or undertaking complex projects within this area
  • Learn about adjacent fields: Identify areas that connect or overlap with your expertise. For example, if you're skilled in software project management, you might expand into related areas like UX design or data analytics
  • Develop soft skills: Cultivate qualities such as leadership, communication, negotiation and persuasion which can help to inspire and motivate teams, manage conflicts, and foster a productive work environment
  • Join cross-disciplinary projects: Cultivate qualities such as leadership, communication, negotiation and persuasion which can help to inspire and motivate teams, manage conflicts, and foster a productive work environment
  • Build a diverse network: Connect with professionals from various fields to gain insights into their areas of expertise and learn about new opportunities. It may also help to find mentors both in and outside of your specialism to help guide your T-shaped skills and career
  • Keep a record of your personal development: Don’t forget to keep a record of projects and tasks where you have applied both your depth and breadth of skills. This portfolio can be crucial for career advancement. This is also a place to store certifications for any relevant courses that show your expanding skillset

Growing T-shaped skills

Developing a T-shaped skillset isn’t the only way to build your project management career, but it does offer the variety and ability to turn your hand to a vast variety of projects and activities while still maintaining a passion, focus and specialism as a subject matter expert.

Whether you’re looking to broaden your project management skill set or dive deeper into an area of specialism, ILX Group offers a variety of training courses to help you strengthen your expertise. Explore our courses today.