Being a project manager isn’t really a single job. In reality, it’s about a dozen different roles combined into one. This means that a good project manager needs to have a good range of skills to call on if they want to succeed.
And if you’re a translation project manager – you manage projects for a Language Service Provider – you need a couple of extra skills on top of that.
Not only do you need to know how to start, plan, control and close a given project. You also need to know how to do so when several languages are thrown into the mix.
At Asian Absolute, we’ve won industry awards for our project management expertise on several occasions.
Here we’ll share some of the skills you should consider working on if you’re planning to go into the field of translation project management. But you’ll find that most will be equally applicable to you if you’re going into project management in any industry.
Translation project management – skills you should master
1) Language or translation skills
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. In addition to the skills which any good project manager might need, a specialist in translation services doesn’t necessarily have to have a background in translation. But it certainly doesn’t hurt.
You can find many translation project managers who previously specialised in a field such as finance or IT. So if you are a specialist from outside the industry and thinking about getting into the field of languages yourself, it’s certainly possible.
However, there’s no substitute for having a background in and knowledge of the industry when it comes to knowing how some things work. For instance:
- What makes a given language unique
- What makes various cultures different from each other
- What skills make for a good translator or interpreter
- How important terminology is
- How critical style guides are
2) Organisation skills
Often thought of as the be-all and end-all of project manager skills by those outside of the profession, organisational skills are certainly vital in a skilled project manager.
If you’re in project management, you’re likely to have several projects on the go at any given time. Each project will contain multiple individual parts. If you work for a translation agency, each project may feature a number of different languages to boot.
As well as monitoring projects which are already in progress, you may need to incorporate ongoing changes requested by stakeholders and track issues as they crop up from any angle.
While tools which help you track projects exist (and you’ll probably be familiar with at least a couple of them if you’re in the field), staying on track often still comes down to the project manager’s ability to organise things.
3) Decision-making and critical-thinking skills
After a project manager has gained a little experience, they need to have the confidence, critical-thinking and decision-making skills necessary to find and execute solutions on their own.
Being able to do this usually means drawing on other skills listed here. Things like risk management and cost management.
It doesn’t mean that a project manager can’t ask questions or discuss options and potential ways to proceed with clients or translators on their team. But a manager with any experience should be capable of making the final analysis and producing an impartial judgement themselves. Doing this usually involves:
- Gathering information – the ability to base your decision on the facts is key to making the best choice.
- Being non-biased – a project manager’s choices at key decision points should be based on what is best for achieving the client’s desired outcomes.
- Making the call – a high degree of independence is vital for any project manager. They need to be able to make a decision without constantly asking for support.
4) Communication skills
One of a project manager’s major roles is to be the point-of-contact for clients, translation team members and any other stakeholders involved in a project. This means that good communication skills are absolutely vital.
You need to be able to disseminate information quickly and efficiently. But you also need to filter that information so that parties don’t receive extraneous details which may make them feel unnecessarily stressed or confused.
Not only that, but you need to find the correct method for doing so. Does that mean phone calls? Email? Agreed chat platforms? Collaborative team workspaces? In-person meetings or virtual calls?
Project management involves getting all of these equations right in several different directions:
i) Internal team communications
A translation team may be built up of specialists who never meet in person.
At Asian Absolute, for example, we assemble teams for given projects based on their industry qualifications and experience and their native language. Because our network is global, there’s no guarantee that the perfect translator for a given project will even be in the same time zone as any editors, proofreaders or other linguists or specialists involved in the project.
That global nature often means our project management team needs to bridge gaps between professionals from different cultural backgrounds who may speak different languages from those they specialise in with differing levels of fluency.
This makes the translation project manager’s ability to not only facilitate communication but ensure it is both smooth and rapid key to forming a team which can work cohesively on a project, bringing it through to a successful conclusion.
ii) External client communications
If you are in translation project management, you will likely need to be ready to respond to client requests for updates, changes and more at any given time. You will also need to ensure that your client responds when you need to communicate with them.
Does your client know they may need to be ready to give feedback, answer questions or review translations? More importantly, are they going to do so in a way which doesn’t make the entire project grind to a halt?
It’s the manager of a project’s job to make sure that a client understands this need. Again, this might mean facilitating clear communications between people from different cultures. Professionals who might have very different ideas of what constitutes good etiquette, politeness or communications practices.
As many companies tend to stick with a Language Service Provider they’re happy with, a project manager’s ability to facilitate good communications will help to form a strong relationship between their translation agency and their client long into the future.
This ability alone can make a given project manager a valuable member of any team.
Negotiations can face both ways. While the classic understanding of negotiations is between client and company, a good project manager will – in a sense – be constantly negotiating.
This can be the classic matter of agreeing the best possible price for a translation project with a client. Yet it more often involves:
- Discussing deadlines and other aspects of a project so that everyone is happy
- Keeping records regarding what was agreed and when in case it needs to be changed at a later date
- Agreeing or gently pushing back on new demands or requirements
- Negotiating tasks and issues between team members
5) Technical skills
A project manager needs solid technical skills. In the field of translation, in particular, a PM may use all kinds of IT tools on a daily basis. Some smaller translation companies might track a project via simple tools like Excel. Others may use purpose-design project management tools.
Either way, that’s the very base level of a project manager’s common IT interactions. In the languages industry alone, a project manager will regularly come into contact with:
- Digital documents in a huge array of formats
- CAT (Computer-Aided Translation) tools
- CMS (Content Management Systems)
- Translation Memories
- Machine Translation engines (this often calls for specialist knowledge)
6) Time management skills
Project managers in every industry need to be masters of time management. To start with, they will need to create an initial project plan. This will usually feature clearly defined smaller check goals so that translators and other specialists can work cohesively towards project completion.
As various issues crop up along the way, changes may need to be incorporated into this plan. Proper pre-project start preparation will anticipate what will happen in the event of issues – and allow time for them so that they don’t impact deadlines.
As you’ll already be well aware if you are a project manager of any kind, these time management skills relate to your own activities too:
- Management time constraints – client meetings, team communications, surprise tasks, admin and so on may all constrain the time you have available for other tasks.
- Multiple project time constraints – making the needs of multiple projects and the workloads of multiple professionals fit together can be a serious challenge for any PM.
- Personal time constraints – you also need to find time for your own workload, personal life, technical issues and so on.
7) Adaptation skills
The ability to respond to changing client, project and team needs on the fly is a critical skill for any project manager.
Of course, you will try to build everything into your plan so it can be neatly accommodated. Inevitably though, unexpected things will happen. Budgets may change. Requirements may need altering in unpredictable ways. Individual translators may suddenly need to be reassigned to a high-priority project.
A translation project manager – or someone in the profession in any industry – needs to be flexible enough to accommodate these changes. This means accepting and building in changes without immediately throwing your hands up in the air. But it can also mean more negotiation if unreasonable demands are made.
8) Leadership skills
To be a project manager you need to be able to take everyone with you as you work towards project completion. This calls for leadership skills.
A good leader is open to change and listens to their team. But, in the end, they also need to be able to make a decision with confidence and make others follow it. This usually involves creating an environment where good teamwork is easy:
Being positive, proactive with communication and generally giving the impression of being cheerful and unflappable all have actual measurable effects when it comes to the bottom line. Well-motivated, happy team members are more productive.
Someone regarded as a good leader will also inevitably play by the same rules they expect everyone else to follow. If a manager insists that everyone be polite and helpful to each other and yet are personally unavailable and prone to flying into rages, this creates an obvious disconnect as well as an unhappy working environment.
9) Stress management skills
Project management is a job that can involve a certain amount of stress. Generally, this arises from the unexpected events or changes which can loom out of any project.
Being able to manage this stress – both through the ability to plan increasingly better for these unexpected events and through personal stress reduction and management capabilities – is a vital skill for a project manager.
Because a project manager who is stressed and acts like it is a leader who transmits that feeling to the rest of their team and a decision-maker whose mind is clouded.
10) Cost management skills
A project manager doesn’t usually need to be a qualified financial expert. But they do need to have a good head for budgeting.
This is just the same kind of skill you would use to budget the amount of time your team of translators has available for a given project. In this case however, it’s applied to the financial side of the project.
The cost management of a project might involve:
- Being able to set out rates for a given project
- The ability to create a quote based on information provided
- Ensuring that a client’s budget will be able to meet the project’s needs
- Managing the employment of that budget throughout the project
- Creating invoices and credit notes
- Tracking unpaid invoices
11) Risk management skills
A great deal of a project manager’s job comes down to their ability to manage risks.
Time management, the ability to organise and the skill to adapt to changing needs are all high-level skills that a good project manager can’t be without. But the ability to identify potential risks and put processes in place for how you are going to manage them is something which really sets a so-so project manager apart from an exceptional one.
Because the sooner that issues can be caught, the sooner they can be resolved. The longer an issue goes without being resolved, the more likely it is to start affecting budgets and schedules and call the delivery deadline of a project into question.
It’s rarely possible to prepare for everything. But a translation project manager with the skill to anticipate and handle the vast majority of risks which might appear over the course of a project’s life will be worth their weight in gold to the Language Service Provider they work for.
Does your next translation project call for special management?
Let’s talk. Asian Absolute’s award-winning project management team knows how to deliver projects which always come in on-time and under-budget.