The know-how and expertise of the people in charge of a project are crucial for its implementation and the successful achievement of its objectives. Basically, the following types of competencies can be distinguished:
- Professional competence (in relation to the health theme in question)
- Social competence (in particular communication skills)
- Methodological competence (regarding interventions in settings, evaluation, etc.).
For the development, planning, implementation and evaluation of health promotion and prevention projects diverse competencies in all three areas are required. As one person alone will hardly have all the necessary skills, the interdisciplinary and complementary composition of project teams and a widely supported project structure are crucially important. The pool of diverse experiences and competences available in all institutions must be fully exploited for the benefit of the project.
For technical and methodological expertise, the quality of the knowledge base plays an important role (Best Practice approach). The definition of objectives, the selection of target groups and the choice of measures must all conform to current scientific knowledge. In addition, other knowledge (know-how, expert opinion) is also to be taken into account. Where there is no relevant knowledge available, detected knowledge gaps should be documented and communicated, so as to contribute in this way to the strengthening of the scientific knowledge base.
Even well qualified professionals sometimes lack the expertise to accomplish a particular task within a project. These shortcomings need to be identified early as they could jeopardize the project's success and, through excessive demands on the team's capabilities, could become a source of stress.
While methodological and technical skills can be assessed and tested in a selection process, social competence is more difficult to determine. Weaknesses often only appear in the course of a project. If this occurs, help and support for the project management is available in the form of coaching, for example. For the team as a whole, Team Development measures (supervision, consultation with colleagues) can make a valuable contribution to improving the team members' competencies.
Lacking professional and methodological skills can be handled in two ways: by bringing in experts or by further training. (Incidentally, this applies not only to the project team but also to the advisory body.) Experts may be colleagues from within the institution or they may be brought in from outside. They may exercise their expertise and methodological knowledge by taking on selected tasks or they can support the project leader / project team by helping them to acquire the skills which are lacking (through project consultation or supervision, for example).
In any case, team members wishing to increase their proficiency and know-how should always be supported and encouraged. If the institution in charge of a project is not willing to contribute to team members' further training, such costs should be included in the project's budget.
- Kerzner, Harold (2006). Project Management. A systems approach to planning, scheduling, and controlling. Ninth edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Why you would disregard these aspects
- You are not accustomed to interdisciplinary thinking and acting. You work with the skills that you possess and they have served you well so far.
- You do not approach your colleagues, because you do not want to burden them unduly or because you are unsure about their particular field of expertise.
- You do not enquire about the latest state of current knowledge, because you think to already know it, or because you do not know how to go about it or because you do not have the time.
- You do not have the courage to talk about a lack of skills or to ask for support, either because you could look bad, perhaps risking your own job or because you do not want to discredit another person.
- You have budgeted too little money and time for extra training or for sub-contracts to external experts.
What you have to gain
- If you go by the current state of knowledge, you can avoid a false start to your project and avoid committing mistakes that others have already made. If you also use successful approaches from different disciplines, the effectiveness of your project will improve.
- A strong team which emphasizes good communication and effective conflict-management works more efficiently and achieves better results. Calling on experts for advice and support in well-defined areas promotes efficiency and ultimately cost effectiveness in any project.
What you can actually do
- Make sure you have access to current expertise which is relevant to your project. Consult important reference books, journals and internet portals.
- Create a network of professional support in your institution that you can fall back on when needed (Advice from colleagues).
- Involve external professionals (with references!) for project coaching and supervision.
- Plan for sufficient funds for external support and further training costs when preparing your budget.
- Encourage members of your project team to enrol in specific training courses and make sure that some money is available to contribute to the cost.
Questions for critical reflection
- Are you aware of the skills and resources within the project team? And do you know which skills and resources are available from other staff within the institution in charge?
- Are you ready to embrace new ideas and experiences, even if they contradict your previous knowledge and your previous convictions?
- Are the project leader, his / her collaborators and the members of the steering committee sufficiently competent to meet the demands of the project?
- Is there an atmosphere of trust that would allow the project team to discuss eventual shortcomings? Are you willing to seek advice and to learn from it?