Reading is something of a hobby that I developed over the years.  I got into the habit while I was in college when I decided to venture away from textbooks and explore the world of fiction.  Ever since I’ve developed my interest and my reading helped with other areas of work and life.  I’ve discovered that sometimes I get more out of a novel than I do a business book when it comes to the world of management.

However, in addition to fiction, I do enjoy reading a variety of topics including business books.  One author that a colleague introduced me to earlier in 2010 is Malcolm Gladwell.  She shared a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers with me and I was hooked.  Mr. Gladwell’s writing style is extremely engaging and his stories are mesmerizing.  He’s done quite a bit of research and often his arguments are based on observations of interesting angles on life and work

The most interesting aspect of Mr. Gladwell’s writing is something that I crave in any book I read, which is that the book makes you think.  That is perhaps I find that many textbooks are boring because they simply give you information without making one think.  I like being able to read through a chapter and come out with an “ah ha” moment.

Once I finished Outliers I went back and purchased “The Tipping Point” which is a book that was written before Outliers.  This book talks about the moments when an idea of trend reaching a threshold that causes a “tipping point.”  One idea in chapter 2 of the book struck a nerve with me.  The title of the chapter is “The Law of the Few” and within it Mr. Gladwell describes that when it comes to tipping points, a handful of people in most cases matter a lot more than the masses.  He identifies three types of people who are involved in spreading ideas or epidemics.  They are the “connectors, mavens, and salesmen.”

I realize that I can not do the book justice by trying to provide a synopsis of it, so I won’t.  Instead, I want to encourage readers to seek out a copy of Outliers and The Tipping Point to gain a first hand knowledge of his work.  I do however, want to explore the concept of the “salesmen” in both the context of the book but also as it relates to project management.

The concept behind the “salesmen” is not the person who is actually selling you a product but rather a person who is persuading you or convincing you of an idea.  This person is the idea salesman.  It may be because of the person’s knowledge or demeanor, they are positioned in a role that makes people willing to listen.

Unfortunately in today’s business culture the term salesman can carry a negative connotation.  While I understand that if can sometimes be viewed as that sleazy salesman who is trying to get you to buy something that you don’t need, or the used car salesman that is trying to sell you a lemon of a car, I find it sad that the word salesman is seen in a negative light.

When I hear the word salesman I am often reminded of a dear friend of mine.  This is a person who chose sales as a career out of college.  The best way I can describe this individual is to say that he is the type of person one would wish to be best friends with.  It certainly helps that he is very polished in terms of presenting himself.  However, my friend has a quality that not many people have.  He is likable! On the surface it may appear as though likability is a trivial quality, however, I would argue that without it, it is very difficult to influence people.  The fact that my friend is likable means that he is approachable and his approachability often positions him as a trusted advisor.

There are also other qualities that are important to the sale such as being passionate for the product that you’re selling or being committed to the customer.  In my friend’s case, he genuinely believes that by selling his product or service he is actually helping the person who is buying.  Indeed, often he is doing so and this belief offers him a significant amount of credibility.

I’ve often thought about this “salesman” quality as a necessary quality that a project manager needs to have if they were to be successful in their endeavors.  The project manager must be very persuasive and passionate in the way that they conduct their activities as they lead the project. Certainly there are other qualities that need to be taken into account but I find that the “salesman” quality is often forgotten, perhaps due to the negative connotations it might carry.  It also does not help that many project manager seem to ignore the soft-skills side of the profession while others may ignore managing applications that don’t fit within the tripple constraints.

As I close this article I want to again encourage you to consider reading Mr. Gladwell’s books and to think about how some of his concepts may apply to the world of project management.