The recent SHRM Talent Conference presented some interesting hard facts about soft skills that highlighted the importance of soft skills in project management. 97% of the surveyed employers agreed soft skills were equally or more important than hard skills and 46% of new joiners fail within 18 months after joining an organization. Furthermore, 89% of these fail because of a lack of soft skills, for example, lack of project management communication skills or the art of getting along with colleagues or others.
Post pandemic when hiring is regaining speed, employers should avoid the usual mistake of focusing on hard skills alone like degrees, expertise, experience and others (which gets the weightage around 89%), and be more concerned about soft skills projects which have a traction of meager 11%. Such was the conclusive findings of the SHRM conference.
Soft skills with multiple names such as people skills, personal skills, interpersonal skills, non-technical skills, essential skills or transferable skills, inherently include the ability to build trust, resolve conflict and effective communication. Such skills are required everywhere, irrespective of industries or sectors, and more importantly extremely necessary for leadership positions.
Although the present data-driven world has somewhat downplayed “people skills”. That is a big mistake, especially when it comes to project management which demands a combination of both soft and hard skills. Something we have learnt from the findings mentioned above.
Industries encourage pursuing project management certification programs which not only help to impart the essential technical skills to manage projects but also inculcates the needed soft skills during the training. Those who wish to get through a PMP program, especially the busy professionals desiring to pass the PMP examination in the first attempt, could avail extremely handy comprehensive PMP exam preparation course.
What are the Project Management Soft Skills?
Project managers need to have soft skills because these are necessary elements for collaborative team building. Project managers often pursue some project management soft skills training in an effort to lead their teams to successful project completion. Furthermore, important soft skills for project managers fulfill the clients’ needs, build and maintain a good rapport with clients, internal or external stakeholders as well. It is therefore good to have a list of soft skills needed for project management.
Here is a rundown of important soft skills for a project manager:
1. Critical Thinking
Critical thinking helps to understand and assess any situation based on facts, data, information, segregating and organizing them to derive meaningful information to define and solve a problem.
Critical thinking brings good decision-making in a workplace and allows one to identify the barriers or obstacles and find potential solutions. It also helps to point out any workflow or process inefficiencies, improve management skills, guide financial decisions as well as inculcate a strategic mindset. For all these reasons employers value critical thinking.
Leadership, one of the top soft skills for project managers, is the ability to get things done through others by inspiring them and making them excited to do the work. As Peter Drucker puts it rightfully, “leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes.” This is achieved by effectively conveying the big picture and encouraging teams to achieve a destined goal. It is also about showing the involved individuals how they can achieve their own objectives by aligning themselves to the projects’ objectives.
As a project manager, it is crucial to know how teams work and the characteristics of a good team. Because teams are constantly changing cohesive and dynamic forces that explore, discuss and assess ideas, define goals and make decisions to attain goals. The leadership traits of a project manager help in discussing the project tasks and goals, clearly defining them and effectively conveying the same ensuring that everyone in the team understands them.
3. Relationship and Team building
Building meaningful relationships both with team members and clients is a crucial role a project manager plays. The manager also needs to implement team-building activities to build a strong bond among the individual members. Similarly making and maintaining warm and long-lasting relationships with clients is equally important for a project manager.
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor”- Elon Musk.
Teams stay motivated when the members understand their contribution is making a difference to the customer, end-users, company and themselves as well. Individuals have various professional and personal needs and goals and they need to be fulfilled.
For example, for one individual it could be fulfilling financial desires while for someone else it might be a sense of gratification after accomplishing a challenging task and for a third person, it could be climbing the hierarchical ladder or getting recognition at work.
An effective understanding of what motivates the team members and helping them to achieve those is critical for any project manager.
Just when proper communication is a key to any project’s success, poor communication greatly inhibits it. Clear, open and effective communication from the leader to down below connecting each involved in a project is a great way to gain trust from everyone leading to success. However, communication is a two-way process, hence a capable manager will be able to remain open to learning about the concerns, issues and suggestions from the members. This calls for effective listening, as both these are a part of good communication skill that creates mutual trust among all the stakeholders involved in a project.
Though good communication seems to be easy to achieve, it is hardly so. As George Bernard Shaw rightly puts “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Communicating something correctly at the right time and place is one thing while assuming that it has been done is another and this may and does create a lot of issues and confusion in the work in progress. Therefore, it is an art that needs to be mastered. Poor communication is often found to be the major reason causing IT projects to fail.
Influencing skill is the ability to affect the approach, attitude, behavior, thoughts and ways of others in a particular direction by making the best use of some key tactics. The aim is to ensure the team members collaborate and cooperate well during work, making the right decisions towards achieving the project goals.
The influencing techniques include:
a) Organizational Intelligence - the know-how of getting things done in the backdrop of myriad diversities and organizational politics and finally moving the team or other important initiatives forward.
b) Harnessing Network – instead of trying to be an island, a capable leader feels empowered by connecting with others.
c) Promotion of Self and Team– cutting through the clutter, good project leaders can promote themselves credibly and authentically together with their teams as they possess the clarity of what is best for the organization.
d) Leading by Example – instead of giving orders, good leaders influence and inspire others by doing what they expect others to do with the intention of inspiring individuals to copy the same.
7. Decision Making
Decision-making is the tactic of making choices by identifying a situation, gathering facts, information, assessing available alternatives, understanding the consequences and finally determining what needs to be done.
Depending on the type of decision that needs to be made, project managers use different criteria during the decision-making process. But always considering how it would affect others. When in doubt good project managers do not hesitate to consult peers or colleagues. This in turn brings trust and transparency among team members.
8. Political and Cultural Awareness
In modern times project managers work in a global environment and often many projects dwell in multinational or universal environments of cultural diversity. Project managers, therefore, need to understand and capitalize on such cultural differences. Instead of considering these as hindrances, they can create an atmosphere of mutual trust and win-win situations.
Cultural differences could be of individual corporate or a combination of both and may include both internal and external stakeholders of a project. The use of good communication skills, rapport building, and effective leadership are some of the productive ways to manage cultural diversity.
Likewise in any project, organizational politics are inevitable as a result of multiple backgrounds, norms, expectations, and understandings of the people involved. Ignoring or avoiding these or using power inappropriately could lead to hindrances in managing projects. Simultaneously, skillful use of politics-power brings success to a project.
At behavioral level cultural differences include expectations and behaviors occurring independently of ethnic heritage, geography or languages. These can even impact the project speed, decision-making process and impulse to act without appropriate thoughts and planning leading to stress and conflict. Moreover, these affect the performance of managers and the teams as a whole.
Negotiation involves dialogue between two parties to reach a mutually agreed outcome. It may include conflict resolution incorporating ‘give and take’ for mutual benefits. In a workplace, negotiations may happen between managers, team members, peers, departments, between a team member and a manager or with external stakeholders.
Improved negotiation skills have an enormous payoff to reach agreements that otherwise might slip off. They create value and also resolve small differences blocking them to escalate into big conflicts.
10. Trust Building
Trust is a critical factor for any organization or a project and it becomes all the more important in the case of remote workers.
Project managers manage to earn trust by being transparent, sharing information with the teams, involving members in decision-making processes, showing genuine interest in team members’ growth, and helping them achieve their goals. Such leaders communicate openly, are receptive to the team members’ suggestions and concerns, empathize with them and sincerely attempt to solve their problems.
By way of coaching, leaders help the team members discover their potential and upraise themselves from their current to the next hierarchy. Coaching could be a fabulous motivator for team members and it involves counseling people to change their mindsets and help them perform better. The motivated team members perform well as they feel they are being helped by expert managers who have their best interest in mind and strive to help them achieve their goals.
12. Conflict Management
In any project, conflict is almost inevitable. More so when diverse people with varying personalities, cultural and educational backgrounds, and experiences must work together. Conflict may arise between individual members, or members and leaders, making conflict management imperative to produce a positive and collaborative environment where incumbents are happy and productive.
Conflict management can be best achieved by using effective communication, active listening, practicing empathy, problem-solving, a positive attitude, and emotional maturity.
13. Planning and organization
Planning and organization are vital for any project, without them no project can succeed. Such skills refer to the ability of leaders to manage time, energy, workspace, and arrange activities in line with the set guidelines. At the same time remaining within the limits of resources like time, money and labor.
Planning includes identifying and setting achievable goals, designing appropriate strategies to meet them and outlining tasks and schedules. Whereas organizational skills commonly involve maintaining an orderly work schedule, meeting deadlines and effective communication with others.
Adaptability allows project managers to remain flexible and quickly learn new skills and behaviors in response to changing factors, circumstances, conditions or environments. Such leaders respond fast to changing ideas, responsibilities, expectations, trends, strategies or any other transformation in processes. Creative thinking, problem-solving, communication and interpersonal skills are used by them to achieve adaptability.
How to Develop Soft Skills (Expert Tips)
The most inspiring fact about soft skills is, everyone possesses some or many of these to some degree and can leverage them. However, as we enlisted the soft skills required for project managers, it is essential to develop the ones the budding project managers lack or are not strong enough to use in a workplace. This can be easily compensated through education, attending any training like the knowledgehut project management certification programs.
A few may be self-developed through determination and persuasion. Here is an inventory on how to go about it:
1. Prioritizing the Needed Ones
Developing soft skills need time, determination and regular practice. Pursuing all of them in one go could be a nightmare and rather impractical. The best way is to list out the skills that need to be worked upon and focus on one or two of them at a time by allocating a reasonable time frame to each.
2. Resource Selection
Plenty of resources are available to help develop soft skills like online classes, YouTube videos, self-help books including e-Books, attending certification courses, and taking the help of a mentor or coach.
No skill can be cultivated without continuous practice over some time. A friend or peer can be very handy to practice with. Role-playing is always very effective. For example, a peer can play the role of project manager creating a situation for the learner to display a learned skill. Post that, the improvement or areas needing further work can be assessed.
4. Progress Monitoring
Progress needs to be monitored regularly and the most effective way of doing it is to ask for feedback from others.
i) No Comfort Zone – learning any new skill is always challenging for anyone. The best way to overcome this is by facing the challenges and discomfort upfront. For example, fear of public speaking can be overcome by speaking in front of a small group of friends, colleagues or relatives.
ii) Watchful Eyes – the best way to learn a new skill is to keep noticing someone in any workplace or elsewhere how the individual handles oneself in certain situations demanding a particular skill display.
Project management is not all about maneuvering the technical know-how and neither is it something very easy. But having the right mix of project manager soft and hard skills lead to successful and timely completion of projects with less stress using more soft strategies that anyone can learn with a little effort.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Which soft skills are important for a project manager?
- Critical thinking
- Team building
- Decision making
- Political and cultural awareness
- Trust building
- Conflict management
- Planning and organization
2. What makes a great project manager?
Excellent leadership and inspiring communication skills, delegation, problem solving, team building and management, composed, enthusiastic are some of the personality traits of a good project manager.
3. How can I improve my project management skills?
Use critical thinking to prioritize tasks with a schedule, be proactive, enthusiastic and involve people, keep sharpening your project management skills preferably by undergoing some good PMP program.
4. What are the 10 processes to sharpen your project management skills?
- Understand and define the project
- Plan the work/activities, and define the scope
- Manage the plan and the scope
- Understand and define the risks
- Manage risks
- Document everything
- Pursue effective communication
- Define the quality parameters
- Manage quality
- Define the measuring metrics, implement, manage and optimize
5. What are the core competencies for a project manager?
- Planning, organizing and execution skills
- Sound leadership
- Clear Communication
- Excellent Negotiation
- Effective Risk Management