Professional project management for your long-term growth and success

Would You Hire a PM Without These Soft Skills?

​By Veronica Thraen / July 10, 2017

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Ever wonder how project managers are able to juggle so many projects they manage resource allocations, schedule, budget, issues, risks and changing priorities without skipping a beat?

It is important for any project manager to have these hard skills, especially if they are leading large, complex initiatives for their organizations. But what about soft skills, such as leadership, communication, negotiation, and other skills? These are equally, if not more, important for project success. 

For example, would you hire a PM to manage a large project with cross-functional teams and 3rd party vendors without strong leadership skills? Without the ability to make decisions, manage conflict or effectively communicate throughout the project lifecycle? Probably not.

A PM works with all levels of an organization – from the team responsible for developing or implementing the project to department managers and C-level executives. So, when interpersonal issues arise during a project, it can be detrimental to project success if not handled appropriately. Here are some examples:

Scenario #1: The team does not agree on how the project should be implemented

Although a project manager does not typically have direct reports, they need to be able to resolve team conflict. Avoiding the conflict or interjecting their 2-cents before the team has a chance to come to an agreement will only cause frustration. On the other hand, the PM shouldn’t wait too long to intervene or the discussion may reach a boiling point. 

Taking a “servant leadership” role in this scenario is helpful – coaching and guiding the team to an agreement. The project manager doesn’t need to have all the answers but knowing when to insert themselves or escalate the issue will help gain the respect of the team. They will see that the PM is there to service their success – not to impede.

Scenario #2: An unforeseen issue may delay the project by 2 weeks

There are always going to be unforeseen issues that crop up with every project. The key is to communicate them at the appropriate time with the right amount of information. Immediately notifying all stakeholders of a delay without performing some due diligence will more than likely cause panic, especially if there is a hard deadline to meet. Not communicating the information in hopes that the issue will be resolved quickly without any delays is also bad practice.

Stakeholders need to be able to trust the information the project manager is providing and have confidence that they have everything under control. The PM should gather as much information as possible, analyze the impact, and discuss alternatives prior to communicating the issue. Stakeholders will appreciate being kept “in the loop” even if there isn’t a resolution to the issue just yet.

Scenario #3: A project stakeholder is frequently requesting changes to scope

“Scope creep” is also common throughout a project’s lifecycle. A project manager must manage the scope based on what was approved by the sponsor. There may be times when the PM – or even a team member - is pressured to add scope because it is an “easy” item to implement. This can negatively affect the overall project if changes are made without proper assessment.

A project manager with effective negotiation and communication skills will be able to explain the reasons why even an “easy” change might impact other areas of the project, resources or customers. Is the change an absolute must have? Does the sponsor agree to implementing this change even if it delays the project? Ensuring that everyone understands the consequences of scope creep and working together collaboratively throughout the project is crucial.

Project management is much more than just creating a project plan and following up on tasks. Having a PM on staff with a good balance of hard and soft skills will ensure that they have the respect, trust and confidence of their teams, stakeholders and organizational leadership to successfully deliver projects that meet company goals and objectives.

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