Project Soft Skills are Hard!

Soft Skills, communication

Project soft skills are hard! The soft skills related to working with people are not always easy to learn and put into practice.

Learning technical “hard” project skills, for example risk management and scheduling, can be complicated. However they are typically well documented in manuals and text books such as PMBOK, AgilePM, Prince2 and BABOK. Technical skills can be learned by investing effort in reading, training and mentoring.

Project management manuals do not always include soft skills such as building relationships and managing project team members. Managing & leading teams and stakeholders is a core capability of project managers. Even more so as you move away form managing the technical delivery and work more in managing the project environment. So why are these skills not explained in detail in manuals and certifications?

Because they are hard! Managing people is hard!

It is relatively simple to develop and manage a schedule compared to managing people with their own agendas.

So how do you learn these important soft skills? Over recent years the practices of mindfulness and self awareness have helped improve understanding of ourselves which in-turn helps us to manage our relationships. There are many books on leadership and people management out there as well. A well rounded project manager will need to go beyond the traditional project manuals to learn helpful techniques. Mentoring from a senior project manager is a great way to gain the wisdom gained from experience. It will still be hard to put them into practice.

So why bother learning hard soft skills?

I was working with a client recently, we were discussing different project technical skills and methods in the context of a particular project. The client asked me what one thing I always did when managing a projects that made them successful. After some though I answered that forming relationships built on honesty, integrity and trust was the thing that made my projects successful. It was definitely the “soft” skills that were most important.

Looking after your team and making sure they have a good work-life balance is important for building the teams trust. When unforeseen project risks occur you need the team to put in the extra hours to get the project back on track. A team that trusts you will respond and not just walk out the door when you need them. Having a good relationship with project stakeholders is important when you have to explain delays in a project. When you have that good relationship it is more likely the stakeholders will respond with help instead of placing blame. The relationship is key. Managing a schedule will not help much in a tough situation.

The hard soft skills are key for project success!

By Lachlan Mollison, Project Manager & relationship builder

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