It’s not all Data and Hard Hats! Essential Soft Skills for Project Managers
Project managers have moved way beyond sitting around a conference table staring at blueprints
or wearing hard hats at job sites. These days project managers have a team that may be located
all over the country or the world. They may be handling projects involving complex data-driven
analytics or large construction oversight. But what has become the norm in all of these
situations is the need for what is now known as “soft skills”. What are soft skills and why are
they important? Let’s take a look.
In the big picture, soft skills help a project manager make their vision known to their team.
It’s how they inspire their team to be more and get more done. Now that sounds more touchy-feely
than it really is, but it’s not much more complicated than that. And it works no matter what the
project, what kind of team is being managed or where they are located.
What are all these soft skills? This is where it really gets fun.
Now it might seem like this one is a no-brainer and if a project manager has this one no of the
rest matter. And if they don’t have this one, they shouldn’t be a project manager period. But
this is bigger than just being able to speak in complete sentences. Being clear and open in
dealing with your team is a necessity. One of the main reasons is that what you give is what
you get. If your team knows that’s what they’re getting from you then that’s what they’ll give
in return. And communication is only half what you say. It also requires being a good listener.
Active listening with your team, clients and stake holders will build trust and further
engagement in achieving shared goals.
Maybe this one is tied with communication. Leadership is about really understanding your team,
what makes them tick, how they work and what will make them successful. That means knowing the
project goals and ensuring that every member of the team knows them as well. If the outcomes
of a project are not clearly defined and everyone doesn’t understand their roles and
responsibilities in achieving those outcomes, then team buy-in unlikely. And the Project
Manager’s leadership is key in communicating the goals and any changes that occur as the
As the last year has shown, keeping a decentralized team motivated is a huge challenge.
Keeping a team in the same building motivated can be challenging as well too. Motivation
is known as the “will to act” and there’s nothing better a project manager can do than
give that to their team. Issuing orders and directives won’t help a team buy in to the
common goals and help you all move in the same direction. Learning what gives each of
your team members the “will to act” through active listening as mentioned above will
enable you to get the best out of your team.
We touched in the beginning about an effective project manager being able to manage a
multitude of tasks. Showing this ability to your team is not just about data management
and being able to assign tasks. It’s about time management; planning tasks and deadlines
so that your team is not rushed to meet a deadline and anxious about their workloads.
And then leading them in a way so that they don’t procrastinate and wait to finish a
project due in two weeks at the last minute. All of this organizational capability will
create an effective and stress-free work environment.
This may not seem like a unique skill for a Project Manager, but lack of effective
decision-making can kill a project. Project Managers need to be able to see a project
from all angles, look at all the criteria involved and how others will be affected when
they make their decisions. When a project manager makes decisions that are seen as
effective, they are deemed trustworthy by their team and their stakeholders.
You can do the first three items on this list perfectly and you will not be able to guarantee
smooth sailing all the time. And it doesn’t work to just wait until a conflict arises to
figure out how to fix it. Having an understanding of conflict resolution strategies and how
to put them into play will help you head off problems when they are little. If they get to
be big out of control issues that fester, they poison the whole team. Surprisingly, when you
manage a conflict well, it can bring the whole team closer together than before.
At the end of the day, all the skills we’ve talked about are about building trust. As a
project manager if you are an organized leader who communicates well, motivates your team
and is effective in your conflict management; and if you have clear decision-making skills,
then your team will trust you and follow your lead. Being transparent about your decisions
and sharing information also shows that you are trusting and trustworthy. The more of that
you can do the better! And remembering that trust is a two-way street. Trusting that your
team members, peers and stakeholders are fulfilling their obligations creates an environment
of confidence and makes projects much more successful.
So, which of these do you possess and which do you need to polish? Do all of your Project
Managers have these skills or would some workshops be helpful? It has been overheard that
we needed to be nice to each other during the pandemic because we were all so stressed and
everything was so unsettled. And having these soft skills was more important. Not true.
Soft skills like those we have talked about here have always been essential and are going
to continue to be critical now and well into the future. Your team members want to feel
valued and heard from a Project Manager that is organized and transparent in their
communication. That hasn’t and isn’t going to change.