A good project manager needs to develop both hard skills and soft skills.
While hard skills are all about knowledge and execution according to project management standards (e.g. knowing how to create a project charter, how to do agile etc.) and are easier to learn, soft skills need years practising and mastering.
Some people are born with a natural ability to be great project managers, others need to cultivate their soft skills more.
Regardless, to be a great project manager, today we will cover the top soft skills that you need.
This is a continuation of my series on project management fundamentals - if you missed the previous topics, here's what we've covered before: the differences between projects and operations, projects, programmes and portfolios, the DARCI model for stakeholder engagement, how to run an effective project kick-off meeting, how to create a project charter and how to create a work breakdown structure.
Now to the top soft skills of a project manager.
The Top Soft Skills of a Project Manager [Project Management Fundamentals]
To me, this is by far the most important skill a project manager needs - the ability to understand and be understood. Good communication is key for relationship-building (especially important when it's a brand new project team) and in project management relationships often determine the execution of a project. A simple misunderstanding due to improper communication can basically ruin your project.
A project manager needs to be able to effectively communicate with various stakeholders and through various formats - meetings, emails, documents, 1:1s etc.
Every project requires a proper communication plan that communicates the right information at the right amount through the right channel and at the right time to the right stakeholders from the DARCI model. In addition, this plan needs to take into consideration what the communication preferences are for various people involved in the project - for every project this will be different and as a project manager you need to be agile and able to communicate in different ways.
Finally, a project manager needs to be able to listen and clearly understand, not just communicate themselves. The team will be bringing up issues, decision-makers will have demands so you'll need to understand these and be able to respond with the right message.
For every project, you will have a distinct project team to work with. Usually, these people don't report to you in the organisational hierarchy so you need to be able to lead and inspire them really well.
You need to be able to set the vision and guide the project team towards reaching it purely through persuasion.
Relationship-building is important here as you will need to build commitment with them to execute on their tasks, fully motivated and eager to reach the project goals.
You also need to keep the team in line when there are issues because ultimately the success of the project is your responsibility.
For a project to be successful, you need to organise not just your resources but your time too. You need to be very good at documenting things and making things easier for your team and everybody else who is involved or interested in this project.
This includes time planning, resource allocation, communication efforts, results and reporting and of course the use of the appropriate project management tools.
You need to be able to quickly find what you need or point a person to it. A good structure is key so that you and your team can be effective and efficient.
#4. Critical thinking and decision-making
As a project manager, you will have certain goals to hit but no project goes as smoothly as planned at the beginning. You will face various hurdles and challenges such as conflicting data, execution flaws, last-minute lacking resources etc. and you need to able to analyse the situation, evaluate the options and make a decision on how to best move forward.
Ultimately, you are the one responsible for the final outcome of the project so you need to be able to critically analyse data and information, make connections and conclusions, explain the issues to team members and generally be a problem-solver.
#5. Conflict management and negotiation
As mentioned in the previous point, you'll be facing plenty of challenges with every project and oftentimes the worst issues are the ones that involved people. You'll have to act as a mitigator and sometimes solve problems between two team members or important stakeholders. The ability to manage conflicts effectively so that they don't affect the outcome of the project is crucial.
You'll also need to be able to negotiate not just when there's an issue, but also when you need more resources - time, budget and people who e.g. don't report to you so that you get them assigned to your team. There will be various situations where your negotiation power will allow you to successfully continue with the project and not have issues hinder the execution.
Obviously, there's a lot more a project manager needs to be able to do well but to me, these are the top five soft skills that I also work on every day.
What other skills are critical for a project manager in your opinion?