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Project Management Soft Skills Development

written by: Rupen Sharma, PMP • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 9/16/2010

Who is responsible for resolving conflicts, people management and stress management? The project manager of course! Soft skills development is a critical part of management. There is more to project management than meets the eye.

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    Introduction to Soft Skills

    The role of a project manager is complex and involves several activities, including sub-contract management, scope management, time management, and risk management. However, there is more to project management than these activities. Project management also involves soft skills, such as managing people, conflict resolution, and facilitation. Depending on your responsibilities, the degree of soft skills required may vary, but will never vanish altogether. Hence, your soft skills development will vary accordingly.

    For example, suppose your team is creating an Intranet for a client and you are located on the client’s site and have a project manager at your office who is responsible for leading the development team. As a client-site project manager, your main responsibility is to understand the client’s requirements, build relationships, and spot opportunities that’ll provide greater client value. You will also probably handle client escalations and ensure client satisfaction. Can you spot which soft skills the manager needs to develop?

    Notice how your job profile mainly consists of soft skills and does not entail activities usually associated with project managers, such as schedule creation. In this setup, activities like schedule creation will be completed by the project manager located at your organization’s offices. As a client-site project manager, you will only be required to review the plans. To excel in the role of client-site project manager, you will need to impeccable in soft skills. The project manager located at your organization’s offices will also require soft skills, such as leadership, conflict resolution, and maintaining team morale. To succeed both managers need to soft skills development. Both roles will also require facilitation skills for activities, such as conducting a SWOT Analysis and Brainstorming sessions. Read on to see which soft skills development you need to have as part of your growth plan.

    Soft skills are crucial for you to succeed as a project manager!

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    Soft Skills Development

    Project Management Soft Skills Communication skills are critical for any project manager. Can you imagine status meetings and reports given by project managers or team members who have difficulty articulating sentences? I thought not!

    Apart from communication skills, managers need soft skills development in the following areas:

    • Leadership: This a key soft skills development area. As a project manager, you are expected to “lead” the team. This means you should be able to make the team and client believe the project vision can realized. Imagine a trek without someone to lead the way. The trekkers are bound to get lost. As a project manager, you have the power to lead. A good book to read is The 48 laws of Power by Robert Greene.
    • Team Management: A project manager almost always has a team to lead. Leading a team will always run the risk of low morale, conflicts, low productivity, low motivation, ego and identity issues, and other people-related problems. Understanding the drivers behind each team member is critical to building a well-knit team. Running frequent team-building activities helps in building a cohesive unit. By using Agile practices, team management becomes easier. You need sharp soft skills to manage an Agile project.
    • Stress Management: For teams to excel there needs to be a certain degree of healthy stress. Goals should neither be too easy, nor too hard to reach. Striking the right balance is key to keeping the team motivated and productive. In projects that use Agile techniques, the team's stress is a factor when determining the ideal Iteration Length. Agile managers require soft skills development in not only Agile processes, but also Agile values.
    • Facilitation: This is another soft skills development area that managers must have. Useful for imparting training and collecting client requirements. You can expect to run workshops in which you’ll gain clarity on the client’s requirements. A project manager also imparts training, facilitates virtual conferences and brainstorming sessions, and conducts SWOT Analysis for identifying risks and opportunities.
    • Coaching and Mentoring: This soft skills development is related to employee development. As the leader of a project, the team needs to look up to you. Otherwise, it’ll be very difficult for you to exercise authority. Coaching and mentoring team members can help build trust and authority. It's also an easy way to get the team to look up to you. Read the An Employee Coaching Checklist: Before the Session article for details on employee development through coaching and mentoring.
    • Conflict Management: People management is necessary for all project managers, hence this is one of the key soft skills that every manager should have. Conflicts can stem from various sources, such as from the team or the client. Hence, questions on the strategies of managing conflicts are very common in the PMP exam. Your ability to resolve conflicts is a key success factor while managing a team. Read the Workplace Conflict Resolution Techniques for Project Managers article for details on how to incorporate this in your soft skills development.