10 Soft Skills a Project Manager Should Have

Are you a project manager or hoping to become one? You may be wondering what skills will be most important to have for you to excel in the job. 

Keyword(s): project management, soft skills

Project Management is both a science and an art. It is an art because project managers have to ensure that the team gets along well and the extra edge that contributes to the success of the project is achieved through efficiencies and synergies. It is a science because they need to estimate budgets, draw up schedules, and manage costs and earn profits. In this context, it is very important for project managers to have good soft skills like communication, people management, and personality. The project manager is like a conductor in an opera who provides the direction to the individual performers in the team. Hence, project managers have to have exceptional people skills as they are tasked with the objective of carrying the team along with them.

By understanding the role of soft skills and mastering useful soft skill methods, you can drive hard-core outcomes associated to improved profitability, much less absenteeism, and improved relationships with stakeholders that drives new opportunity.

Whether you do these activities in a dedicated risk management tool or in a simple spreadsheet, the project management risk management skill to master is the ability to identify risks properly before they turn into issues and come up with effective mitigation plans so that the risk of them ever becoming issues is nullified.

The best project teams report that interpersonal abilities or soft skills are essential when managing projects and people, and often make the most important difference in retaining key talent, growing the business, or losing one project after another. When you facilitate teamwork as a project manager, you’ll contribute to the project being completed on time, individual team members feeling more satisfied, and maintaining a positive work environment with high morale.

Further, project managers need to communicate with different stakeholders including their superiors, the support functions like Admin and HR, and the other interfaces like vendors, customers, and members of other project teams with which their team is interacting. All these aspects call for a superior display of people skills from the project manager. We will discuss each of these skills in the following sections.

1. Leadership

Leadership is an essential characteristic of the project manager. Leadership is also about showing people how they can achieve their own objectives by aligning themselves to the project’s objectives. If a senior engineer on the team has a career goal to be an architect showing him that getting involved in the design phase, putting in the additional effort to acquire the required knowledge, and contributing can help him grow into that role.

2. Motivation

When people know that their work is making a difference – to the customer, end-users, company, as well as themselves – they stay motivated. People have various personal and professional needs and goals, and they need to be satisfied on that front. For some people it may be about financial compensation, for some it is a sense of accomplishment by doing challenging work, for some, it could be hierarchical growth and for others, it could be getting recognition of their hard work. Knowing what motivates each of your team members and helping them get those things will keep the team motivated.

3. Decision making

Decision-making is about how does a project manager goes about handling issues on the project. These are a few basic techniques in decision-making:

  • Command – this type of decision-making is authoritative. The project manager’s decision is final, and the team is expected to follow it.
  • Consultation – is when you consult your team members and stakeholders and then take the most rational decision in the best interest of the project.
  • Consensus – means that a decision that appeals to the majority of the team is taken. This may not be the best way to make – means that a decision that appeals to the majority of the team is taken. This may not be the best way to make a decision because the decision of the majority may not necessarily be in the best interest of the project (ever heard the phrase “the giraffe is a camel designed by a committee”? 🙂 ).
  • Coin-flip (random decision) – this is the least preferred one and best avoided. Decisions made using this technique do not generally gain the respect of team members, since there is no reasoning involved.

4. Active Listening

The ability to listen is a powerful skill in project management and one that is both undervalued and difficult to come by. When you are busy it is easy to forget to re-connect with team members or colleagues to discuss any issues or queries. Taking the time to listen to colleagues can help build trust and accountability. It can also help detect any unanticipated risks and potential solutions to the problems. When performing active listening try to

  • Be patient and never interrupt others before they have finished;
  • Think about what is being said before responding;
  • Avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions;
  • Ask the right questions to enrich the discussion;
  • Be aware of what is not being communicated and why.

5. Stay curious

As organizational change moves at a pace quicker than ever before, project managers simply cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the changes going on around them. Therefore, it is important to stay curious, stay aware, ask questions, learn about the emerging trends in their role or any new skills or qualifications that can enhance their project management capabilities.

6. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence in this context describes a project manager’s self- and social awareness and their ability to form relationships with others involved in a project. By regulating emotions in the right way, at the right time means you can can handle situations calmly and objectively and:

  • Read the emotions of team members and empathise better;
  • Find common ground with resources and stakeholders to build trust;
  • Be aware of personal and team stress and how it impacts productivity;
  • Be open and able to adapt to internal and external changes.
  • Motivate your team and instill positivity and trust

7. Communication

Communication skills, both written and verbal, are crucial in every role, but particularly for project managers. Would you be able to manage a project from start to finish without any communication? Not a chance.

Solid communication skills help your project team do their best work, ensure stakeholders are adequately informed and help you keep all parties on the same page. Email updates, project documentation, and stakeholder presentations are all areas you can hone your communication to become a more effective project manager.

8. Teamwork

The success of the project doesn’t depend on the project manager alone. Rather, the success of the project is driven by the project team. That means teamwork and being able to steer many toward a common goal and output is critical.

When you facilitate teamwork as a project manager, you’ll contribute to the project being completed on time, individual team members feeling more satisfied, and maintaining a positive work environment with high morale.

9. Trust building

A leader can earn trust by sharing information with the team, being transparent about decisions, getting people involved in the decision-making process, being genuinely interested in team members’ growth, and helping people achieve their goals.

A leader also needs to be able to communicate straight, without beating the bush, and be receptive to team member’s suggestions and concerns. Listening to their concerns, empathize with them, and making an earnest attempt to solve their problems will also give you team members’ trust, even if you are not able to solve some of their issues.

10. Conflict management

Inevitably, people working together will have conflict. It’s natural and not a problem, but it is something that a good PM knows how to deal with. A successful conflict manager will know how to keep tempers in check and address problems as they arise so that the team can move forward and keep working toward their goals without hurt feelings or big blow-outs. They also know not to shy away from conflict but rather to face them head-on.

How to Improve Your Team’s Soft Skills?

If you’re feeling like your project management team has room to grow in terms of soft skills, you’re not alone. Each of the soft skills listed above can be developed, nurtured, and improved using a combination of leading by example and implementing ongoing corporate training.

For more tangible skills essential for project managers, check our project management training courses.

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