When you choose someone to manage an important project, you need to know that they have the technical expertise and experience to handle the job— but what about the ability to actually manage their team?
More and more, companies are realizing that people, or “soft” skills, are just as important to the success or failure of projects since project managers need to be able to effectively work with and understand those under their charge. What kinds of skills are important to have?
You can’t manage a project that involves multiple people without the ability to communicate effectively. Partially, this means being clear and to the point, so that there is no confusion regarding responsibilities, deadlines, or other project-specific tasks. Otherwise, you might end up having overlap in work and losing productivity.
But just as important in communication is your ability to think about how your team might emotionally react to certain kinds of language, directions, or suggestions, and work towards maintaining a positive or neutral tone.
Good project managers know what makes their people tick. For some, it can involve giving them a little kick in the but when they are falling behind. Others require positive reinforcement and encouragement to do well, and still others need a specific reward or goal to shoot for.
Part of the responsibility of a project manager is being able to get tough on those people who respond well to it and do a bit of hand-holding for those where that strategy works better. You have to be able to switch gears when needed, and quickly size people up so that you can utilize the best tactics with them.
It’s inevitable—at some point over the course of the project, people on your team are going to have difficulty with part of the work or need to deal with a personal situation that hurts their productivity. A manager with poor soft skills would simply focus on the fact that their productivity was going down and the project was suffering because of it. But pointing this out to someone who is already struggling without trying to figure out what the problem is and how to help with it may make the employee feel more stressed out and alone, and will possibly even make the issue worse.
Someone who can empathize with their team’s problems and try to help them through it will create team members who feel valued and grateful for the understanding, which means that they will be that much more willing to go the extra mile when you need it.
Who would you rather work for—a mechanical taskmaster or someone who stops by every morning to ask about your family or talk about the big game the night before? Maybe that’s a bit too far but project managers who maintain a friendly working relationship with their team tend to be more liked and more respected than their peers who focus solely on the work and productivity. Simply put, it’s a lot easier to try harder for someone that you like personally than for a person who doesn’t seem to know—or care—what your name is.
An overlooked trait in soft skills, optimism can be the reason why your project succeeds or fails. A project manager with a positive outlook can work wonders by constantly encouraging and convincing team members that they can not only do a good job on the task at hand, but complete it on time and under budget. It’s all about belief, and when the person in charge believes in the abilities of his or her team, that feeling can catch on and empower the entire enterprise to do better.
It may seem odd for integrity to be included as a soft skill, but it comes down to the fact that people are often more willing to work harder for people that they respect and admire. If a project manager is seen as a person of values and integrity, then her/his team is more likely to want to do a good job for her because they will want that person’s respect and to help her/him do well.
About the Author:
Aileen Pablo is a Filipina business and career blogger. She works at www.opencolleges.edu.au one of the pioneers of Online education in Australia and one of the leading providers of human resources courses and cert iv training and assessment. If you want to feature her on your blog, drop a line at aileen (at) oc.edu.au.