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A Guide to Soft Skills for Project Managers

 MS MS

Published: 31st October 2022

Soft skills are vital for project managers. Our brief guide takes a look at exactly how you should be using them in order to be the most effective in your role.

Mindful listening

Communication is an essential skill in the field of project management and one that is very much a two-way street. It isn’t enough to simply be communicating with the members of your team and stakeholders. You also need to be listening, and listening well, to what it is that others have to say. Team members who feel listened to feel valued, and this makes them want to achieve more in their role. So even when you think you are too busy, take time to listen when someone wants to talk to you.

Keeping calm in stressful situations

Project management can be a stressful environment, and learning how to keep calm can be invaluable. Our 4 quick tips to help you keep calm are:

1.     Avoid multitasking

2.     Listen to your team

3.     Find the source of the stress

4.     Plan ahead

Of course, these tips may not stop you being completely stress-free. However, they will go a good way towards helping to keep you much calmer in the face of any stressful situation.

Encourage collaboration

Collaborative management is really important when it comes to the morale of a team, and it is the role of the project manager to ensure that collaboration is actively encouraged. Collaboration can be encouraged with organisation, the use of the right software, by holding regular meetings to get opinions and feedback, by being flexible and prepared to listen to alternative solutions and ensuring that the morale of the team is kept high.

When you encourage collaboration in the right way, then the latter of these should follow as a matter of course. When morale is high in your team, then productivity will be up, and your project is more likely to hit its goals for timescales, budgets and, of course, achieving the desired outcome.

Guide to Stakeholders - kick-off meeting

Give performance reviews

Completing performance reviews is just one of the tasks that a project manager needs to undertake as part of their role. This can, however, be quite a hard task to complete and something that team members may not be particularly happy about. In order to complete a good performance review, you need to start with the basics. That means that you should keep notes over the course of the year that you can use to help with this. Remember that a good appraisal should be qualitative and quantitative.

The preparation is only part of the appraisal process so make sure that you consider the structure of the meeting before it takes place. You will need to gather all of your notes together and ensure you have everything that you need to hand.

Do you have effective soft skills?

There is a lot of information out there and even some research which looks at the sort of soft skills that employers are really looking for. The key skills are of course:

  • Effective communication, not forgetting listening
  • Empathy
  • Ability to motivate and influence people
  • Ability to work collaboratively
  • Being flexible

Whilst many of these are skills that people either have or don’t have, it is never a bad idea to look at ways in which you can improve your soft skills. This will make you better in your current role and will make you more desirable to future employers as well.

Managing stress

A little stress is not necessarily a bad thing, it can help motivate someone to be more productive in their role. However, when left unchecked, it can become too much, and it is important to be able to spot the signs of stress in order to work on ways in which it can be managed. Stress is not a weakness, and it is important that anyone feels able to communicate when they are struggling in order to find solutions that will help them to deal with the stress and hopefully avoid things becoming too much in the future.

Emotional intelligence

Being aware of your emotions and knowing how to express them and then control them effectively. This is emotional intelligence, another important skill for project managers. This is one of those soft skills that are harder to teach, but over time it is something that can be improved upon. This can really only be done through perseverance and practice.

Achieve a good work-life balance

It can be difficult to shut out the workplace at the end of the day but ensuring that you have a good work-life balance is essential. Overworking can cause stress, so take time away from your work, enjoy time with your family and do the things you love. This will help you to return to your desk refreshed, and you will ultimately be more productive.

Good body language

Body language is important no matter what field you work in. Sometimes we are not aware of our body language and can show our emotions without realising it. This isn’t always a problem, but it is important to work on this skill as you do not want to offend people if your body language fails to keep your emotions under control.

Project burnout

Burnout happens when the pressures in your project, the stresses and any other factors reach a level where the team is no longer able to work effectively. Effective soft skills enable you to detect little signs that someone is suffering burnout include:

  • Excessive sick days
  • Silly mistakes
  • Increasingly argumentative behaviour
  • Reduced sense of humour
  • Cancelling days off
  • Poor team relations
  • Excessive over-time
  • Working minimal hours only
Spotting and Stopping Project Burnout

In the first instance, having a chat with the team member can be a good starting point that can help you to pinpoint exactly what the problem is. If this is possible, then you can offer strategies to help.

When burnout occurs in the project manager rather than a member of the team, the tell-tale signs to look out for include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Alienation
  • Reduced performance

When these signs start to creep in, you need to get your time management under control, ensure that you take regular breaks, take some holiday days, make sure that you have your home, and work-life balance right and take some time to look after yourself. If you don’t consider soft skills an essential part of team work then you are not making the most of your team.

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