There have been various studies and surveys that suggest many employers believe that job applicants who have just left college or university are lacking in a range of soft skills that are necessary in the workplace. Of course their academic knowledge and technical skills are important but in the workplace an employee, whether in a project management role or any other role, also needs skills such as:
• Effective communication, including good listening skills
• Empathy – understand other people’s emotions
• Influence and motivate other people
• Work collaboratively
• Flexibility – prepared to do tasks outside your defined role
But if we know the soft skills that are required why are they lacking and how can you go about improving your own soft skills?
Some people believe that soft skills cannot be taught and they are either innate or non-existent in a person, but one of the reasons so many people are lacking in this area is that the traditional education system does not place much, if any, emphasis on teaching them. Educational bodies are far more concerned with teaching the technical and academic knowledge required to gain a qualification and soft skills are unlikely to affect an individual’s ability to succeed in their chosen course of study.
It could be argued that this is the right approach to achieving qualifications and knowledge, but with so many well-qualified individuals looking for jobs it could just be the soft skills that single you out from the competition, and that is true whether you are a newly qualified graduate looking for your first project management role or an experienced, accredited project manager.
Apart from the fact that they are not considered as important as the technical or academic skills and knowledge, perhaps one of the reasons why soft skills are not specifically taught in schools, colleges and universities is that they are not easy to teach, because soft skills are so dependent on personalities and emotions of both teacher and student, which vary so much from one individual to the next. But whether in a project management role, or any other role, the ability to communicate effectively, manage your own feelings and understand those of your fellow employees can help you to influence others and build strong, motivated teams, which are great leadership skills, well worth making the effort to develop.
Depending on your individual personality developing these skills could be hard but take a look at those around you who have good leadership qualities and charisma. Look at how they deal with people and how they get the results they want. You might work in an authoritarian environment where results are achieved through a carrot and stick approach but it is more likely that good leaders and managers have positively influenced their teams by understand the individual personalities by listening and observation. So observe how they use their soft skills to best effect and start by trying to pick up tips from those that do it well and go from there to build up your own experience on the soft skills front.
Do you agree that soft skills are essential for success in project management?