The role of a project manager involves knowing when to use the various combinations of skills for maximum effect to successfully reach the finish line of each and every project they undertake.There are many soft skills such as communication, motivation, conflict management and building trust, but just when should you use these specific skills?
Credit where credit’s due
A project manager should always offer praise for a job well done but a balance needs to be found between offering constructive criticism and showering a team with praise as one, or the other will lead to an unmotivated team. Or, alternatively; employees who think they never need to improve (which, in a roundabout way, will still lead to a lack of motivation and growth). People love to learn, and the field of project management, where every day is different, keeps on offering the opportunity to build knowledge and enjoy increased success in every project that is undertaken.
Laying down the law
The ability to be assertive with your team is imperative when facing an approaching deadline where there is still a lot of work to be done. A successful PM will be able to take the rap along with their team. Developing a good rapport with employees will mean they naturally want to help each other, and you, out and will be prepared to make small term sacrifices (like longer working hours) to achieve project success.
Empathy is different from sympathy, and a common problem can result when a project manager cannot recognise this subtle yet important difference. Most project managers courses will cover this but, in many ways, it can be hard to teach the difference.
Sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone but don’t really make an effort to do something about it because you are not in their position. Empathy, however, is the ability to truly step into someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective, which inspires you to take action to try and help them. Empathy is an invaluable soft skill when dealing with a team member who may be facing difficulties in both their work and personal lives. Making a true effort to understand their individual problems and personalities will enable a project manager to creatively brainstorm solutions that will bring benefit to both the employee and the project – a win-win for all.
Although you may not immediately think of it this way; a project manager has to be (or learn to be) a natural salesperson. After all, their job involves having to sell a solution to a problem because that is what project management is all about. One way to do this is via hard-hitting presentations that use pictorial data and limited written words to quickly create a visual impact that can be easily absorbed. Whiteboards are often the go-to tool, but proficiency in compiling graphs and pie charts is one of the specific skills to learn to overcome analysis paralysis or reams of data that promote confusion rather than clarification.
Hard and soft skills
In order to overcome the many (big and small) issues that tend to arise during the course of most projects; a project manager needs to have a variety of both soft and hard skills at their disposal in order to stage a two-pronged approach (as one will rarely work without the other). Hard skills include specific technical or industry-related skills plus knowledge and experience of project management methods and best practices. Soft skills, often referred to as people skills, unfortunately, continue to be under-utilised in what has become an increasingly data-driven world.
Being able to combine multiple skillsets and specific skill types for the benefit of a team and its projects is an important capability that all project managers should strive for.