- What are soft skills?
- Body language
- Listening is an essential communication tool
- Pay attention to faulty listening
- The importance of emotional intelligence as a project manager
- Stress and project management
- The importance of the home/work balance
- Collaboration within the project team
- The importance of the performance review
- The importance of managing stress
A project manager is the lifeblood of any organisation, and the soft skills that they have, in addition to their professional qualifications and industry experience, are what really sets the great project manager apart from the good project manager.
Whilst some soft skills are ones that people naturally excel at; there are others that come with time and experience. However, one thing is very clear, and that is that having a good set of the right soft skills is something that employers are looking for. This could be one of the reasons that recent studies have shown that many employers feel those individuals who are looking for their first role in the field of project management are lacking when it comes to soft skills. They simply don’t have the range and depth of skilsl necessary for the workplace. Whilst technical and academic skills that they have gained in education are important; it is these other skills that set one project management candidate above another.
Soft skills are something that many people believe are either innate or non-existent in a person, and they cannot be taught. Examples of soft skills include
· Effective communication – including the ability to listen effectively
· Empathy, being able to understand the emotions of others
· Being able to influence and motivate others
· Being able to work collaboratively
· Being flexible and prepared to do tasks that fall outside the role defined by your job title
Whilst it is true that many of these skills could be considered things you either have or don’t have, many of them are ones that can be improved upon whilst in an educational setting gaining those all-important qualifications. They might not be taught, but working on projects with others in this type of setting can certainly help to improve communication, collaboration and even flexibility.
Whilst body language in itself may not be a soft skill; it is incredibly important to understand how body language can help you in your working life. Whether you are a project manager or not, this can significantly impact how any communication you have with your team members is received.
There are 8 different elements of body language that you may like to consider, and understanding them may help you with your communication skills:
- Facial cues – It’s understandable that the face is the first place we might look for clues to how a person is feeling when we are speaking to them. Eye contact, grimacing, smiling and frowning are all things we recognise. Eye contact is essential if you want someone to feel listened to and understood.
- The eyes – looking down indicates a lack of confidence, and staring can appear aggressive. Be confident about what you are saying, and let your eyes show this confidence.
- How you hold yourself – your posture and how you hold yourself in a situation gives some significant cues to those you are talking to about how you are really feeling. Slumped shoulders and folded arms give the idea that you are closed and not open to suggestions.
- Gestures – waving, nodding, and even gesticulation. These are all forms of body language that can help to emphasise a point.
- How you speak – your inflection and how you use your voice, as well as the tone you use, can really help to show how you are feeling about what you are saying.
- How you move – from the smallest movement to the largest, every movement counts, so make sure that you are aware of what you are doing.
- Touch – there are four elements of touch. These are friendly, professional, social and intimate. Touch involves invading a person’s personal space, so be careful how you use it. Be aware of how you use it, and be sure you are not being inappropriate.
- How you present yourself – appearance is important, and how you present yourself will not only give you confidence but also those in your team.
We can’t stress enough just how important a skill of good communication is when it comes to project management. However, it is essential for a project manager to be good at all aspects of communication, and this doesn’t just mean talking to a team. Getting the balance right when it comes to communication is the mark of a great project leader and one who will be able to get far more out of their project team.
Whilst verbal communication will probably form a significant part of your communication on a project; whether this is through regular meetings, both in person and virtually, there are times when this may not be the best way to get new information to the rest of your team. Messages can be a really good way of sharing information, and when you have team members in different time zones, this can often be the best way of achieving this. Good project management software will allow you to send these messages and also have a record of what information has been shared, who it has been shared with and when to give you consistency throughout the project.
Of course, sharing information both verbally and in writing is just one side of the communication coin. In order to be a good communicator, you also need to be able to listen to the members of your team as well. If you are a project manager who doesn’t listen, then team members may feel like they cannot approach you with problems. This might be things that could be detrimental to the timescale, budget or both of your project.
All too often, mistakes are made as a result of “faulty” listening. This is when you have only listened with half your mind on the person speaking, and you have been thinking about something else as well. Give your full attention to anyone who is speaking to you to avoid this happening because, further down the line, it could have an impact on your project.
Studies have shown just how critical Emotional Intelligence is for both personal and professional success. The term is used to describe how aware someone is of their emotions, how they express them and how they control them. When it comes to project management, this is another skill that should be at the top of the list of desired skills for any project manager. The reason is simple; project management is a people-oriented role. Emotional Intelligence encompasses five different key elements:
- Social skills – those who have higher social skills tend to have better Emotional Intelligence. They find it easier to build a rapport with people and find common ground. They often find it easier to influence and inspire people towards achieving their goals.
- Empathy – the ability to realise how other people are feeling. You understand what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes, and this is essential when it comes to managing a team of different people.
- Motivation – you have the capacity to motivate yourself and others.
- Self-regulation – the ability to manage your feelings and handle your emotions. You are capable of controlling how much emotion you show.
- Self-awareness – if you are not self-aware, you cannot self-regulate. You need to be able to recognise your feelings and emotions and then understand your mood. Don’t lie to yourself about how you feel; you need to be able to recognise it and deal with it.
Whilst Emotional Intelligence is a soft skill, it is one that is much harder to teach. Many people will tell you it is something that individuals either have or don’t have, but it is something that you can learn to improve over time. This improvement may even happen as part of a project management qualification. It is important if you want to improve your Emotional Intelligence that you understand your own emotions.
There is no doubt that project management is stressful, and this is something that every good project manager needs to be fully aware of. Taking time to ensure that your work-life balance is a good one and that you understand the signs of burnout that you should be looking out for in your team can go a long way towards helping with the wellness of your team and you.
It can be difficult to achieve a good work-life balance, but it is important to do so in order to perform the best you can. There are a number of ways in which you can achieve this and promote your own wellness:
1. Take your time – It is not possible to control everything in a project. Consider that if you need to be available for everyone in your home and work lives all of the time and are doing too much, then you will burn out. Create a work diary and a personal diary, and ensure that nothing overlaps. Make sure that you are not spending too much time at work and if you are, try to reduce your hours to show that you are also spending good quality time with your loved ones – it will benefit your work in the long term.
2. Consider the milestones – there are always deadlines, targets and other goals that you will be working towards. Consider setting yourself some personal milestones too. These might be things like learning a new hobby or losing some weight. These can help you to focus on your home life and reduce the stresses in your work life.
3. Learn to delegate – if you’re trying to do all of the work on your own, then you need to consider your priorities if you can delegate tasks within the team. A project is not just about one person, it’s about a whole team working together. The same is true if a member of your team is struggling. Consider delegating some of their tasks to someone else to alleviate their burden this can help reduce the risk of burnout.
4. Use resources wisely – Consider project management software calendars. These are important as you can use them to ensure that you are balancing work and personal life and that tasks are being equally divided.
5. Take time for yourself – breaks are essential. It is not weak to take a coffee break and take 5 minutes away from your desk. This is a fantastic way in which you can recharge your batteries and approach your next task with a greater level of concentration. Taking breaks has been shown to actually help increase productivity.
Whilst the project manager may be at the helm of their project, it is important to elaborate if management will play a vital part in that role. Working with a good team and setting out the groundwork will ensure that all the necessary tasks of your project are completed in order to achieve your end goals.
Project management is all about getting things done. Therefore, the first step needs to be organised properly in order to propel the rest of the project forwards. This first plan should include details of who will be doing what, when and how with time scales and budgets. A project plan, however, does not have to be final. Collaboration within your project team may mean that as the project progresses, your project plan adapts and changes to incorporate other suggestions and ideas. This not only means that every member of your team is getting involved, but it also means that they will feel like they have a more important role to play within the project, and this goes a long way towards promoting wellness within your team.
The right project management software solutions are a very good way of keeping your team together even when they are working from different locations or even countries. It can also be handy when they are in the same building but work on different tasks. The humble meeting is also a good collaboration tool and one that should not be dismissed. Sometimes having your full team in one room and discussing the project can be a good way of ensuring that everybody is collaborating together. Whilst this may be difficult if your team is based in different locations, it is still possible to achieve this in some way, even if some of your team need to attend the meeting virtually. It has been shown that a strong team who works together and collaborates effectively has better morale, and this leads to a happier workplace.
One of the hardest parts of the project manager role is the necessity to give feedback to team members via their performance review. And to be fair, it isn’t something that most team members look forward to either, but it is essential.
For your own peace of mind, wellness and to ease the workload, it is important that this is not something that is left until the end of the year; making notes as the year progresses makes it much easier to remember things.
Pick the right time to complete each appraisal and remember the importance of those soft skills; body language and how you communicate will play an important role when it comes to delivering an appraisal and will help to make your team member feel a little more at ease.
When it comes to wellness, it goes without saying that stress and how you manage it plays an important role in both mental and physical wellness. Of course, this is often easier said than done.
A little stress can often be a good thing in project management. It can help to motivate you and your team to produce the results that you need to complete your project within budget and without going over any planned timescales. However, the tools of communication, organisation and time management are essential when it comes to planning your project effectively in order to keep stress to a minimum. Interpersonal skills and problem-solving can also work in your favour as well.
If you are looking for ways in which you might be able to keep calm when your project is becoming increasingly stressful, then here are four things that you might like to try to help keep things calm:
1. Don’t multitask – whilst multitasking can be good at times, it can mean that your team is not focusing on just one task. Instead, they are spreading their concentration over several tasks, which is never a good solution in the long term. It may be necessary to adjust workloads if there is too much multitasking going on.
2. Listen to your team – it really does come back to communication again and specifically mindful listening. If the project isn’t going as well as you would like, then get everyone together and see what the input from your project team is. Sometimes the best solution to a problem can come from the most unlikely source. Listening can help to reduce everyone’s stress levels, not just those of the project manager; it makes you approachable, and this can help your team feel less stressed.
3. Find the source of the stress – when you look for the exact cause of the stress, you can get to work as quickly as possible on correcting it. This is another thing that can help to reduce the stress levels of the entire team. It might be that in order to find the source of the stress, you need to ask questions of your team.
4. Plan ahead – thinking ahead makes for a more proactive project manager. Don’t anticipate the possibility of a problem occurring. Plan for it so that you have the appropriate measures in place to tackle it when it does happen, and this really will help to keep stress levels at a minimum.
While this may seem like a lot of information to take in, it’s likely that some of these skills and techniques are already being learned and utilised. Remember, building soft skills and incorporating wellness into your work and home life will benefit you both in the short and long term. Therefore, it’s worth reviewing what’s working and what’s not on a regular basis.