So you've decided you would like to climb aboard the project management ride, and feel that your love for planning, passion for budgeting and the pleasure evoked by telling people what to do will get you climbing the career ladder. But is this enough? What about the soft skills that you need to land and sustain your dream project manager role? Being a project manager can sometimes compare to being a pawn in a difficult game of chess. You are often assigned to projects which are aimed to implement change within the business but are fraught with politics and bound in bureaucracy. In these instances the project manager is often expected to perform an act of magic to deliver a project. I’m going to give you the real deal and tell you from my hands on perspective the skills you need to succeed as an excellent project manager:
- Flexibility - respect the difference of each project
You have to hit the ground running and develop knowledge of a variety of sectors and different subject matters which may be unfamiliar territory. No matter what you have read before, believe me when I say that every project is different. While you can get some very similar projects, no two are ever the same. If you start a project with the assumption that you have done this before and you know exactly how things work at the company, you will be in for a surprise. Stakeholders all operate within their different contexts and you need to be flexible to adapt your previous experience to what works for your current project and organisation. Listen to your stakeholders and team members so that you can balance your approach to ensure you capture the unique insight and ‘subtleties’ from those around you.
- Empathy - understand and appreciate the context
Very few people have the patience to engage with colleagues who have no understanding of their current business dilemma or challenges. This is where empathy can get you ahead of the game. If you have some understanding and appreciation for the current challenges affecting your stakeholders it will put you in good stead for building strong relationships. Like any relationship it takes a while to get to know each other; what works and what doesn't work but once you have developed this understanding you are a step closer to stakeholder bliss. Do your homework and gain as much background information as possible from those around you. That’s not to say it will always be plain sailing and joyous harmony every day – but with empathy you can set the foundation to develop trust which is crucial to any relationship.
- Tenacity - don’t give up
Arguably the most important skill of the lot – tenacity will get you far because with this skill you don't give up until you get the information you need whether it be a follow up to a particular action or a decision to unblock a key issue on the project. To demonstrate the value of tenacity, let’s use the example of the ‘bluffing’ stakeholder. You know, the types who try to mask their lack of progress or understanding with excuses. You ask for information and you are left with a complicated reason as to why you can't have what you are asking for, or you are challenged for asking for the essential information that you need to do your job. This type of scenario is easily squashed with tenacity and determination; you need to stand your ground and be firm and clear about what you need.
- Integrity - stand for what you believe in and be honest
Having integrity will serve you well as it is crucial to highlight challenges and issues even if they are caused by your project team, sponsor or key business stakeholders. There is no value in covering up bad practice, poor quality work or weak decision making because ultimately these weaknesses will be blamed on the project manager even if they are out of your remit. Be transparent and stand for what you believe in – your focus should be on achieving the best outcomes for the project and ultimately the business that you are assigned to.
- Eloquence - demonstrate your credibility
Surely everyone can speak or express their opinion? Well no, they can't. Some people waffle and can't make a succinct point, while others speak in a dull monotone voice. Some mumble and are not able to provide clear verbal information and others are great verbally but their written communication lacks etiquette and is either too informal or too formal. You need to get the right balance. Over the years I've worked with many team members and what sets aside the best from the rest for me, is how well they are able to communicate. Your voice, diction and tone are so important and arguably represent your credibility. The way you convey and deliver information can demonstrate how serious an issue or risk is. You can have all the ideas or knowledge in the world but if you are unable to express yourself clearly, the content may be misinterpreted or even worse ignored.
Now that you have an understanding of these top skills, why not try and work on each? The beauty of these skills is that they are transferable and relevant across your everyday life. Project management is a rewarding and interesting career so don’t be afraid to enhance your soft skills to be an excellent project manager.