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I always smile when learning about a new project framework or tool.

At some point, the purveyor of the method will mention that this technique is different because of the soft skills of the project manager. For example, listening, relationship building or conflict resolution. But these things are not new or unique. They are under-used and under-appreciated.

Each framework encourages project managers (PMs) to use the soft skills mentioned so far in this post. They tell us that the modern-day PM has moved on from command-and-control to coaching and facilitating. I question whether any successful project ran purely on command-and-control. Project Managers apply soft skills across three areas: project management, change management and business analysis.

We have to be comfortable with the mechanical skills of project management. Indeed, we need to work quickly and efficiently in this arena because we are also team coach. We support individuals and help them deliver. We don’t do the job for them or make technical decisions. We give our team the opportunity to apply their expertise to the project. We create an open environment where everyone can express their opinions and concerns. We negotiate with the sponsor and key stakeholders, making sure they understand what they are buying into and the impact of changes on cost and timings.

As a change manager, we think about the end customer of our project. We make sure they are ready to change. We resolve their concerns. We act as their advocates. If we are launching a new product or service, we bring the voice of the customer into our requirements, reviews and decision-making.

Wearing a Business Analyst hat, we find and provide the information to make data-driven decisions. We present progress in a way that is meaningful. We can build a business case and realise benefits. We structure requirements to make them congruent and complete.

Why pioneering? At times stakeholders are impatient with good preparation. (I was once told to “get on with the f’ing project”, which the board later cancelled because the preparation work showed it was ill-conceived). Standing up against this pressure is hard, particularly when recruiting managers seek a Project Manager to produce a Gantt chart and nothing more. There will always be an important place for a schedule and risk register in projects, but I hope that we will see the end of the belief that the key skills of a PM are the ability to work a scheduling tool and spreadsheet.

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