Two project management soft skills that everyone should have

As a project manager, you’re probably really good at all the technical aspects of bringing a project over the finish line. Budgeting, scheduling, time tracking and contract creation are your modus operandi. You know how to use even the most complex project tracking software. If someone is confused, unsure or lost in regards to nitty gritty policies or bylaws, you’ve studied them all and have answers.

But project management is so much more than having great hard skills. If you know all these things but don’t have a solid grasp on the soft skills needed to manage and motivate a team; the success of your project will suffer.

In fact, a study from Boston College, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan found that soft skills boost productivity. Investing in training in this area delivers a 250% return on investment; those with stronger soft skills are better workers, enjoy working with others more and are more likely to see a project through completion.

As seeing a project through completion is the core role of every project manager, soft skills should not be overlooked.

Here are the top two soft skills that we believe every project manager should have if they want to boost productivity and see the successful completion of their projects.

Soft skill #1: Project managers must be creative thinkers

As a project manager, you’re always coming up against new problems and challenges—large or small.Perhaps a key stakeholder on your project is sick and there are multiple individuals relying on her that can’t start their work without her approval and involvement.

Or, the timeline you originally estimated for the project just went out the window as new information became available.

Maybe a meeting needs to be rescheduled. Or, two people on your team don’t get along. What's more? The budgeting software you’re using just got acquired and they now want you to pay double...It’s far more likely that issues and problems arise during a project than for it to go exactly as planned. A companion to problem-solving, creative thinking is critical to dealing with these challenges as it helps you look at things from a new, fresh perspective.

The situations above come with no template for how to soIve them; instead, you need to be able to think creatively to find the best way forward. Luckily, creative thinking can be trained.

Here are 5 tactics that can be practiced to improve creative thinking:

  1. Associating. Connecting seemingly disconnected ideas. The more frequently project managers attempt to understand and connect ideas, the more easily their brains can recombine associations and think of new ways to tackle problems.
  2. Questioning. Asking questions that challenge common wisdom. Simply asking “Why?” “What if?” and “Why Not?” more often will improve a project manager’s creative thinking.
  3. Observing. Spend time observing others. Look for small details and behaviour patterns and you’ll be better and creative problem-solving.
  4. Experimenting. Trying new things. If you constantly attempt to solve issues the same way you’ve always solved them, you’ll never learn if there’s a simpler way to do it.
  5. Networking. Testing new ideas with others. Expand your network of connections and you’ll learn more about their methods and strategies (and you’ll be better at adapting your own).

Soft skill #2: Project managers must be great communicators

Your role as a project manager is versatile. You must track and keep on top of to-dos and tasks; and you must be able to lead a team of people to complete a project. Do you think you could get any of this done without clear communication?

According to research from the Project Management Institute, around 90% of a project manager’s time on a project is spent on communication. Since communication is the life blood of every project, poor communication can produce dire consequences. In fact, the resulting negative impacts on a project’s success from missed or poor communication grows steadily as time passes.

So remember that one missing detail you forgot to mention at the beginning of the project? Probably not, since you forgot about it. Well, if you’re midway through a project, you’ll likely only start to see the resulting consequences now.

Diagram via Project Management Institute

Fortunately, you can mitigate the risk of problems happening due to poor communication.

Here are three tactics you can implement to improve communication:

  1. Create a communication plan. As TeamGantt outlines, your communication plan should highlight the objectives, goals and players as well as outline exactly how communication should be done including the format, content, and details. Think: will you be hosting check-in meetings where key decisions are made or will people be allowed and encouraged to make decisions on the fly, without formal structure? Is everyone a decision-maker or will there just be one person that approvals need to flow through? These are questions that should be answered in your communication plan.
  2. Consolidate your communication tools. “Who was working on that again?” While you may already be a great communicator, your ability to communicate with your stakeholders and team members will be greatly affected if you’re having to jump around between too many tools. Say you’re working on launching a new feature for a SaaS company. Ideally, the development of this feature should be informed by customer feedback. But if your customer support team is tracking feedback in their help desk, while your product team is tracking feature updates and bug fixes in another tool, communication will break down. Consolidation—especially of your help desk and project management tools—will improve your ability to communicate effectively as a project manager.
  3. Don’t just listen; practice active listening. To improve communication overall, encourage others to confirm a message has been received. The confirmation can come in the form of feedback, questions, clarifications and a repetition of what was said as well as the takeaway. This will greatly improve your communication skills and help you improve your project management overall.

Better soft skills make project management easier

In the end, your success as a project manager depends just as much on your ability to creatively problem solve and communicate as it does on your hard skills and technical abilities.

You can work on improving your creative thinking skills through associations, questions, observations, experimentation and networking which will ultimately help you come up with fresh, new ways to solve problems and overcome obstacles.

You can also hone in on your communication skills simply by having a plan, consolidating tools and practicing active listening. Together, these two soft skills will make your life easier as a project manager, and help you achieve project success.

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