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What soft skills do project managers need?

By Simon Buehring on 28 Aug 2019

What soft skills does project managers need?

What are soft skills?

Soft skills help you work effectively with other people. Such skills differ to hard skills, which are the vocational skills required to do your job. For success in any career, possessing a combination of hard and soft skills is recommended. These days it is rare to find a role simply requiring hard skills.

Wikipedia defines soft skills as:

A combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients, among others, that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.

Some examples of soft skills are:

  • Teamwork - your ability to work with others to achieve a common goal
  • Communication - your ability to clearly communicate verbally or non-verbally with colleagues
  • Problem-solving - being able to identify and analyze a problem and creatively pose a solution
  • Positive attitude - being calm under stress, learning from mistakes and building relationships
  • Strong work ethic - having discipline, integrity, professionalism and punctuality
  • Critical-thinking - the ability to evaluate facts and form a rational judgement.

In contrast, hard skills are the technical skills and knowledge required to perform your job. These skills are normally industry-specific and acquired through training or on-the-job experience.

Here are some examples:

  • Mathematic skills - accounting, budgeting, auditing, data analysis
  • IT skills - typing speed, coding, programming, software knowledge
  • Hard communication skills - writing, foreign languages, presentations
  • Marketing skills - social media, design, CMS, SEO skills
  • Organization skills - time management, estimating, planning
  • Industry knowledge - engineering, construction, legal, healthcare.

Both hard and soft skills are desired by employers. Hard skills can be proved with a degree, diploma, apprenticeship, professional certification or other qualification. However, soft skills can be difficult to prove, so it’s essential to show-off such skills at interview and provide examples on your CV.

Do project managers need specific soft skills?

In addition to the above, project managers need soft skills specific to leadership. Their work involves managing a team, working with stakeholders and ensuring deadlines and budgets are met.

APM (Association for Project Management) recommend project managers have these skills:

Communication

Communication means relaying information or instructions to other people. It is a vital skill for project managers. Communication can be verbal or non-verbal but must be regular and accurate. The language used should be clear, objective and non-emotive. Listening is also a crucial part of communication.

Conflict management

Conflicts arise due to disagreement, conflicting values and miscommunication. It causes teams to lack morale, productivity and harmony. This can cause project failure, so conflict must be dissipated quickly. Conflict can be reduced by setting clear expectations at the start of the project.

Delegation

This is the act of giving team members responsibilities. It can be a way of motivating people to reach their full potential. Project managers must know who has the correct skills, working style and knowledge for the work. Feedback and reward mechanisms should be implemented.

Influencing

Leaders must be good influencers. This skill involves affecting the behaviours and actions of the team and stakeholders. It’s better to influence rather than authoritative, so people become willing rather than obedient. This requires empathy and understanding. Influencers must also communicate their vision and generate positivity for the project.

Leadership

Project managers are leaders. They must inspire, direct, empower and influence their team. Transformational leadership is recommended. This is where leaders help the team succeed and become leaders themselves. They help the team transform and achieve more than was intended. They should mentor their team, celebrate success and constructive feedback should be a two-way thing.

Negotiation

This is when two parties try to reach an agreement. Negotiation usually occurs when agreeing project time, cost, quality and scope with stakeholders, or signing contracts with suppliers. It also happens when resolving conflict. Good negotiators communicate well, control their emotions, set limits, listen to the other party and know when to close the deal. They come prepared and know when to walk away.

Teamwork

Teamwork is when a group work together towards a common goal. It works best when people with complementary skills, personalities and different strengths/weaknesses commit to an objective. Project managers must keep the team together via motivation, support and communication of project goals.

What type of attitude do project managers need?

It perhaps goes without saying that a positive attitude is best. Negative project managers create a lackluster team with no passion for the project. He or she will be unable to influence, negotiate or inspire their team. They’ll panic when problems arise. And they’ll normally be at the center of conflict.

Mariana Magalhães, Project Manager for Forty8Creates, believes a proactive attitude is essential:

You should be proactive rather than reactive. Especially during problematic situations. A project manager should ask ‘how are we going to solve this issue’ rather than dwell on the situation. Stop and think: what can we do better?

Proactive leaders make things happen. They’re positive and learn from mistakes. They stay in control, even in stressful situations, and make rational decisions that help the project move forward. They give praise and deal with criticism constructively.

Reactive leaders are the opposite. They have a lack of control and wait for things to happen. They have no foresight and have a negative outlook. This type of attitude is useless on projects, where planning, control and decisiveness are vital.

How should project managers communicate?

Communication is the number one core responsibility for project managers. Team members need clear directions and guidance. Stakeholders need regular progress updates. Miscommunication leads to confusion, mistakes and project failure. Project managers must therefore be clear, confident and direct.

Nicci Beacham, Project Manager at Liberty Marketing, believes communication is key:

A good project manager should have great social skills. They must also be able to build and maintain relationships. This will help mitigate most project risks. I also think you need to be approachable. You want people to come to you if they have issues.

Keeping communication open is vital. Building rapport with the team and stakeholders helps achieve this. Let people know they can come to you. If people feel unable to approach you with issues, they’ll keep information from you. This causes a breakdown in communication and damages the project.

Can I learn soft skills?

Some project managers seem born with the right skills for the job. They might naturally be more extroverted or adept at leadership. It’s true that being a more naturally outgoing or empathetic person makes you perfect for this role. But this doesn’t mean such skills can’t be learned.

You can learn soft skills with:

  • Books or articles
  • Training or coaching
  • Team-building exercises
  • On the job experience
  • TED Talks videos on YouTube

Some of the soft skills required for project management are briefly covered on courses like APM PFQ. This course is a great choice for anyone just starting a project-based career. It is recognized in all industries as proof of project management skills.

Dale Carnegie’s two bestselling books How to Win Friends and Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living are ideal for developing your influencing and communication skills, as well as your attitude to work. The latter will help you become more proactive.

Other recommended books include Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg and Deepak Chopra.

These days, so much help is available online and offline. If you need to improve your soft skills to become a better project manager, help is out there.

Hard skills vs soft skills infographic

Mariana Magalhães

Project Manager at Forty8Creates

Mariana’s interest in the correlation between social media, data and strategy lead her to work in digital marketing. She started working with Forty8Creates as a Social Media Assistant and worked her way up to become Project Manager. She manages multiple client briefs, communicating client needs to team members and ensuring prompt project delivery.

Personal LinkedIn

Nicci Beacham

Project Manager at Liberty Marketing

Nicci is a Project Manager at Liberty Marketing. She has over 7 years of experience working within the FMCG, Design and Digital Marketing sectors. Nicci began her career as a Project Coordinator managing packaging design for a British soft drink brand, before moving into digital marketing.

Liberty are the largest digital agency in Wales, with clients such as Universal Publishing Production Music, Pizza Express and Penguin Books.

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