What makes a great project manager? Is it the number of years of experience? Technical expertise? Or the one who possesses people management skills?
Well, all of the above!
Often project managers are trained in the technical aspects of project management such as setting objectives, critical path analysis, work breakdown structures, resource scheduling, and risk management. However, the success of a project also rests on the understanding of related people and management issues.
Particularly in this employee-centric era, project managers with only domain expertise aren’t enough. Managers must possess the right people’s skills to build team morale, enhance employee engagement, manage conflicts and steer them through the project’s success.
At the same time, a project manager has to deal with clients and other stakeholders constantly. This is why increasing importance is being placed on project managers’ people’s skills, otherwise known as soft skills.
But first, let’s start with the basics;
1. What are people skills?
People skills are related to behavior patterns or behavioral interactions, which help you communicate effectively with others. Strong people skills facilitate individuals to influence others positively, socialize easily, and overcome public anxiety.
They are essential social skills that are transferable and allow you to work well with other individuals. It typically falls into three categories: personal skills, interaction skills, and intercession skills.
All these categories contribute to the same larger goal: making your professional relationships with other people mutually rewarding, pleasant, and productive.
In business, people skill is a connection among individuals at a humane level to achieve productivity.
Types of People Skills:
- Personal skills: The ability to confidently communicate your strengths and present yourself to others constitute personal skills. It includes traits like confidence, honesty, and assertiveness. In addition, you need to be able to understand your own limits and make intelligent decisions guided by reason rather than emotion.
- Interaction skills: Can you decode people’s behavior? Interaction skills are critical for understanding the other person’s behavior and thoughts while maintaining boundaries and building relationships. For example, to positively interact with coworkers and clients, a project manager should possess social etiquettes that require empathy, listening skills to know that you have heard them and respect their boundaries and needs.
- Intercession skills: They are similar to interaction skills, but they specifically apply to situations where the people involved have interests or perspectives that are at odds with each other. Resolving these differences requires empathy, patience, and negotiating a solution that others can accept.
Following is a compiled list of other people skills examples:
- Active listening & Effective communication
- Leadership & Motivation skills
- Collaboration & Conflict resolution
- Persuasion & influencing skills
- Management skills
- Team-building skills
- Open-mindedness & diplomacy
- Social skills
- Reliability & tolerance
2. Significance of people skills in project success
Contrary to the common perception, people skills are not just some fluff buzzwords on a resume. These competencies really do matter, especially in a project manager’s role, which is explicitly people-facing.
Let’s take the example of a survey for a better understanding. Google analyzed some data on hiring, firing, and promotion between 1998 to 2020 and found that its high-performing project managers exhibited people’s skills such as effective communication, empathy, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. This study emphasizes the necessity of people’s skills.
According to Dr. Ralph Nichols. “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.”
Project management is not only about delivering the project but how you carry your team along and support them makes a difference. Leading others and guiding them through the entire project lifecycle comes with a level of responsibility and demands specific skills.
For example, a project manager with leadership skills provides positive feedback and constructive criticism to the team. They also adapt to unforeseen changes and hurdles and efficiently deal with the stakeholder’s volatile requests with cognitive flexibility.
In addition, an efficient project manager must also possess problem-solving skills, find potential solutions, and minimize bottlenecks, to avoid schedule and budget overruns. Moreover, as the nature of work is rapidly transforming, companies embrace a diverse workforce. Thus, people skills are imperative to embrace diversity and inclusivity.
In short, human interaction and communication are at the core of effective project management. When strong people skills are integrated into the workplace, teams are well connected, and there is a seamless exchange of relevant information. As a result, conflicts are reduced, the work environment becomes positive, eventually leading to enhanced engagement and productivity. It also helps managers deal with several projects and resource-related challenges, thus, facilitating its smooth delivery.
Given the benefits of people skills in the modern business realm, effectively investing in improving them will bring significant advantages.
3. Case study: Implementation of people’s skill
As discussed earlier, people’s skills will empower project managers to deal with real-life project scenarios efficiently. For instance, if there is a discrepancy in the team, implementing these skills can help resolve those issues by redefining the team strength, synergy, etc.
The following is a series of diverse scenarios and how implementing the right people’s skills can help managers combat these issues.
Scenario I: Changing project requirements leading to scope creep
Scope creep is one of the most common projects management issues, and it happens when changes are made to the project scope without any control procedure like change requests. The constant changes in project requirements also affect the project schedule, budget, costs, resource allocation and might compromise the completion of milestones and goals.
So, how will you tackle and manage the scope creep to protect the project’s fate?
Implement analytical & negotiation skills
Managing project scope falls under your umbrella of major responsibilities. So, what is the first thing that you should do? Analyze the impact of scope creep on different project constraints viz., budget, timeline, etc.
The analytical skill will help you understand changing project needs and categorize the viable changes and the ones causing the scope creep. Now you can equip negotiation skills to explicitly mention to clients that only specific changes can be incorporated and find a common ground. The right blend of analytical and negotiation prowess will allow you to reason with all the stakeholders involved in the project.
Scenario II: Lack of alignment within teams
Team alignment is incumbent for seamless and effective project execution. Without synergy, there will be a lack of understanding of interdependent tasks, and eventually, each team member will work independently with individual goals and data sets. As a result, the specific business goal takes a backseat- we call this a siloed organization.
In this situation, we frequently see contrasting efforts taking place since there is little to no communication within the teams. This can lead to delays, deviation in project output, client dissatisfaction, etc.
So, how do you resolve this issue?
Implement communication and conflict resolution skills
First things first, project managers need to be crystal clear of the project’s goals and objectives with the team. The next step is to bring the team together on one platform and explain the project tasks and their interdependencies. For this, they need effective communication skills. It will allow them to deliver the message with precision.
Now to synergize the team, managers can equip conflict resolution skills and resolve issues between the team members as they arise. For example, if two team members have different viewpoints, a project manager can intervene, reason with the conflicting parties, and reach a middle ground to facilitate cohesive teamwork within that environment.
Scenario III: Low project team engagement & productivity
Erratic work expectations, favoritism, micromanagement, lack of appreciation, employee burnout, etc., are some of the common reasons that lead to lowered team engagement and productivity. In addition, feelings of loneliness or isolation due to the remote working environment also make employees feel disengaged. This disengagement reflects in the productivity slump.
So, if you spot signs of disengagement within your team, what are the steps you can take to combat the issues?
Implement listening and motivational skills
One must note that a leader is the anchor of the team. Employees look up to their leaders for support and motivation. So, when they are disengaged, instead of an assertive response, they probably need a supporting hand. You can lend this desired support by listening to their ordeals and then motivating them to overcome the challenges.
Thus, listening to each team member’s challenges and issues through 1:1 feedback will make them feel valued and help them confide in you. In addition, showing empathy & motivating them when they are not at their best will let you boost team morale and enhance employee performance and team engagement.
Scenario IV: Disparities between cross-functional and diverse teams
Most project-led businesses follow a matrixed structure, and thus the teams formed are cross-functional and diverse. That’s because employees are not spread across departments but also geographical boundaries. The collaboration challenges between such teams may intensify when employees are not ready or well-equipped to work with individuals of different mindsets.
This may give rise to internal conflicts, distrust, and a discrepancy between individuals. All this will ultimately derail the projects.
So, what is the possible solution?
Implement emotional & diversity intelligence skill
Given today’s diverse culture, a lot of importance is given to emotional and diversity intelligence. It allows individuals to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand their perspective. To ensure this, you can lead by example. Which means you can first equip these two essential skills yourself and practice diversity and inclusion yourself.
Now you can ensure that your team is trained to do the same. This will help you mentor your team about how they should accept differences in opinions and respect the team members. This will ultimately make room for a smooth functioning team and eliminate disparities. Moreover, as a manager, you must also provide fair opportunities to everyone to eliminate any chance of conflicts.
Scenario V: Ad hoc changes in agile project management
Agile is the way to go in the project management landscape. However, in agile project management, a project sponsor may ask for many ad-hoc changes and expects them to be integrated into the project at no extra cost. But we all know that, although agile welcomes change to requirements in each iteration, constant amendments can severely affect the agreed-upon project plan, leading to budget and schedule overruns.
What skills can help you here?
Implement agility & cognitive flexibility (CF) skill
Cognitive flexibility is essentially referred to as task switching. Project managers with C.F skills are more likely to accommodate agile changes faster. As a result, they can efficiently enhance a team’s performance and deal with stakeholders’ volatile requests and ad hoc changes. In addition, if the initial plans alter or any obstacles arise, they are also better at fixing problems.
Thus, if you are looking to up your game as a project manager, you can learn and add cognitive flexibility to your portfolio.
Scenario VI: Budget & schedule overruns
Certainly, every project manager has come across this challenge. Budget overruns and schedule delays are usually caused due to changes in scope/estimates and delays in completing tasks due to incompetent resource allocation, resource shortages, risks/conflicts, etc. In addition, inaccuracy in planning budget, resource constraints, and lack of effective communication between teams also result in project schedule delays, which spike project costs.
Let’s look at the action plan now,
Implement critical thinking & organization skills
Even for the best development teams, cost overruns and missed deadlines are inevitable. However, skills like critical thinking and task organization can help you overcome these vital issues and not hinder project progress.
So, what you can do is critically think about the changes, understand the loopholes, and form a course corrective plan. Moreover, you can take the help of data-driven reports like forecast vs. Actuals to understand the variance between the planned and current values. Finally, if you see an error in planning, you can deploy organizational skills to better plan and prioritize tasks accordingly. As a result, you can make some table-turning decisions by revising the initial plan and bringing the project back on track.
Effective project management is no easy task, but having people skills can help you run projects efficiently with more strategy and less stress. In addition, it allows you to build a team that can take on the biggest challenges, be more effective and resilient during challenging times.
However, the people skills alone will not keep a project team motivated and engaged. Instead, equipping yourself with the right technical skills and intelligent tools like project resource management software can improve the workflow and significantly contribute to the project’s success.
What are the other must-have skills for project managers, according to you?
5. The Glossary
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