« What makes a highly performing project manager more effective than others? » Decisiveness, attitude and the project manager’s interpersonal and behavioural skills, often called “people or soft skills” can be identified as the most important differentiators. Project management means getting work done through people. This is the single, most important reason why people skills are so important for project managers.
Project managers have to communicate with a great variety of people in different roles. All stakeholders have different requirements and these can change over time. Requirements may be interpreted differently than originally intended by the stakeholders, so they must be aligned. These change requests are key areas of negotiation with the customer as it must be defined if these are in scope and within budget. In these discussions, the project manager will have to be decisive, assertive and will need to negotiate so that these differences don’t become conflicts. In order to move forward, the project manager must have good conflict resolution skills and must be able to settle differences that arise within the team and with the customer.
Every project needs a leader who will drive the project forward, even in difficult times. Project managers usually don’t have direct power over the team members, which can be challenging when managing cross-divisional projects. They often operate in a temporary organisational form, which means limited or ambiguous authority. Project managers will have to motivate people while dealing with time pressure, uncertain conditions and while working towards an uncertain goal. Successful project managers adapt their leadership style to the maturity of the individual or group. This means adaptation based on their competence, willingness and ability to take responsibility.
Learning how to influence team members and key project stakeholders is one of the toughest challenges for a lot of project managers. Soft skills training should therefore focus on role-play based on real-life project situations, in addition to the theory. But content of these trainings and role-plays should be tailored to the project manager’s job.