In a recent discussion in a LinkedIn project management group, someone asked: “What 5 soft skills should a project manager have?” This kicked-off quite a discussion, which generated a lot more than five skills in the end.
If I had to answer this question, this would be my list of 5 soft skills a project manager should have:
This is an essential soft skill because being able to put yourself in others people’s shoes and empathising with their perspective or their needs is vital to head off any issues before they lead to conflict. You’d be able to know what each person’s hot buttons are and use that intel to diffuse any tensions. Empathy helps you understand what drives other parties involved in the project – be it the project owners, sponsor, BAs, or even programmers (Yes, they’re people too!).
When people and egos are involved, there will inevitably be conflict. Learning and employing conflict resolution skills will help a project manager ease potential conflicts before they flare up, which can lead to a more peaceful project team.
As project managers have to rely on people they don’t directly manage and who likely have multiple pieces of work that they are responsible for, negotiation skills are invaluable. Offering win-win solutions to problems often works wonders. Of course a project manager will also want to get the best deal from the vendors involved in the project.
This is an interesting one as everyone has a different idea of what communication means. For me, this relates not only how you communicate with your team, but how you work with your sponsors, project owners, stakeholders and other interested parties. It means acknowledging that each group of people needs different types of information and being able to understand and adapt your messages to those needs.
I think this skill is pretty much a given; although it is amazing the number of project managers that don’t seem to possess it. If you aren’t able to manage multiple, and conflicting, tasks in a controlled manner then your project is very likely to fail. You also need to understand the level of multitasking your team can handle and shield them from external distractions.
Why these particular skills? I think that together, they bring a rounding and humanity to what is traditionally a very difficult job. I’ve seen a number of descriptions for a project manager but to me, the most fitting analogy is that of a conductor of an orchestra. The project manager has to coerce, manage, negotiate and communicate with people that he or she does not directly manage but has to motivate to produce results – a bit like an orchestra playing a complex piece of music.
Without at least some grounding in the skills listed above, this would be an almost impossible task.
What skills make your top 5?