Why is a project manager’s soft skill set so important?
A project manager’s job is to ensure a project gets completed according to budget, key business goals, and a set timeline.
This sometimes requires a certain set of “hard” skills or technical abilities. But more importantly, it requires communicating with people of all walks of life and personalities. They need to lead and motivate individuals while still keeping the big picture in mind.
A great project manager will have developed the soft skills to:
- Visualize the “big picture” results of a project
- Keep people on track and motivated
- Reasonably solve almost any type of problem
- Keep different team members cooperating
- Deliver on-time and on-budget
“People skills” are required at all levels of a project and in any type of project. Managers must understand others, listen, evaluate, give feedback and support them while staying objective about the project as a whole.
Anything can fall apart during a project, but the most likely thing that will put it behind is the people behind it.
Here are some key skills to evaluate candidates for if you are hiring a project manager.
A project manager’s soft skills and abilities center on their ability to problem-solve well. No project runs smoothly, and any reasonable manager understands this. But when problems arise, they must be solved appropriately.
Examples of problems that often arise include:
- Scope creep
- Budget issues
- Team members falling behind
- Lack of technical resources
Project managers need to be able to engage in creative problem-solving on an ongoing basis; they should be able to identify minor problems before they grow.
Good project managers also know when to hold back -- even knowing when to pause a project can be the best decision at times.
It almost goes without saying that great project managers have strong leadership skills. But what does great leadership look like to you and your organization? When it comes to a project manager’s soft skills, it’s essential to understand that leadership differs from management and that leaders can vary in approach and style. In addition, sometimes different styles of leadership work better in different contexts. But no matter what, leadership skills should be addressed and assessed when you are hiring a project manager. The same is true if you are building a career in this field.
During interviews, look for someone who suits the culture and nature of the position/company and has a good sense of how to lead teams like yours. You can also ask about goal-setting and achievements they’ve made in the past, demonstrating solid leadership skills.
Here are 10 more questions to ask during a project manager interview.
Be Understanding (but Still, Get the Job Done)
A good leader should be able to stick with the facts, goals, and objectives while showing understanding and flexibility when it’s most important.
Conflict Resolution Skills
Many people are conflict-averse, which makes sense: it’s only human to want to keep the peace at almost any cost. But sometimes, reasonable conflicts need to happen for problems to be solved. Hopefully, serious conflict is not a regular thing in your organization. However, it’s important to find a project manager with the soft skills to handle conflict well.
During an interview, a project manager candidate should be able to clearly state how they have prevented, mitigated, and addressed conflicts in the past. Their answer should give you a clue as to how they work with different personality types and how well they can handle conflict as individuals.
Anyone in a leadership position should have well-developed communication skills, both verbal and written. A project manager’s soft skills should include demonstrated success with both written and verbal communication. This is not just about giving instructions or meeting deadlines, though.
- Having a clear intent with all messages
- Understanding what tone is most appropriate for a given context (e.g. when writing an email)
- Being observant enough to “read between the lines” (e.g. picking up on body language)
- Active listening
- Self-awareness and accountability
Remember that this is a very generalized skill as well. Some people may say they are “excellent” communicators but fall short in specific contexts.
Transparency & Accountability
Communication and transparency go hand-in-hand. Therefore, checking that a person is not only 100% honest but is communicating on the same level with staff and managers at all levels is crucial.
A good project manager needs to be able to determine when it is appropriate to address upper management and when they can solve problems themselves. They should be able to stay on top of things, admit to mistakes, and be clear about how the project is going at all times.They should also be able to give and receive feedback well from both teams and upper management. Transparency in leadership is essential for setting an example of overall accountability.
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Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:
5 Key Tips for Strategic Project Planning
5 Minor Issues that can Kill a Major Project
5 Critical Mistakes Every Project Manager Makes