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Improve your Project Management with Soft Skills

Alenka Aust

It doesn't matter if you've been working as a project manager for a while, or if you're just starting out: upskilling is always a good idea. We would like to dedicate this blog post to soft skills. The concept of soft skills is not just a fad. All the characteristics, skills and qualifications that fall into this category are (along with hard skills) important factors in determining professional and personal success. In our next post we will talk about hard skills, but first: Soft skills and how you can improve yours.

 

Soft skills

Soft skills, as mentioned already, are more than just a buzzword. They are essential to project management, in fact nowhere do they occupy a larger area. They’re also a very important, if not indispensable, factor for employers when hiring new staff. Let's start with the most important points:

 

Developing leadership skills

You’re the person who holds the whole project team together, no one else will be doing that job. The term project manager describes the role clearly and without doubt. So if you want to lead a team and a project, it will be impossible without the appropriate leadership qualities. Project success depends on this quality.


It’s a myth that there are born leaders. Everyone has this competence! The only difference is that some people find it easier to take on this role and others, but in the end it’s all a question of training and role models. Leadership qualities - or a display of strength - means something different for each individual, but surely you can immediately list at least three points for yourself that you have liked or disliked about another person's leadership style. These are your starting points. 


Everyone catches themselves thinking: “If I was in charge I’d do it differently” or “I want to be like that someday.”  It sounds a bit like childhood, but in fact these sentences apply throughout our lives. With these three individual principles already in mind, we come to the next point. Be a role model with them.


Be a good example, after all you’re the leader. Behave the way you want your project team to behave, it may take a moment - humans are creatures of habit - but they also learn mainly by copying other behaviour. It is very likely that at a certain point your role will set the guiding principle. And your list of principles will grow with your experience.


Collaboration - you are not alone in the world

Projects are a collaborative effort. There's no room for lone players. And as a project manager, you manage a colourful bouquet of personality types with a wide variety of expertise. The challenge, both yours and your projects’, is not only to get along with each individual, but also to make sure that everyone cooperates well with each other. And that is not easy. Poor team coordination will have a negative impact on the results of a task or project.


Talk to your team one-on-one and in as a group. Ask what challenges and frustrations arise when working together and take tips on how to overcome them. Make sure they implement the points and build trust. Also, don't underestimate the impact of a collaboration tool that works in real time. Increasing transparency can optimise collaboration.

 

Communication is everything

You are the compass for your team. You set the direction and it is solely your responsibility to communicate project goals, scope, expectations, deadlines, etc. as clearly as possible: verbally and in writing!


Oral communication is even far more important here than written orders or communication. Talk to your team. Explain, describe, answer questions. Don't worry if you were not born a great orator. Again, it's all training and practice!


Here is a little training aid. It will take some effort, but it will help you. Get out of your comfort zone. The best way to learn to communicate with other people is to get involved in new situations. Your training camp is the cafeteria, just sit next to a colleague at lunch with whom you don't usually have lunch or attend meetings. 


If you don't understand something, please don't just smile away or nod with interest. Ask questions. Ask questions about points you did not understand. Have the points explained to you and briefly summarise for your counterpart what you have heard to confirm that it has come across correctly to you. If you feel uncomfortable, put yourself in the other position for a moment and consider whether you would find it strange if someone asked you something and asked for an explanation. That’s right, for the person being asked, it is no big deal.


Always keep in mind that communication also involves listening. Always make sure that when your team members tell you something, you really listen, absorb and reflect. You do not have to answer immediately. Listening is usually enough at first.

 

Be an organisational artist

As a project manager, structure and organisation are everything and conscientious time management is key. Anything else will only lead to wasted time searching for information and resources.


If there is a bit of a slob in you or you don't want to spend the time and energy to start from the beginning every time, then templates and standardised procedures will be your best friend. Create a basic framework that can be reused at the beginning of each project. The old hands in project management know what we are talking about here.


Schedule some time each week to do organisational tasks. No one likes to do that and we tend to put it off, but you will thank yourself when an inevitable crisis arises. What is also indispensable and worth its weight in gold: find a suitable project management software for your team. The more processes are standardised, the more team members are motivated to get involved with a new tool, the easier the organisation becomes.


 

Problem solver

In a perfect world, projects would simply run according to plan. This is definitely wishful thinking. Problem-solving skills are part of being a project manager. Work processes, team conflicts, delivery problems, they all have to be solved without jeopardising the completion or quality of their project.


These skills can also be learned. If a new challenge arises, don't focus on the problem, rather focus on the solution. Solution-oriented thinking will help you spend less time trying to change something that is out of your control. The focus should be solely on actually solving the problem. Again, the key is that you don't have to have the right answer to everything immediately. Gather ideas, involve your team in finding solutions. Sometimes the ideas that come out are better than the original approach.


Give your soft skill competences a boost with these tips, and you will see how positively small changes can affect both your managerial skills and your project results.


Ready for more improvements? Start your free trial with Allex today and see for yourself how Allex can help your projects run smoothly.