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The Importance of Hard and Soft Skills in Project Management

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Good project managers are the first line of defence when it comes to delivering a successful IT project. Business and technology teams often struggle to see eye-to-eye, with little understanding of each other’s responsibilities and priorities. And when you throw the needs of clients, vendors, and end-users into the mix, it can become a nightmare to pilot the ship to shore.

That’s where a competent project manager comes into play. In most cases, the challenges on the technical side of the equation are predictable, consistent, and simple to resolve so long as the team has the right skills and is adequately resourced.

READ MORE – IT Resource Planning and Project Management: Costs of Delay

It’s the people side of the equation where you’re typically going to face the most complicated issues. As mentioned above, IT people and Business people struggle to speak the same language, and that results in challenges that are unpredictable, inconsistent and complicated to resolve, because they always reveal flaws in the organization’s underlying culture. 

A project manager with strong soft skills is critical to bridging this gap and building consensus between the various stakeholders involved in an IT project. They’re the ones who can help translate the business needs of the project to the IT team and help the business team understand the technical limitations of the IT team when they make an unreasonable request. They’re the ones who can resolve the conflicts that arise when everyone is crunching to meet deadlines and build the trust and loyalty necessary to drive productivity.  

Unfortunately, soft skills are the hardest competencies to verify based on a resume and a handful of 30-minute interviews. Anyone can claim they’re a “great communicator” or have an “excellent eye for detail” (ideally without spelling mistakes), but you have nothing to back up their claims except for a couple of references and your gut instinct in the interview. 

And needless to say, just because someone was charming and polite in the interview, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right fit for your team or that they’ll live up to the same standard six months into the job.

That’s why it’s important to watch out for these things when evaluating an IT project manager’s skills.

What to Look For When Hiring a Project Manager for an IT Project?

Of course, hard skills are important when considering someone for a role in a highly technical field, such as information technology. It’s also easy to look at the list of projects delivered and certifications on someone’s resume to know if they “walk the walk” as well as “they talk the talk.”

But it’s their soft skills that will distinguish a competent IT project manager from a great IT project manager. 

When we talk about “soft skills” what are we really talking about? According to the Project Management Institute, “Soft Skills are behavioral competencies. Also known as Interpersonal Skills, or people skills, they include proficiencies such as communication skills, conflict resolution and negotiation, personal effectiveness, creative problem solving, strategic thinking, team-building, influencing skills and selling skills, to name a few.”

In essence, soft skills are all about influencing people vs. managing them, using empathy to build loyalty and drive performance instead of just setting targets and assigning deliverables to team members. 

Think of it as a virtuous cycle, one where positive outcomes drive greater gains over and over again. 

  • Trust builds Loyalty
  • Loyalty drives Performance
  • Performance creates Growth and Opportunity
  • Growth and Opportunity build Trust

Quite simply, team members who are happy and trust in their team work harder and deliver higher quality end products – and it’s the project manager who sets the tone and builds the positive culture that allows this cycle to flourish. 

While it can be difficult to tell whether someone has soft skills, the important thing to remember is that soft skills aren’t an inherent trait – they can be taught and learned.

The Project Manager’s Key Deliverable: Motivation

Many of us know people who’ve left high-paying or prestigious roles because they couldn’t handle the stress, or simply because they didn’t get along with their team or manager.

While everyone appreciates a fat paycheck, money isn’t the only tool you can use to retain talent and drive performance. It can be just as effective (and cheaper) to create a workplace culture where people enjoy coming into the office or logging into Microsoft Teams or Slack every day. 

A project manager’s most important task is to drive team engagement and build motivation – and it all starts by making sure each team member feels valued and respected.

I once knew a project manager who worked in the contract department of a major parcel delivery company. Once every few months, he would take a pad of yellow PostIt notes and leave one for each of his direct reports saying things like “Great Job! Thank you for…”  and listing some accomplishments that stuck out in his memory. 

One day, when he was leaving for a new position, one of his team members came to say goodbye and showed him all the PostIt notes he’d left over the years. They’d kept every single one. 

Motivation starts with recognition. 

People have little incentive or personal investment to work hard when they think their contributions are ignored. By contrast, people work harder when they feel their efforts are valued. It doesn’t have to come in the form of a bonus or stock options, but simply thanking someone when they complete a task or leaving a yellow PostIt note when they go above and beyond the call of duty can have a lasting impact on their morale.

More than that, when team members feel appreciated they will extend that courtesy to other team members, building a foundation of trust and loyalty that will pay dividends in future performance.

It all starts with following these four simple tenets of IT project management: 

  • Set Expectations: People need to know what is expected of them. Both in terms of their deliverables and deadlines but also in terms of standards of behaviour. Rudeness or a brusque attitude affects everyone’s performance and morale while courtesy and politeness create a positive atmosphere.
  • Communicate Regularly: Check-ins and stand-up meetings are of course important for making sure everyone knows the status of the project, but they can also be an opportunity for brainstorming and collaboration so long as you maintain an atmosphere where open dialogue is encouraged. 
  • Learn from Failure: Mistakes are unavoidable, especially when you’re trying to innovate and iterate on creative solutions. The important thing is to analyze how and why mistakes happen so they can be avoided in the future. Anger and blame will only damage trust and result in team members who are afraid to think outside the box. 

Recognize Accomplishment: Whether large or small, when someone does a good job make sure they know it. Celebrate milestones, both professional and personal. Keep a calendar of hiring anniversaries and birthdays so you can send a congratulatory message, or even bring in a cake so everyone can share in the celebration.

Finding the Right IT Project Manager with Yoush

For over 20 years, Yoush Consulting has provided project, program, and portfolio management for a variety of IT projects across multiple industries. We have a long history of working with local PMI chapters and continuously leveraging local professional networks to find talented IT project managers with the right mix of hard and soft skills.

Contact us today for a consultation to find out how you can take your IT project management to the next level.