The Street Smart PM

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Soft Skills and How to Use Them​

Have you ever gone into a room of people you don’t know – say, a dinner party for your husband/wife or friend’s workmates, and within 5 minutes, you have an understanding of who’s in charge, who is accommodating and who is the cheerleader in the organization?  Well, you’ve just used soft skills.  Those street-smart, sixth-sense, human behavior ‘intuition feelings’ which help you interact more effectively with people without saying a word.

In the project management context, you have now figured out who the players are based on their behavior.  Your next assignment is to get them in the same room with the same mission and empower them to use their respective and differing expertise to achieve a common goal.  Now, that’s the marriage of project management and soft skills.

Soft Skills

Are there courses on soft skills – not really.  How does one learn them?  We all have these skills to some extent, but some of us find them easier to use than others.  If you’re a parent, you use it with your children to get an understanding of what they’re thinking.  You ask questions, solicit reactions, check in and support them all at the right time because you ‘just know’ what is needed.

In the business world, the first step in becoming good at soft skills is to leave your ego at the meeting room door and put your best negotiation and communication (all types) skills hat on.  It’s a wonderful thing to witness an expert negotiator and communicator work with and get the best from the team mates who are required to bring the project to fruition.  This is not new, but is becoming one of the most recognized and sought after abilities of the project manager….. to the point that it is as important as their technical skills.

If you had asked project-management gurus five years ago to name the most important competencies project managers should have, most would have said technical skills. Today they'd be more inclined to place communications or negotiations acumen at the top of their lists … There's no denying the importance of technical expertise to successfully orchestrating a project. Managing an initiative's scope, cost, risk, resources and schedule are all essential skills. Indeed, the quality of up-front planning--and a project leader's skill at re-planning as project conditions change--can determine a project's fate all on its own. But in rethinking skill hierarchies, many companies have come to view these more as baseline competencies.  Now they regard soft skills … such as communication, negotiation, conflict management and persuasion, as higher-order skills.


Price (1993) conducted an empirical investigation of sixty-five project offices spread throughout the United States. His research objective was to quantitatively measure project manager effectiveness, with the goal of distinguishing between the effective project managers and their lesser effective counterparts. To measure project manager effectiveness, Price developed five leadership-based criteria and thirteen management-based criteria. He then grouped the participating project managers into three categories: most effective, typical, and least effective.

Leadership styles for success

The results indicated that an effective project manager uses Coaching or Supporting leadership styles.  Scores for the Coaching Leadership style showed that project managers who rely primarily on these conceptual skills to make a point are proactive, and oriented towards efficiency. Additionally, they project self-confidence, communicate effectively (use of oral presentations), promote group cohesion (manage the group process), gain cooperation from others (use of socialized power), provide feedback (develop others), and use their unilateral power appropriately.  Soft-skills.

So, let’s focus a bit of time on our intuitive side in our daily interactions and see how the use of ‘soft skills’ changes the result in a project setting with our team mates.