In response to remote working, the nature of how we work has changed. We have email conversations become chat threads, attachments become shared files and meetings become calls. With this in mind, soft skills, such as effective communication, flexibility, adaptability, and conflict resolution, are even more important especially when workflows are becoming more automatised. We all recognise and value what an asset it is to carry out data analysis, be able to speak another language or be able to code, but we cannot under play is the significance of listening well, to be empathetic, and to lead a team meeting that leaves everyone upbeat afterwards, especially during a time of significant change.
During my time working in project teams, there are certain soft skills that a Project Manager can possess, that I feel are a key driver for delivering a successful project. Throughout the lifecycle of a project, challenges can arise which in turn could impact a project team’s morale and can have a knock-on effect with stakeholder engagement. As a result, one of the biggest obstacles a Project Manager can face is the delicate balance of hard project management skills and the soft skills required to keep a team committed and moving in the same direction. Soft skills may be more difficult to measure but that does not mean they are any less important, especially in a time where the majority of us are working from home. By improving your skills not only will you have a happier team but more importantly you can deliver projects on budget and on time while delivering exceptional outcomes.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills have more to do with who people are, rather than what they know. They enclose character traits that describe how well we interact with others and usually are a definite part of an individual’s personality. With that said, we can still learn and develop these skills as we continue to grow in a project team. Below are a few pointers in how to enhance our skill set and what to look out for.
How do you improve your soft skills?
When you have a team full of individuals with a high level of soft skills, it is likely to function extremely well. If it contains one or two people with inadequate interpersonal skills, for instance, it can delay projects and reduce the quality of the work. People don’t always act as you expect or respond to what you say, so having the soft skills to work with a diverse group and be able to communicate effectively with them and resolve conflicts when they arise are just as important as allocating your resources smartly. Here are a few tips and tricks that may benefit you:
- Start Small: Set achievable goals; being friendly with others, arriving on time, and taking initiative. People in a workplace must motivate each other to get things done, so try your best to keep a positive attitude and this in turn will help you build great relationship’s faster and keep others motivated at the same time.
- Be Proactive: Think about the future, forward planning and what lies ahead. This will give you better use of resources, including time, energy, and money. It will also lower the likelihood of problems from occurring. This will give you a better sense of control and experience less stress thus establishing a positive reputation. Learning to be proactive at work is a difficult skill to master, but it is well worth investing your time.
- Communication: As the project manager, it is your responsibility for setting the tone and plan for project communication: sharing the project vision with the team, co-ordinating with stakeholders, and keeping everyone on the same page regarding status updates, changes to requirements, potential risks, etc. With this in mind, it’s important that you continue to improve your communication skills. Communications are a key aspect of almost all jobs and are utilised every day, so learning how to communicate effectively is a crucial skill. You can take steps to improve your communication by focusing on the basics, like simplifying your message or doing a quick check of how your body language might be affecting your communication skills. Plus, make sure you’re fully engaged when you’re listening to others as this will lead them to be more attentive when you’re speaking.
- Active listening: The ability to listen is a powerful skill in project management. When you are busy it is easy to forget to re-connect with team members or colleagues to discuss any issues or queries. Taking the time to listen to colleagues can help build trust and accountability. It can also help detect any risks and potential solutions to the problems. When performing active listening try to:
- Be patient and not interrupt others before they have finished.
- Think about what is being said before responding.
- Avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions.
- Ask the right questions to develop the discussion.
- Take note of what is not being communicated and why.
- Trust building: Trust is at the core of every successful working relationship. As a project manager it is up to you to build and maintain trust with your stakeholders. Without it, your project may suffer before it even gets off the ground. Building trust may be harder in the current climate with WFH. There’s still a lot that technology can do to help in your efforts. For example, you can use collaborative tools to interact with your team and stakeholders frequently, i.e., share news or ask about people’s weekends. Encourage participation by kicking off the conversation.
- Take an online course: With so many resources available online you can teach yourself practically anything today at the click of a mouse. If you feel that you can benefit from participating in a course, why not take the time and invest in yourself.
To summaries, be savvy with how to build and maintain relationships with people, how to listen, present ideas, resolving conflict, and developing an open and honest team environment is what it comes down to. It’s relationships like this that allow people to participate fully in team projects, show appreciation for others, and enlist support for their projects. Not only is it important for a project manager to develop these skills, but it is also important for you to recognise the vital role soft skills play within your team and to encouraged it.
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