The Softer Side

The Softer Side

Project management is not all about Gantt charts and risk registers. The Project Management Institute asked practitioners: Which people skills do project managers need to focus on most to get ahead? Here are some of their answers.

Deliver Your Part

Learn how to effectively communicate to lead and facilitate meetings. We send our project managers to an acting class so they can overcome any barrier they have to public speaking, whether it's to a small group or a large one. Leading a meeting is kind of an act or a play. To deliver your part, you need to prepare, you need to rehearse, and you need to react to what is happening in front of you without panicking or getting upset. Actors learn that routine, and our project managers can benefit from it too.

Also remember that integrity is key. Never make a promise that you will not follow up on, even if it is as small as promising to call someone. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, so develop the habit of doing what you say and saying what you do.

-Sylvain Gauthier, PMP, leader, Creative Content Project Office, Cirque du Soleil, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Be an Active Listener

The higher one goes on the career ladder, the bigger the need to master conflict resolution and communication. Not having enough exposure and experience in these skills can be a barrier for career advancement.

Stakeholders often come up with surprises-reduction in budgets, change in scope and requirements, or requests to crash schedules to improve time to market. All of these require communication and negotiation with stakeholders, internal and external. My experience taught me that first we have to be active listeners and understand the concern of stakeholders before even attempting to find a solution. Quite often, the solution is easy when we understand the real problem. And stakeholders are not totally ignorant of the bigger goal-project success. We need to help them understand the repercussions of their requests."

-Ramam Atmakuri, PMP, executive vice chair, LV Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, India

Practice Servant Leadership

Helping others and having a servant leadership style will allow an individual to establish him or herself as a potential candidate for future advancement. The helping will itself also expand one's breadth of knowledge and expertise.

It all starts with changing your attitude toward what you do and how it is perceived. As Harry Truman said, 'It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.' Focusing on the end result and the completion of the task at hand is a first step to making a habit of having such an attitude."

-Kouros Goodarzi, PMP, director of software development, PerfectMind, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Learn the Art of Persuasion

Aristotle said persuading people can take three forms: our character or credibility, how we make others feel, and the words or logic we use. Any one of these can help us get ahead in the short-term. Ultimately, we need all three elements to overlap-it's what I term 'influence equity.'

I was once asked to present a one-day course to a group of experienced project managers. The head of the business unit was frustrated that everyone was approaching projects in a silo fashion and wanted me to lecture them on 'the right way.' Telling experienced project managers they have to change their behaviour and methodology would have been easy money, but totally ineffective.

Instead, I looked at how to use influence equity to change their behaviour. First, I ensured they knew of my experience in managing projects, but I focused more on acknowledging-sincerely and without flattery-their considerable experience and skill. Then, through a series of questions and activities, I got them to the point where they said: 'This is crazy; why do we all do our own thing in managing projects? Surely we can have a consistent approach and learn from each other!'

Then we were able to work together to devise a simple framework that met their needs. They owned it, developed it and continue to use it to this day."

-Jurgen Oschadleus, MBA, PMP, director, Act Knowledge Pty Ltd., Sydney, Australia

Remove the Emotion

Good communicators go far, plain and simple. I think everyone knows people who are talented at their job but seem stuck because they are not good at promoting their work and their results. Even in very technical areas, such as IT, finance or actuarial, the employees who can communicate well, as well as have expertise, are the ones who rise among their peers.

Of course there are workshops, seminars, websites and books for suggestions on improving this skill. But it really comes down to deliberate, thoughtful practice. Know you aren't always going to be successful, but learn from each experience and continue to hone the skill.

Once I received an email from a project team member who felt very strongly about a specific issue. I printed the email, crossed out adjectives and adverbs that seemed emotional and then reviewed what I had left. Feeling I had a better grip on the issue, I spoke with the sender and restated what I interpreted the email to say. Then we were able to have a very productive conversation that addressed the root causes of the issues and were able to get to a mutually agreeable resolution.

-Marsha Fenton, PMP, senior strategist of corporate claims, Accident Fund Holdings, Lansing, Michigan, USA


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