How soft skills influence people and affect your project
by Andrew Norman
April 28, 2016

According to a recent report published by project management researchers at Brandeis University, technical skills alone do not determine a project manager's success. In fact, some of the most common reasons for project failure include a lack of clear expectations, poor leadership and misalignment between workers and management. These causes of project failure are not the result of inadequate technical skills. Instead, they are often the result of inadequate "soft skills."

Soft skills are personal attributes that allow project managers to build team morale, motivate workers and manage conflict. They are not "hard skills" that project managers necessarily learn in school or in the field, unless they actively seek to learn them. Many successful project managers naturally possess an array of valuable soft skills. And for those who feel as though they are lacking in the soft skills department, there is good news. Brandeis researchers found that most people can develop these skills with awareness and effort.

A project manager with the right soft skills is essentially skilled at managing people. Without the right interpersonal acumen, a project manager may find that he or she has to scramble to keep teams on track and motivated. On the other hand, with the right soft skills, project managers spend less time worrying about factors like employee morale and motivation and, instead, can focus on planning, risk management, project quality and completion.

There are a few soft skills that are particularly useful for construction project managers to possess. The following skills set the good managers apart from the rest and can significantly influence how efficiently and successfully projects are completed.

1. Communication

This skill is probably the most important. Project managers who are good communicators are able to help teams understand the scope of their duties and solve problems as they arise. If a project manager is not able to clearly communicate expectations, a project will be more complicated than necessary from the very start. Project managers who are still developing their communication skills can benefit from taking time each day to think about what their teams need to know and then conversing with them about those subjects. They can also benefit from making an effort to listen to their team members in order to improve any dialogue overall.

2. Leadership

This is the ability to inspire, motivate and govern when necessary. Highly developed leaders provide positive feedback and constructive criticism. They keep their cool in stressful situations. They communicate the organization's vision clearly and succinctly, and they provide opportunities for professional development while promoting a healthy, supportive company culture. Project managers who want to refine their leadership skills can begin by finding new ways to provide team members with regular feedback on their progress. Additionally, they can work on managing stress in order to approach difficult situations with a strong, composed attitude.

3. Negotiation

Negotiation skills allow project managers to swiftly and effectively reach agreements with their crew members and find common ground with them, even when disagreements arise. Good negotiators know some situations require some give and take. They are willing to compromise. Project managers who are willing to negotiate earn the reputation of being fair and respectful among those who work for them. Those who wish to sharpen their negotiation skills can do so by striving to be more flexible when it comes to employee relations.

4. Adaptability

Project managers who can adapt to unforeseen changes and hurdles rise to the top and take their crews with them. Adaptable project managers are quick on their feet and are ready to adjust expectations and plans when necessary. They also anticipate potential pitfalls and plan ahead for ways to adapt to trouble down the road. For the most part, becoming more adaptable is a shift in attitude. Adaptable project managers accept that things may not go according to plan and mentally prepare for snags.

5. Diligence

Project managers set the example for their crew members. If they aren't diligent and conscientious, the people working under them won't be either. Careful attention to detail and a strong work ethic are fundamental to a project manager's success. Diligence can be developed by committing to hard work each and every day, no matter the circumstances or project.

These are just some of the most important soft skills for project managers. Project managers who committed to personal development on the job typically have the best career outcomes. Soft skills matter, so why not cultivate them?