The Softer Side of Project Management

This is a guest post by Ben Richardson, a director of Acuity Training, a UK based business that offers a variety of MS Project and other project management courses

“The P in “PM” is as much about People Management as it is about Project Management” Cornelius Fichtner

The best project managers have an uncanny ability to stick to their plans.

The question is how?

In many projects people are the greatest unknown quantity. Will they buy in? How fast with they move? How can we avoid them feeling threatened or being unreceptive to change?

These sorts of issues can derail the best-laid plans almost before the project has started. The best project managers are pro-active about people and change issues and in large part it is this that is the secret of their success.

The softer side of project management isn’t magic though. Let’s take a look at the key elements:

A good project manager needs to be able to communicate with their team. Image source

  1. Thoughtful Communication

Motivating and achieving buy-in from large numbers of individuals requires strong communication skills.

This is not about repeating the same communication mantra-like over and over again. It is about pro-actively engaging with people.

The first step is to introduce the project, explaining the context of the project and the impact that this will have on the organisation. However, having done that, it is vital that a project manager discusses how the requirements of the project will impact the individuals that they are with.

This communication needs to be specific to the group that the PM is talking to. Taking the time to discuss the impacts on, and concerns of, each the multiple different stakeholders will deal with most of their concerns upfront and should remove blocks to the project proceeding.

It will also allow the PM to build strong relationships and clear communication lines with key stakeholders that will be very useful through out the project.

  1. Confidence & Energy

As PM you are the face of the project. You are leading the various parties contributing to the project. Remember this at all times.

People don’t engage with and follow leaders that are low energy, or lack confidence. If there is doubt in their mind that the project will be driven to a successful conclusion, their commitment will waiver, causing further problems and delays.

Inevitably you will be faced with difficult decisions as a project proceeds and issues arise. When they do you must face them head-on with confidence and energy. Decide on the best course of action and run with it. Communicate the change clearly and positively to people. Their confidence of achieving success will in large part be based on the confidence that you express in achieving success.

When faced with a tough call, don’t hesitate to ask for different people’s opinions and views. This is a positive thing to do showing that you value their views. But remember the decision is yours and you must get on and make it.

When making difficult decisions keep in mind that people don’t expect you to get everything 100% right. They can live with a wrong decision that is subsequently changed.

What they can’t live with is not being kept informed or decisions not being made and communicated in a timely fashion.

  1. Negotiation & Clarity

Negotiations will take place throughout the life span of a project. Whether agreeing SLAs and pricing with external suppliers or arguing for allocations of time and resource internally, the best project managers know that a large part of their job is negotiation.

The first step in any negotiation is to try to understand the other party’s issues and concerns. When you understand clearly their issues and priorities you should explain to the other party what you are seeking and why you are seeking it. This will establish the respective positions and priorities clearly.

Seeking to understand the other party shows your respect for their position and that you are seeking to work collaboratively to meet your mutual objectives rather than treating their concerns as an inconvenience.

This approach will then allow you to discuss the different ways that things can be approached to try to find the all important ‘win-win’ outcomes that allow both parties to walk away feeling that the agreement works for them.

Especially with lengthy projects the ability to reach agreements that don’t leave one party bitter is very important. It is likely that that other person or organisation’s buy in will be required in future.

If negotiations are not handled respectfully it is unlikely that the project manager will receive co-operation from the other party in future.

Negotiation is an essential soft skill to possess as a project manager. Image source:

Conclusion

Whilst we’re not saying that hard skills aren’t crucial to project management, it’s important to remember that there’s a softer side too.

World-class project managers combine the ability to analyse and manage multiple information streams with very strong soft skills. The ability to achieve buy-in and effect change across multiple stakeholders is the key to dealing with the inevitable issues as effectively as they do.

Image credits: kelbycarr and SalFalko

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