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The Importance of Social Skills in Project Management
By Michelle Symonds

Is there anything that a project manager doesn’t have to be good at? From mathematics to human resources, negotiations to accounting, the life of a project manager is certainly one for the good all-rounder. But here’s one more to add to your list that you may not have thought of so far: social skills.

Maybe you think social skills aren’t that important in project management. Of course it’s good to be liked, but surely technical ability and organizational skills are more important in your job right? Wrong.

Project managers have to be socially skilled for all kinds of reasons. Constantly balancing the needs of stakeholders with the demands of managers and the problems within your own team requires a huge amount of social skills, and this area of development should be overlooked at your peril.

As with any other skill set, if you feel you are lacking in the social department there is no reason at all you can’t develop your abilities. Here are a few key areas project managers need to ensure they are hot on if they are to develop and foster the relationships they need for success.

  • Counseling skills

    You need your team to perform to the very best of their abilities, as poor performance directly affects the quality and speed of delivery of your project. You need to know your team’s abilities, skills and shortcomings inside out if you are to effectively manage their performance, and if things start to slip, you’ll need to know how to find out why and what to do to improve things again.

    The easiest way to effectively do this is to talk to your team member about the situation. Although personal problems may be at the root of the issue, it is important to keep everything on a strictly professional level, ensuring it is the behaviors and ideas you are criticizing and not the person in front of you.

  • Empathy and support

    As much as you know how to reward your team when they do well, you also need to be able to help them during difficult times too. Listen to what they are saying with an open mind if they raise concerns or criticisms, and let them know you are there for them no matter what. If they run into trouble with upper level management or with a client, be their port in a storm. If they know you are on their side, they are much more likely to try hard and to help you make a success of your project.

  • Diplomacy

    Probably the most important of the social skills for a project manager to have is the art of being diplomatic. You need to be able to communicate with everyone effectively, from the CEO of the multinational corporation you are working for to the cleaner who looks after your meeting rooms. You need to be able to pick your words carefully and ensure each and every person feels valued for their contribution to your project.

Keep the other persons feelings in mind when you talk, and before you say anything imagine how you would feel if someone said that to you. Avoid sounding confrontational, rude or brash, and think about how you can tailor the statement to make it sound more positive and encouraging. Many project management courses cover the topic of social skills for project managers so even if these PM skills do not come naturally to you it is possible to learn to be better at them on a good project management training course.

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and is essential for a successful outcome to any project.

There is a wide range of formal and informal training courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses from organizations such as Parallel Project Training.

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