The elements of soft skills

Critical Input Senior Consultant Chris Bevin recently presented a workshop for one of our clients on how soft skills enhance the project management process. Here she shares some key insights and take-homes from her presentation to this Queensland state-owned utility entity, which is driving change within their Project Delivery Framework.

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These soft skills are intrinsically interlinked and can influence project outcomes and optimise the effectiveness of change.

Communication is key

Virtually everything we do as leaders of projects is underpinned or enhanced by the soft skills we bring to the table with us. These include our capacity for communication, negotiation and self-reflection.

A project manager’s success depends more on the ability to communicate well (with stakeholders, team members, organisational leadership and customers) than on anything else.

There are myriad “essential” communication skills in project management, but top of the list are:

  • Active listening: Fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker, not only focussing fully on what the speaker is saying, but also actively showing verbal and non-verbal signs of listening.
  • Respect for contradictory points of view: Opposing views can be surprisingly informative, and they can enrich our own understanding of issues that are important to us. Being open to contradictory points of view may not change our own, but it can often provide an invaluable perspective from which to persuasively present your own perspective, as well as supporting the development of relationships built on respect and trust.
  • The ability to set expectations and accountability: Setting goals and objectives at the outset of a project are important, but another critical factor is to set clear expectations and accountability for everyone — including internal and external stakeholders. If you don’t make clear what you expect of your team members, and those positioned to impact the success of your project it is unlikely they will all intuitively know what you expect of them, by when and to what quality.
  • Translation: An effective project manager must understand how they and their audience speak and listen. Having understood all sides of the equation, you can then modify your communication style – whether that be through adopting different media, moderating “lingo” or the selection of an alternate delivery strategy, so that your message is clear to all parties.
  • Negotiation: There will always be a place for all negotiation styles – however, it is imperative that, as Project leaders, we ensure that negotiations are conducted respectfully, we listen actively and maintain our personal integrity.

Soft skills don’t need to equate to soft negotiation styles – in fact, they are more aligned to the P2O2 or Principled negotiation:

·     Separating people from the problem

·     Focusing on interests, not positions

·     Generating options for mutual gain before choosing

·     Decision making based on objective criteria

·     And building an understanding of their BATNA to know and improve your own.

Self-reflection aids learnings

Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

As project leaders, we make sure our teams and stakeholders take the time to plan, review, conduct lessons learned, etc – to not take time out for self-reflection is the personal equivalent of “fail to plan”, and therefore planning to fail.

Self-reflection assists us in building capacity to self-manage by gaining perspective; being able to respond more effectively – particularly when we are busy, tired and/or under pressure; consider alternative strategies and options; learning and understanding areas where we need to develop.

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