What Soft Skills do Project Managers Need?

As a project manager, you oversee projects from beginning to end. You walk the project through its entire lifecycle, from initiation to closure. It’s a big job, and there are various skills and tasks involved that help you get there.

Sure, you’ve got a toolbox full of hard skills (also known as technical skills) in your back pocket — things like risk management, budgeting, and project planning, to name a few. But those competencies aren’t enough. You need soft skills, otherwise known as interpersonal skills, to help you successfully cross the finish line.

Here, we’ll break down what soft skills are, why every project manager needs them, and provide some of the top project manager soft skills you’ll need to be the best project manager you can be. Let’s dive in.  

What are soft skills?

What exactly are soft skills? Soft skills are the interpersonal behavior skills that allow you to work well with other people and do your job successfully. 

These skills are often transferable, meaning they apply and add value no matter what role or industry you’re in. While hard skills help you do your specific job (in this case, project management), soft skills help you address the people side of things. You might hear soft skills referred to as interpersonal skills, non-technical skills, or transferable skills. Frequently mentioned soft skills include communication, leadership, problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity. 

Many job postings include a handful of soft skills in the requirements, and so should your resume. According to recent research by Monster, the four top skills that employers are looking for in 2021 are actually all soft skills: dependability, teamwork/collaboration, problem-solving, and flexibility. 

While technical skills are necessary and important for managing projects, soft skills are crucial too — especially when you’ll be collaborating and communicating with so many different people on a project team. 

What are hard skills for project managers?

Hard skills, or technical skills, are the aspects of your role as a project manager that often include tangible deliverables that can be quantified. Hard skills in project management speak to the tools, techniques, and methodologies you can apply in your work. 

One way to demonstrate your hard skills as a project manager is through certifications such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) or the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM). Other hard skills include mastering project management methodologies like Agile, Kanban, and Scrum.  

Hard skills for project managers also include project planning, budgeting, risk management, documentation development, and project control, to name a few. Without these skills, it would be challenging to fulfill your role as a project manager, right? But pair these with your soft skills and you will not only lead a project from start to finish — you’ll do it successfully. 

Can a soft skill become a hard skill? 

Soft skills and hard skills are different by nature. Remember that soft skills are transferable, interpersonal, and allow you to work well with other people. Hard skills are developed through experience and education and are generally more technical. 

So no, soft skills can’t necessarily become hard skills, but they do work well together. For example, documentation development is a hard skill that you may want to improve. This includes drafting project briefs, task templates, communication plans, checklists — you name it. Proper documentation requires that you know how much to share without missing information or adding too many details. What’s the soft skill that can help you improve your documentation development? You guessed it: communication. 

While communication skills are a key component of documentation development, the hard skill goes beyond merely knowing how to communicate. See? Those skills work well together but aren’t one and the same.

What is the importance of soft skills in project management?

Project management is never just about getting the project done. Human interaction and communication are the core to effective project management. 

Think of a project manager as a symphony conductor or the maestro leading an orchestra.  To get the symphony to play beautifully, a combination of leading, mentoring, communicating, and musical planning is needed. It wouldn’t be enough for the symphony to simply know how to make music on their own. 

This analogy speaks to the importance of soft skills in project management. As the leader, these soft skills — even when they take place behind the scenes — help steer the team toward effective execution. 

Leading others and guiding them through the project lifecycle comes with a level of responsibility that requires soft skills. If you can’t effectively communicate with your team, you may put the project at risk. Without problem-solving skills, the project timeline may be impacted negatively. In short, without soft skills, your project is at risk of failing. 

Top soft skills for project managers

So, what soft skills matter most? Here are just a few of the soft skills required for a project manager. Add these must-learn project manager soft skills to your list: 

1. Leadership 

As a project manager, you are the one in the driver’s seat. You need to have a clear vision and the ability to influence the project team. Effective leadership skills will inspire your team members to trust you as an authority and buy into your ideas for each project.

It’s important to understand that leadership and management are different. Being a leader isn’t merely getting people to listen to you and do what you want. Leadership is about empowering others, being viewed as a strong source of authority and knowledge, and guiding and teaching others along the way.

2. Communication 

Communication skills, both written and verbal, are crucial in every role, but particularly for project managers. Would you be able to manage a project from start to finish without any communication? Not a chance. 

Solid communication skills help your project team do their best work, ensure stakeholders are adequately informed, and help you keep all parties on the same page. Email updates, project documentation, and stakeholder presentations are all areas you can hone your communication to become a more effective project manager. 

3. Problem-solving

Every project has a level of risk associated with it — whether scope creep occurs, you go over budget, or you miss a deadline. Eliminating risks entirely isn’t necessary; knowing how to problem solve and mitigate them is. 

As a project manager, you need to be quick on your feet and solve any problem that might arise throughout the project lifecycle. The truth is, every project will bring its own challenges. You need to have the problem-solving skills necessary to address and solve those challenges to keep things moving.

4. Teamwork

The success of the project doesn’t depend on the project manager alone. Rather, the success of the project is driven by the project team. That means teamwork and being able to steer many toward a common goal and output is critical. 

When you facilitate teamwork as a project manager, you’ll contribute to the project being completed on time, individual team members feeling more satisfied, and maintaining a positive work environment with high morale. 

5. Conflict resolution 

As a project manager, you will routinely deal with conflict. Whether it’s a conflict amongst your project team, with key stakeholders, or with other external sources, knowing how to address and handle conflict is crucial for your role. 

With varying personalities, perspectives, goals, and values, conflict is often unavoidable, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to resolving those issues. Fortunately, there are a number of resolution strategies that can be deployed to effectively manage conflict within the project environment. 

What soft skills are needed for project management, even if you’re not a project manager? 

Maybe you aren’t an official project manager, but engage and participate in some level of project management in your role. In addition to the soft skills mentioned above, some additional soft skills needed for project management worth focusing on are active listening and time management

Working with other team members with different working styles and personalities warrants strong active listening skills. Active listening is an important project management soft skill because it requires focusing on what the speaker is saying to fully understand their message. No matter what member of the project team you are or what type of project you’re running, active listening is essential. 

Being able to assess and manage your time, prioritize tasks by order of importance to the project, and meet deadlines are all key components of success in project management. Time management is all about working efficiently, saving time, and managing your workload to deliver quality results at the end of the project.

How Wrike can help project managers

Effective project management is no easy task, but having the right soft skills can help you run projects with more strategy and less stress. Dive into the list of skills we provided and take your role as a project manager to the next level

Want to put your communication and teamwork skills to use? Start your free trial of Wrike to see how it can help you centralize communication and work collaboratively with your project team.

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