Ask the Industry Expert: What Soft Skills Do I Need as a Project Manager?

In our Ask the Industry Expert column, we put your burning PMO questions to Wrike’s Chris Hare, Industry Principal, PMO, who shares her extensive knowledge and expertise on how to uplevel project delivery at your organization. In this edition, Chris shares her tips on how to make an impact as a project manager in the current market.

Q. I’m starting out as a project manager. The statistics out there about project failure are scary, what personal skills do I need to be successful? What soft skills should I cultivate?

I can understand what you mean! The stats are scary — according to PMI's Pulse of the Profession for 2021, the failure rate of projects with lost budgets is 35% globally — but project failure, although rife in the annals of statistics, doesn’t have to be an option. But I get it — how do you avoid the pitfalls and slay the groundswell of data that has been betting on your demise for years?

So many factors can influence success, but in my 15 plus years as a project manager, program manager, director of project management, and now an industry principal/SME for PMOs, I can say unequivocally that the most pivotal factor is the underdog story that stars you as the project lead. 

Your role possesses the behemoth task of managing the varying skills, talents, dynamics, and everyday temperaments that is the inherited path of getting assigned a working team on a project or program. That said, it’s no wonder that according to the PMI’s 2020 Pulse of the Profession survey, a preponderance of the in-demand skills that organizations are looking for in PMs are largely leadership-based. 

With the criticality of soft skills that project leads must draw from, which ones are most critical to embody for project success? Well, the PMI has recognized the need for this, and has grouped personal competencies into the following six units, which can be found in their “Project Manager Competency Development Framework - Third Edition”:

  1. Communicating: Effectively exchanges timely, accurate, and appropriate information with stakeholders using proper communication methods.
  2. Leading: Guides, inspires, and motivates team members and stakeholders to manage and resolve issues to achieve project goals and objectives.
  3. Managing: Effectively administers projects through the implementation and usage of the appropriate personnel, intangible, and other types of resources.
  4. Cognitive ability: Applies an appropriate amount of discernment and judgment to guide projects in ever-changing and evolving environments.
  5. Effectiveness: Produces desired outcomes by using proper resources, tools, and techniques in project management tasks and activities.
  6. Professionalism: Promotes and embodies ethical behavior, such as responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty in project management. 

Easier said than done, right? While driving principles like these are good guideposts, here are five quick-win strategies that you can implement right away:

  1. Be transparent in all things you do — including mistakes you’ve made and what you’ve learned from them.
  2. Expand your skills outside the realm of your current role. Find certifications or courses that are an adjunct to your skills that will help bolster your knowledge base and allow you to learn empathy for others in that role.
  3. Take on internal or pro bono projects to show your aptitude for leadership and expand your realm of project expertise and working network.
  4. Come to every meeting prepared with an agenda. Send the agenda prior to the meeting and include it in the meeting invite itself.
  5. Generously share knowledge. Find mentees who may want to learn more about your role and serve as an ad hoc mentor. 

Congratulations and best of luck on your new journey as a PM!

Chris Hare is an award-winning author and certified program and project management professional with 16 years of experience working for such companies as Adobe, Patagonia, and Guitar Center. Her tenure includes managing hundreds of successful projects for a myriad of client- and agency-side organizations, PMO permutations, and methodologies. At her current role at Wrike, she lends her industry thought leadership and subject matter expertise through product innovations, events, mentor groups, and blog columns.

Have a question you’d like Chris to answer? Send us an email!

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