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Top 10 Soft Skills for Project Managers - Part 2

~ By Brad Egeland

Silver metallic skills sign hanging on a wall

In Part 1 of this three part series on 10 key soft skills for project managers, we examined the first three on my list:

  • Organisation
  • Communication
  • Time Management

And while these are critical soft skills, possessing these will not guarantee project management success. Unfortunately, nothing really will. But having all 10 of what I cover in this three part series will definitely help. So, without further delay, let's look at the next three.

Decision-Making

The project manager must be a decision maker. I'd like to say they must be a good decision maker and that is true…the PM must be a good decision maker. But even more than that, they must just not be afraid to make decisions. Sometimes the PM even needs to make questionable decisions that they may have to stand by because they are the best decisions that can be made on the spot. It's the best decision that can be made when a key decision is called for immediately and there is no more info to go on other than what is on the table at that moment. It doesn't happen often – usually we have time to perform more analysis, seek out another opinion or more advice, and research a few options. But when we don't, we need to have the boldness and…well…guts to make a decision.

Negotiation

Sometimes we must take on the role of negotiator. Just like making on the spot decisions, it takes some internal fortitude to boldly take the reins and negotiate your way out of a tough spot with the project client. You're losing a key resource in the next two weeks just when that resource is needed on some major tasks involved with the next phase of the project? Time to negotiate with the client on shifting that phase to later in the project so that you can get a replacement resource up to speed and productive in order to appropriately handle those tasks. How do you negotiate? That depends on the project. Often times money is a key motivator. After getting the ok from your senior management (who are probably the ones responsible for removing the resource from your project in the first place), offer the project customer a 10% discount on the phase of the project that you're pushing out to later in the engagement. Most customers will agree to that fairly quickly if the change in the project schedule doesn't negatively impact them more than they can reasonably accept.

Optimism/Pessimism

I realise that putting these together is a contradiction of terms…and probably confusing. But I think it's also senseless to discuss one without the other. The project manager must – almost concurrently – be an extreme optimist and an extreme pessimist. And a realist…but that's probably fodder for a different article. We must always be upbeat - especially with the project client - while still being honest and open about the reality of any situation we are discussing.

Can we do it? Well, certainly we think we can…and we'll maintain that perspective till we fail, right? But we also must be aware of the possible outcomes, the possible costs and time lost with even trying and weighing those with our potential for success. And when we are estimating work, we need to be both optimistic that we can accomplish the tasks, and pessimistic that it can truly be done in the shortest timeframe possible. Why? Because it usually can't. So our conflicted perspective must remain and we must come up with something that lands somewhere probably south of the middle. Too much pessimism will never fly with the customer and too much optimism will never fly with the project team. We're not schizophrenic - we're just project managers.

In the final instalment of this three part series, we'll look at the final four on my list…then I'm going to be looking for your feedback and your own items that I've overlooked on my list. Thank you!


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