The importance of soft skills in project management
Soft skills and their importance for project management
- Methodological competences enable people to solve tasks and problems or to acquire skills that lead to solutions.
- Personal competences are those that primarily concern oneself because they contribute to one's own development.
- Social competences are particularly helpful in dealing with other people, because they promote sympathy and empathy.
The most important soft skills are communication, time management, leadership, teamwork, emotional intelligence and critical thinking, and the problem-solving skills that result from them.
In contrast to soft skills are the hard skills. These can also be learned, but unlike soft skills, they can also be demonstrated or tested. They include, for example, language skills. This is the most important difference, because soft skills cannot be assessed but are demonstrated through actions, whereas hard skills, such as language skills, are directly recognizable and can be assessed.
Communication: The key to effective project management
However, it is not just about how you communicate, but also how the information is received by the recipient. A statement can be misinterpreted, and this can have consequences. That is why it is important to communicate correctly.
According to Paul Watzlawik and colleagues, there are 5 axioms that apply to all communication.
- One cannot not communicate: One also communicates through body language, i.e. facial expressions and gestures. This is precisely why it is important to also pay attention to physical expressions during conversations, meetings, etc. Otherwise, misunderstandings can quickly arise.
- Every relationship has a content level and a relationship aspect: The relationship forms the framework for communication. A conversation with a friend is different from a conversation with a work colleague or a stakeholder. A friend knows a lot about the private life and transparency is really important. It is also important with work colleagues since open communication is very important for the project because it moves the project forward. It is a good way to help each other and keep each other informed. However, communication is not as personal as between friends. A stakeholder will only be told what is absolutely necessary about the project. The way of communicating is also partly a question of hierarchy, which is addressed in the fifth axiom.
- Communication is punctuated: There is a constant exchange in which each participant in the conversation subjectively has their own structure. If opinions about cause and effect diverge, this can lead to relational conflicts in which criticism can also be voiced. A clear distinction should be made between constructive and destructive criticism. Only constructive criticism is a meaningful form of communication. It aims to bring meaningful alternatives to a factual level. But even if a statement is meant constructively, misunderstandings can occur. So always listen first and ask what is meant. If there is something that is not understood, ask. Criticism should not be taken personally but should be understood as a constructive suggestion for improvement. Criticism is also sometimes voiced in projects. It should therefore be factual, empathetic and consist of "I" messages. This reduces the potential for confrontation.
- Human communication involves both digital and analogic modalities: These are statements. Digital statements leave no room for interpretation, and everyone knows exactly what is meant. Analogue statements are those that leave a lot of room for interpretation. Therefore, in the world of work, care should be taken that statements are made without a framework of interpretation. If this is not the case, then the counterpart must ask in order to leave no room for interpretation.
- Communication is either symmetrical or complementary: Symmetry is communication at eye level, complementarity is communication that is not at eye level. Both have advantages and disadvantages. In symmetrical communication, both sides focus on what they have in common and reflect this in their behaviour. Here, care must be taken that one partner does not override the other, resulting in complementary communication. In Scrum, for example, the developers should meet on a symmetrical basis and help each other. In complementary communication there is a differential, e.g. because someone has a higher level of education, in case it plays a role in this context, or is authorised to give instructions, etc. However, efforts should be made to ensure that communication is not based too much on the power imbalance and that constructive statements are made. Because if a leadership position exploits the power imbalance too much, it can easily go wrong. Although hierarchies exist and the project manager's prioritisation of tasks must be respected, care must be taken to ensure that this is not reflected in the communication, but that it is conducted on an equal footing and with respect.
This applies to all project participants, but especially to the project manager or people in management positions.
For this reason, it is also important to have information management and a defined way of communicating. This is usually done using software that allows everything to be shared and immediately available.
Communication should also be project- and task-specific to avoid misunderstandings.
Time management: balancing priorities and deadlines
Where possible, delegate tasks. You don't have to do everything yourself, because too many tasks can lead to time being used inefficiently. To find out what you need to do yourself and what you can delegate, use the Eisenhower Matrix.
At work, focus on the goals, not just the activity. People are not always equally efficient but have times when they get a lot done and times when they are less efficient. Time management should take this into account. The most difficult tasks or those that require the most concentration should be done at the best times. To compensate for this, breaks should always be planned in order to be able to work productively again.
Multitasking should also be avoided so that tasks can be completed well. This means that you should schedule your appointments so that you can complete them one after the other.
So, if you manage your time well, you have a good chance of being productive and getting a lot done.
This applies both to project managers, who have to coordinate many appointments in the project, and to Developers during the Sprint.
Leadership qualities: Inspiring teams to succeed
That's why it's also important for a project manager to constantly train and have their knowledge certified. When someone applies for a new job, the HR department can already see in the application what areas the candidate has experience in and what leadership qualities they might bring.
Ability to work in a team: mastering challenges and changes
Competition is not always a bad thing, as it motivates the team to achieve the goal. The only question is how excessive it is. If this leads to problems in the team, the project manager or someone else responsible for team interaction needs to intervene and try to get members to work together. It is important to work together in any case. No information should be withheld. A good project manager also makes sure that the team members do a good job, without any competitive thinking, so that the team members do not feel that they have to outdo each other. Especially in Scrum, the individual members bring different skills to the table, which may not be comparable at all. Accordingly, the team can also be different. Some find it easier to work in a team because they are team players, others are more loners. It is important to recognize this and, if necessary, take steps to ensure that each individual feels seen and enjoys working in the team.
This includes putting forward your own ideas without belittling the ideas of others or supporting the ideas of others and accepting criticism of your own ideas without taking it personally.
Emotional Intelligence: Relationship Management and Conflict Resolution
Once we have identified the emotions we are feeling, we can respond to them with empathy and sensitivity. This can ensure that the other person feels seen and understood, and we can work together to solve the problem. By responding appropriately, conflicts between parties can be avoided. They can also be resolved more easily because it allows people to put themselves in the other person's shoes, to feel that their feelings are legitimate, and to see a way of resolving them. This can also improve the relationship between the parties.