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Maximising Project Success – It’s all About the Soft Side

The Formula for Project Manager Success: Certification + Interpersonal Skills


There is no question that over the last 5-10 years many organisations have made significant progress in improving the maturity of their project management processes and practices.   Although research conducted by organisations like Gartner show that IT project success is improving, there is still significant room for improvement.  The reality is that approximately one quarter of all IT projects still fail to meet their goals.


How can organisations improve their success rate?  The answer lies in improving the interpersonal skills of Project Managers.  The Project Management Institute® identifies eight critical skills and competencies required by today’s Project Managers or Project Leaders:


Leadership
As many Project Managers do not have official authority over project team members, they must rely on personal leadership skills versus authority to get work done.  Personal Leadership is built on trust and respect, and is demonstrated by adapting your style based on the team member’s ability and motivation to do their work when delegating tasks and providing support and feedback. Strong personal leadership will improve team member performance and motivate and inspire team members to achieve common goals.

Team Building
Team building is another essential skill. Project teams are often formed by bringing people together from a variety of departments and sometimes even outside organisations. Project Managers need to be able to bring a group of people together and ensure that they work together successfully to achieve goals.  They need to be able to recognise symptoms of poor team work and address issues early.

Motivating Others
Often project team members will be faced with short timelines, heavy workloads and may be supporting multiple projects at one time.  A successful Project Manager is able to keep team members interested and committed to goals and timelines.  They know how to reward and recognise the performance of both individuals and teams to maximise project success.

Communication
Research conducted by PMI® shows that Project Managers can spend up to 90% of their time communicating with Stakeholders and project team members.  Communication is the foundation of success for all projects.  The challenge is that people have different communication styles and preferences, and using more digital mediums for communication increases the likelihood of misunderstandings. Project Managers need to be skilled at adapting their communication style, able to tailor messages to meet stakeholder needs, and be able to listen and ask great questions to truly understand others. They also need to be able to lead both face to face and virtual meetings to achieve their goals.


Influencing
Being able to influence effectively is an advanced communication skill that is becoming more and more critical.  Project Managers need to be able to align both stakeholder groups and project team members, which can at times be a challenging task. Project Managers have to have the skills and competencies required to assess a situation and determine what type of influence approach and tactic to use to achieve win-win results and strengthen relationships.

Decision Making
Making decisions is a daily task for Project Managers.  As projects become more complex, and the business environment more uncertain and ambiguous, Project Managers need to be able to analyse a situation and select the appropriate decision-making style based on the quality of information they have and the time available to make the decision.  Project Managers need to understand when to act alone versus when (and how) to involve others, to ensure they minimise project risks and maximise outcomes.


Political and Cultural Awareness
Every organisation has two parts – the formal and informal organisation.  The formal organisation  includes things like the business strategy, organisational structure, business model, and other policies and procedures which are well documented and widely known.  Every organisation also has what is called the informal organisation which include the less formal aspects that impact how things get done.  Project Managers need to understand informal factors such as: (1) personal relationships between stakeholders, (2) who the key influencers are, and (3) the informal processes that may exist that must be used to get things done.
Additionally, as projects are becoming more global in nature, Project Managers also need to develop an awareness of cultural diversity.  While diversity can contribute to project success, it can also cause miscommunication and even conflict. Project Managers need to be able to mitigate both potential challenges.

Negotiation
Finally, Project Managers need to be able to effectively negotiate in a variety of different situations. In some cases negotiations may be with internal stakeholders for resources, or to get agreement to timelines or deliverables.  In other cases negotiations may be more complex and focused on tasks like establishing contracts with vendors.  Project Managers need to be able to effectively plan for these negotiations, conduct them in a way that achieves positive outcomes for both parties, and avoid making bad deals.

Conclusion
As technology becomes more mission-critical, and IT projects more strategic, organisations need to focus on improving their project success rates. Investing in the development of interpersonal skills for Project Managers is a great first step that will create a significant return on investment and help organisations achieve better project outcomes.