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Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.

What are the Soft Skills any Project Manager must have?

b2ap3_thumbnail_softskills_20140224-200339_1.pngDevelopment organizations appoint a project manager according to the depth of his or her technical skills. It is not unusual to find a good engineer being promoted to project manager just for his or her technical competence. While it is true that a good understanding of the technical aspects of a project is useful, project managers are also required to have good management skills, such as communicating, planning, negotiating, coaching, decision-making, and leadership. These skills are often overlooked at the time of hiring or appointing a project manager.

Many project managers are not able to successfully lead projects due to a deficiency of the necessary soft skills.

The job description for a project manager needs to be more explicit and describe the managerial skills and competencies required for the job. Organizations usually assign a project manager with the idea that all that is required is expertise in a technical area, often forgetting the need to have a project manager with the skills to lead a project team, coordinate the use of resources, communicate with stakeholders, and manage the project constraints.

In today’s projects, soft skills are becoming equally as important as technical or hard skills. To be an effective project manager today requires more and more, including a good understanding of general management. Projects are becoming more complex in their nature, and it is no longer possible for the project manager to remain a technical expert. Project managers need to spend more of their time planning, organizing, directing, and monitoring the project.

These are the most critical soft skills:

  • Leadership skills - They are essential for project managers, because project managers must influence the behavior of others to achieve the project objectives.
  • Communication skills - This skill enables a project manager to convey project information in a way that it is assimilated and understood by all project stakeholders, includes both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
  • People skills -  Needed in development projects due to the large number of people interfacing with the project. Includes the ability to listen, be empathetic and motivate people.
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How to Conduct Effective Project Meetings

A key role of the project manager is to make sure that the project is progressing as expected and that any issues are being addressed. Project meetings are one of the most common ways of doing this; here are seven tips that will help making effective project meetings. 

  1. All project meetings should have an agenda. The creation of the agenda can be as simple as writing it in an email and sending it to the meeting participants.  On the first team meeting make sure everyone understands the agenda format. Once everyone understands the purpose and the regular flow, the standard agenda model can be reused every time.
  2. For a large group of people attending the meetings, it is very helpful to have a meeting facilitator; in some cases it would be preferable to have somebody outside the project who has facilitating skills. For the regular ongoing status meetings, the facilitator is usually the project manager.
  3. Ensure the participants know ahead of time what they need to bring to the meeting or any advance preparation that needs to take place. Make it a rule that only the people that need to be there are invited. Inviting other people not involved in the agenda topics to be discussed may distract and mitigate the effectiveness of the meeting.
  4. Make it a practice that the meeting should start on time, with some allowance for those that may be coming from another meeting.
  5. The first item on the meeting is that the project manager should explain the purpose and the expected outcome of the meeting, and make sure that to follow the agenda and watch · the time to make sure everything gets covered.
  6. A team member should be in charge of document any action items assigned during the meeting. The documents will become the meeting minutes that will be circulated to all participants after the meeting.
  7. The meeting minutes should recap all outstanding action items toward the end of the meeting, including who is responsible, what is expected, and when the action item is due. The meeting minutes should also recap any decisions that were made and that will be followed in the next project meeting.

Keep The Meetings Focused

To keep a focus on the meeting keep the time to discuss general status, issues, scope and risks. These are the key components to check on the overall project health and should be of interest to all team members. Allow some space for some problem solving, but making sure that the problems are of interest to most of the team members. The most common complaint in project meetings is that they take too long. Long meetings are usually caused by too much problem solving that is not relevant to all of the meeting participants. A good practice to simply stick to the time allocated to the meeting. For example, if a meeting is taking too much time and still cannot complete all the items on the agenda, then end the meeting and take any other outstanding issues offline or to a separate meeting that focuses on these items with the people that are most interested.

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