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Interpersonal Skills for a project manager

Nontechnical skills every project manager needs

Interpersonal Skills

To succeed in any profession you need to strike a balance between the art and science of that profession. Science is about processes, practices, techniques, tools, logic, etc. But art is about knowing what else is required to complete the work. It works as a glue between isolated steps, techniques, stages, processes, or practices. To play a melodious guitar we need to ensure strings are not too tight neither too loose. Knowing this balance is art. It is not about measuring the tension of string using some tool but listening to the sound after striking the cord. What combination of color, what stroke, and in what direction will improve the painting is about art. The project management profession is no exception to this art. This is what generally referred to as the Nontechnical skills of the project manager.

Global standard on Project Management, Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) of PMI emphasizes this as an important tool & technique for every project manager. In PMBOK this tool & technique is called Interpersonal Skills. The success of a project hugely depends upon the proficiency of a project manager on these skills.

You cannot learn these skills by force, nor because somebody is paying for it and you sit in class to hear from experts. You learn these skills through your own struggle. But the struggle can path can be shortened when you have some tricks and tips around topics. Training, coaching, mentoring helps you in shortening that path.

If you want to learn flute then you must develop a love for listening flute. You must pay and purchased a good flute and take help from a couple of people around me to play it.  Practice it regularly. Now even after many years, if you cannot play it well then it means you are missing deep passion which can absorb your mind in the music a flute. In the absence of this passion, you will not be able to prioritize the time to practice.  Anything you want to learn gives you a moment that tells you “forget it, I cannot do it, it is not my cup of tea”. Patience and practice further is the only key to manage those moments of life.

In the project, we struggle even after knowing every process, customer requirement and technology. The primary reason for the struggle is either awareness or proficiency of these soft-skills. But, till the time we do not feel at our heart that makes and break of project hugely depends upon certain soft-skills and I have to master this by my own efforts and strong will, I will not be able to move ahead.

Interpersonal Skills

A list of Interpersonal Skills from the PMBOK 5th Edition is as below.

  1. Leadership: How to lead a team?
  2. Team building: How to build a high performing team?
  3. Motivation: Everybody has different needs. How to keep everybody motivated?
  4. Communication: How to keep all stakeholders on the same page?
  5. Influencing: How to influence stakeholders to make decisions in favor of the project?
  6. Effective Decision Making: With hundreds of options and parameters how to evaluate and make an effective decision?
  7. Political and cultural awareness: Economics, Sociology, and Politics are in the blood of every human being. Some express it explicitly and others express it silently based on the need of the hour. How to handle political and cultural issues?
  8. Negotiation: Give and take is part of every human’s social and economic transaction. How to evaluate and negotiate so that end result is a win-win for all parties?
  9. Trust building: How to build trust with new stakeholders, new team members?
  10. Conflict management: Conflict is natural in life and it is inevitable when we are dealing with money and reputation. For example, a person/party in a stronger position does not want to accept a mistake and a weaker party makes it an issue of survival. How to ensure that conflicts are resolved in an amicable way.
  11. Coaching: How do we train team members about a new tool, process, technology and ensure they understand and follow what has been explained?
  12. Emotional Intelligence: How to understand the emotional need of every individual in the team and leverage that to motivate them so that they can do better and have a win-win solution for the project and team members?
  13. Group Facilitation: How to lead or manage sessions where different kinds of people with diverse requirements and/or skills come together? Sometimes we need them to give us direction other times we need them to helps us understand the project requirements.
  14. Analyzing Situation with Team: When events have happened or situations are before us we need to know what are the different options before us. For this, we need to analyze the situation at hand with our team. How to ensure that team gets involved in this analysis and evaluation process and contributes positively?
  15. Active Listening: How to listen to solve the problem of the speaker, address the problem and meet the project goal? Giving readymade solutions disengages people.
  16. Overcoming Resistance to Change: Project is an agent of change. In the project life cycle, you will find many stakeholders who oppose and support the change. How do handle the situation when you need to manage resistance to change?

Conclusion

Depending upon the audience, there are hundreds of training variations of these skills. As a project manager, you need to ensure that you know them enough. No matter how old you are you will have enough challenges in your professional, social and personal life. From our professional and personal life, we know that predicting 100% results as per our wish is just a wish. But if we know these interpersonal skills enough then managing those challenging situations of life becomes a lot easy.

Finally, in the case of interpersonal skills, the most important thing is how much we have internalized those. Know or learning is not enough.

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