Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve heard about Project Management is that you don’t need strong social skills. Sure, it would be nice, they say, but organizations place more emphasis on organizational skills and technical ability. Your rank means people have to automatically follow your lead anyway, so social skills are a moot point, right?
Project management is a leadership position, and as a leader, you have to be able to exercise your social skills to the utmost in order to balance the needs of your team, the stakeholders, and yourself.
But what if you don’t have strong enough social skills? Are you automatically excluded from the post?
No! Just because you’re not a people person, doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective PM. Like any other skill, social skills can be exercised and developed. You can start by developing a few key areas:
A project manager works with many people over the course of a project, and in order to keep the machine moving, you have to be able to communicate and work well with everyone. This often means being careful with your words, and making sure that everyone feels they are making valuable contributions to the project.
Practice your diplomatic skills by keeping the other party’s feelings in mind before you speak. How would they feel if they heard your original statement? Would you appear rude or confrontational? How could you reword the statement to get them to cooperate and respond positively?
Team performance is one of the project manager’s biggest responsibilities, as it directly affects the project’s quality and speed. In order to keep the team performing at its best, you will need to be familiar with a team’s capabilities and shortcomings. If a team member’s performance starts to lag, you will need to take steps to find out why and how it can be addressed, often by speaking to the team member yourself.
When speaking to the team member, be sure to focus on the issue at hand and not get too personal. Granted, personal issues may be causing the problem, but always place criticism and feedback in professional terms. You should be criticizing behaviours and ideas, not the person in front of you. Also, give the team member a chance to participate in the discussion and offer up his own solution. His suggestions may surprise you.
Everyone wants to be rewarded for their efforts, and your team members are no different. There are different ways you can reward them, ranging from bonuses to positive reinforcement to public announcements of their success. These can vary by project manager, by team, and even by individual. Some will appreciate one reward more than another, and as their PM, you need to know which would be most effective, and use that to encourage them to consistently perform at the optimal level.
But support also means assisting them through difficult times. Listen with an open mind when they’re voicing a concern, even if you don’t agree at first. If the client or upper management has an issue with them, be your team’s buffer and shelter. You don’t have to take the blame, but you can shelter them from the heat. Just make sure that they know to correct their mistakes so that it doesn’t happen again. If they know that you have “got their back” and that they can depend on you, they will try that much harder to help you and in turn, contribute to the project’s success.