The Importance of People Skills



I interviewed our Director of Operations who is a Project Management Professional, certified through the PMI.  During our interview she explained to me that the most important skill set for a project or program manager to have is people skills.  It is imperative to have good people skills as a PM because much of project management is building relationships and motivating team members to complete their tasks as efficiently and timely as possible.  Ingrained in the mentality of a PM should be the mindset of working together to achieve the goals set forth in the vision of the project.  If a PM is rough around the edges or has a way of putting people off, they may discourage open communication.  If a PM is a pushover and does not have authority and the respect of the team members, nothing will ever get done.  A PM must be able to share responsibilities and hold people accountable through the dependencies others have on them.

I was thinking about this and various teams I have been a member of and it reminded me of certain program managers that I avoid at all costs.  Some of their characteristics which are unsavory are an inability to plan appropriately, threats, inability to see high level (bogged down in details), inability to drive results, poor budgeting, poor communication, and the like.,  Seeing as we spend so much of our time working and working with others in team settings, being surrounded by those who have deficiencies can be painful.  Characteristics of good people skills include being a good listener, being able to refocused the group when led astray, air of authority which is non threatening, ability to delegate, proper identification of group members skills and talents, good communication, ability to problem solve, and a ability to motive.  I appreciate the times when I am able to work with a well functioning team; one which makes progress and works together to achieve goals.  Being a good team member is also important but the ambiance is set from the PM and if they are not effective it is easy for the team to get off track or not be able to overcome hurdles.

I’m not sure how much of this can be taught.  My Director of Operations told me that part of the classes she took for the PMP certification included a class on leadership and teamwork.  She told me she learned a lot from that class.  Just having one class can be problematic.  PMs need training and experience to be able to navigate choppy waters and lead the team straight.  If that can be done in one class, then great, but that seems unlikely.  Behavior needs to be reinforced, which takes time and willingness to accept consequences.

I happen to agree with the Director of Operations for my company; people skills are first and foremost.  This is clear to me in daily work environment how important it is to cultivate relationships but having these in place on a project or program is critical.

12 thoughts on “The Importance of People Skills

  1. Hi Natasha – I enjoyed reading your post about your interview assignment. I agree that people skills can not always be taught but I do think that with some training and guidance than can be improved. I don’t think one class will drastically improve any one person’s people skills enough but it’s worth a try. I find that project managers do need those skills, because they are managing all types of people, roles, and personalities. That can be just as challenging as the project itself. Finding project managers with these skills from the beginning is crucial.

  2. Interesting topic. Good people skills are definitely required as a project manager. It makes me think what’s the difference between manager and leader? I think a manager is more focused on getting the job done, a leader is the one who can influence other people to finish job, develop their ability. As Natasha mentioned, we want a project manager who can be a real leader. Many project managers concentrate on new tools or new technology to manage project and improve efficiency, but actually managing team member is extremely important. The responsibility of project manager is not only to distribute task to everyone and wait for the update, it also needs putting the right one on the right position, motivate everyone to exert their ability to achieve the team goal. Especially, communicate with the team members who have poor performance and manage complex situations with the customers.
    I also agree with the opinion that business schools and professional development courses can teach you about leadership framework, but leadership behaviors you need to make your own practice and unfolded.

  3. Thanks for sharing your insights. Definitely agree on what has been written in the post and comments. I’ve found the soft skills of project management can often be much more important than the hard skills. In particular: motivation, negotiation and getting results without authority. In my experience the best project managers are able to connect with team members on a personal level. This gave the project manager more credibility and made team members more receptive to the project manager’s requests, even if they disagreed.

  4. Natasha, this is a great blog! I feel in my opinion managers have to take on leadership roles to enforce people to get work done. Project management is more important than many people may think. I feel the best project managers are highly motivated and able to communicate directly to every team member. Project managers are true leaders they motivate, and negotiate effectively to get the job done. Communication is extremely vital in the role of a great project manager versus a good project manager.

  5. I agree with all the points you made in this blog. People skill is an important skill set in project management. Being able to communicate and motivate team members is vital to the overall success of a project. Being able to drive for results and get the team to respond is a skill set that is sometimes overlooked at least in my experience. What I have experienced is you must know your team members and know you to push and who to give a little space. It is easy to micromanage if you are not careful. Every individual responds differently, so knowing who you are working with is critical. For projects that’s I have lead, I noticed that most team members deliver when their task are clearly defined and when they are held accountable. But for the very few who didn’t knowing how to communicate and motivate that individual is the driving force to getting the results you desire.

  6. Hi Natasha – nice job with this post, and it shows with all of the responses. Congrats! What I find fascinating about your experience about poor Project Managers, is their continuance in their roles, and how management allows for the poor work product. Especially when the Project Manager is known for their poor budgeting, and does not receive discipline, or development guidance. Well, I completely agree that Project Managers need to have great people skills, great leadership traits, and the ability to recognize how to influence their teammates. I also believe that management has a great responsibility to guide project managers to achieve great results. When they are poor project managers, find a better solution for the company, by either training or development, or severance. Again, great post!

  7. Great post Natasha! I really enjoyed it, I think you are right is critical to have people skills as a Project Manager because you have to interact with people from all over the company. I also think that one class isn’t enough to develop that skill, I think is an excellent starting point but It have to be develop trough experience and interaction. Your video was perfect to illustrate your point!

  8. Great post, Natasha. Without a doubt, the ability to deal with a multitude of personalities is a skill necessary for an effective project manager. One additional personality trait I would also suggest is a sense of humor. A good project manager often has the ability to facilitate meetings that are both fun and productive. A good sense of humor can make project work feel more inclusive to all stakeholders and encourage team members to put forth their best effort. Work is work, and supporting a project can be stressful at times. The ability to laugh and not get bogged down with negativity due to a heavy work load is an important leadership trait that will benefit one in a project management role, and will encourage others to follow.

  9. Natasha, I agree with your director of operations that a PM must have a good balance of strong character to inspire direction, but also the humility that enables them to share their responsibilities with the rest of the team. You noted you have observed several qualities of a poor project manager. The inability to see high level vision without being consumed by details is so important. I have encountered this innumerable times, where the vision grows beyond a reasonable scope and so much time is spent on planning the details that the overall vision is lost. The PM does have the responsibility to set the vision, to motivate and to keep to it’s guidelines. In my personal experience leading projects, I have found that motivating less willing members to “buy into” a vision can be the most difficult. Has anyone else experienced this situation?

  10. I love that video! Your interview had some great insight on project management. I have worked for project managers who have poor communication traits and who have the inability to plan appropriately. It is extremely frustrating when instances come up and you just know that the situations could have been avoided with a basic plan. Poor planning not only stresses the team in finishing as quick as possible but also, most times we don’t submit the highest quality work due to the stresses of the time constraint.

    After completing our group project, it is evident that communication from the project manager is critical in the success of the project. I heard on NPR radio just yesterday that as manual labor jobs decrease over the past decade, the amount of jobs that value communication skills have increased by a tenfold with no signs of stopping. Great post and interview!

  11. Hi Natasha,

    Good post. Seems like “good People skills” isn’t just for Project managers. Although this particular skill set with crucial for a PM. In terms of all business, being able to work well with others through communication, collaboration, delegation, or whatever it may be, working well is crucial for success. Furthermore, I agree with your point and what Ricardo mentioned above, that the one PMI course isn’t enough. Its a good start, but through experience I think one can truly refine their skills to be a more successful “people person.”

  12. Natasha, thank you so much for sharing this story. One would think people skills are the most basic requirements at the core of project management. However, and unfortunately, this so often is not the case. As you stated, a manager without people skills will completely destroy the team dynamic and ultimately doom the project.

    Great work!

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