My intention is to write a book titled “PRINCESS” which will be a soft skills companion for the hard skills focused PRINCE2 or any other project management (PM) methodology.
The book will be designed as a uniquely Kiwi companion to the UK process-heavy PRINCE2 methodology that largely ignores the so-called soft skills essential for PM success. Once the technical processes of PRINCE2 have been mastered, it’s always the people that make the difference. Soft skills help us use our hard skills expertise to full advantage. So, to be effective PMs we need both soft skills and hard skills, and research supports this assertion, but let’s describe these two skill sets:
- Hard Skills. Hard skills are technical abilities that generally involve the creation of a tangible deliverable such as a work breakdown structure (WBS), project schedule, critical path diagram, earned value reports, and so forth. These skills are technical in nature and often require the use of tools such as scheduling software, spreadsheets, and templates. Hard skills are skills where the rules stay the same regardless of our project. For example, budgeting is a hard skill. The rules for how we create a budget are the same regardless of where we work or who we work with. These types of skills are relatively easy to teach, quantify and master, and usually involve the learner developing a skill without having to unlearn a previous skill. Hard skills are phrased using nouns such as schedules, budgets, earned value metrics, risk management reports, variance analysis, etc.
- Soft Skills. Soft skills also referred to as interpersonal skills, people skills, social skills or transferable skills, include leadership, communication, stakeholder engagement, delegation, negotiation, influencing, problem solving, and decision-making. Soft skills are largely intangible, are generally employed without the use of tools or templates, are subjective and undefined, and are often undervalued. The subjective nature of soft skills makes them difficult to measure. Most soft skills are not taught well in school and have to be learned later on the job often by trial and error. To be good at soft skills usually takes Emotonal Intelligence or EQ and are often phrased using verbs. They reflect actions such as influencing, negotiating, problem-solving, and so forth. While soft skills are difficult to teach and measure, they can be learned, but the biggest challenge is we often find it difficult to unlearn or change our habits. Thus, ironically, for most people, soft skills are often the hardest skills to master. Furthermore, most of our school years are focused on building our hard skills with little or no attention given the development of our soft skills.
Some project managers believe that hard skills are required for junior PMs, and soft skills are required to be a senior PM. Others may believe the notion of left brain versus right brain dominance. According to this compelling but bogus theory, right-brained people were considered to be best at expressive and creative tasks, and left-brained people were considered to be adept at tasks that involved logic and analytical thinking. Thus, the thought was that left-brained people would be more proficient with PM hard skills, and right-brained people would be more proficient with PM soft skills.
Regardless of the left-brain right-brain theory, some people by their nature are effective communicators and leaders, whereas others may be more adept at creating work breakdown structures, network diagrams and detailed budgets. Few PMs are equally adept at negotiating with contractors as they are are with developing cost estimates. But whatever our natural preference, both hard and soft skills are essential for PM effectiveness. We need to master both the art and the science of PM. To an increasing extent we are more likely to see soft skills mentioned in PM person specifications next to the need for technical qualifications. Most employment experts would agree that hard skills may get us an interview, but soft skills will get us the job – and help us keep it.
The workplace has evolved an interpersonal dynamic that can’t be ignored. The acts of listening, presenting ideas, resolving conflict, and fostering an open and honest work environment all come down to knowing how to build and maintain relationships with people. Without soft skills, we cannot lead our teams; without hard skills, we cannot manage our projects. The good news is that we can learn and develop soft skills as well as hard skills. The bad news is that it’s often much harder to master soft skills, and there is no easy measure of success. Unlike hard skills, there are no exams to prove that we have mastered soft skills. Soft skills have to be seen in action and can be difficult to objectively assess. Our work ethic, our attitude, our communication skills, our emotional intelligence and a whole host of other personal attributes are crucial for PM success.
To be an effective PM it’s just not enough to be highly trained in hard skills, without developing the softer, self-management, interpersonal and relationship-building skills that help people to communicate and collaborate effectively. Boosting our soft skills not only gives us a leg up on our PM career, but these skills also have obvious applications in all areas of our lives, both professional and personal.
My intention is to write this book within the next few months, but I aim for it to be a quality-driven project rather than time-driven, so the publication date is not fixed. It may assume a never-ending characteristic.