Are Project Managers' Soft Skills Evolving?

Once upon a time, there was a project manager.

This project manager was strong, motivated, and driven to succeed. She was certified, the PMBOK was her friend, and she could create the most amazing Gantt charts ever seen.

One day, she took on a new project.

This project was large and complex. It involved new technologies and many stakeholders. And the project team was — let’s just say — “challenging.”

But this didn’t scare our heroine. She created a fabulous Gantt chart, established milestones, and documented roles and responsibilities. She set up her cost management, time management, and quality management plans. And she doled out assignments to the project team with a confident smile.

The project went off track quickly.

Team members argued, stakeholders failed to participate, and serious roadblocks emerged. The project manager requested status updates, set up meetings, and reported to the steering team — all things that “good” project managers do. But eventually, she lost the gig.

Why? She either didn’t have — or didn’t use — critical soft skills that today’s strong, next-generation project manager absolutely must not only have — but also exercise.

Like this project manager (any resemblance to actual events or characters is purely coincidental), I come from a very “traditional” project management background. I’m a PMI member and a certified project management professional. The PMBOK is my friend too. Managing the triple constraints of time, cost, and scope motivated me for years. And while my traditional project management skills helped me lead most (but not all) of my projects to successful outcomes, they would have meant nothing without the ability to serve and enable the team, adapt to complexity, and flex appropriately.

I’ve blogged about this in the past, sharing my findings on today’s strong project manager as well as tips to help project managers evolve. But now the topic is once again top of mind, because I’m preparing to speak about the next-generation project manager at the November ProjectWorld & World Congress For Business Analysts. And while I feel that the discipline of project management has evolved to embrace new ideals, many project managers are still overly focused on methodology and neglecting the development of critical soft skills. It’s not about checklists, schedules, and status reports — it’s about people.

Are you seeing traditional project managers evolve to become more people-oriented and flexible? How are they being successful? How can we help people like our heroine enhance their traditional project management abilities while developing and using next-generation soft skills? Share your thoughts and come join me in Orlando. Thanks!



I remember that project

I remember that project, but I had a good change control process set up and could either justify the scope and schedule creep, or the request didn't happen.

My biggest problem was the PMO and a manager who was afraid of being embarrassed that her previous attempt at this feature was not only a flop, but that her original proposal estimate was only 30% of what was actually needed (or 50% of the non-changed project). My people skills failed with her, not the customer.

I come across traditional

I come across traditional project managers (aka those who didn't evolve) all the time when we work with organizations to transition to Agile (Scrum).

"That won't work here?", "Where's the Gantt chart?", "How do you control people?", "We need to know everything upfront", etc.

The Agile project managers (aka those with strong people-orientation) get it.

"Individuals and their interactions over processes and tools".

Unfortunately, there are still more of the traditional type than of the agile kind. Let's hope things will improve over time.

Are Project Managers' Soft Skills Evolving?

Interesting commenting.A project manager was strong, motivated, and driven to succeed,good listening,good communication skills and good understanding.
Business Writing

You Nailed It!

Hi Mary,

I was in the audience for your presentation at Project World. Thanks for confirming the premise about which I'm so passionate... that projects are about PEOPLE. The project scenario in your post is exactly what I've experienced and captured in my book "The Project Whisperer."

We need more voices like yours highlighting the next-generation project manager's need to master the soft skills, or as I say, "the human part of the Gantt chart." Thanks again for sharing your insights at Project World!

Best regards,
Pam Stanton