If They’re Called “Soft Skills”, Then Why Are They So Hard!

There’s a buzz happening in the world of project management. It’s all about “soft skills.” It was a recurring theme of the recent 3-day Project World conference. Just today I saw another poll on Linked In where soft skills is ranked #1 as the topic of most interest to project managers. And, finally, the “bible” of project management, our venerable PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) has added a section on soft skills to its latest edition. OK, maybe its only 6 pages out of 450, but it’s a start—and an acknowledgement that we as a community are finally coming together on this topic.

We hear this buzz-phrase a lot. Soft Skills. In some circles, it’s referred to as “Emotional Intelligence.” What does it mean? According to Wikipedia, it’s “the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.” Oh, that’s all? (sarcasm alert…)

For Project Managers, it means everything. Even with the best tools and project management methodology, projects still have an alarmingly high rate of failure. My own experience, as discussed in my book The Project Whisperer, is that projects succeed or fail based on the group dynamics of the team. Period.

Studying soft skills is easy. There are tons of courses and books available. But applying them in the real world is hard, especially in our world of project management. The sheer number of people involved in any project creates an exponential explosion of personality variables. How in the world are we supposed to deal with it?

There are no simple answers. I’m thrilled that our community of practice is now aligning around this critical gap. Some influential voices such as Forrester’s Mary Gerush are even saying that soft skills may be MORE important than traditional methodology: “…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.”

Hallelujah, is all I have to say about that. I’m excited to be working in this space, as we embrace soft skills theory and translate it into something tangible and practical. Because in the end, it’s all about execution. Hey, we ARE Project Managers, after all!

Share your thoughts and comments with me. I look forward to the conversation.

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One response to “If They’re Called “Soft Skills”, Then Why Are They So Hard!

  1. I am so glad to hear that soft skills are finally getting the recognition that they deserve. For some, applying various soft skills is an inherent quality while others may need a bit of a push and some practice. Very nice article Pam – soft skills or emotional intelligence is a topic that is close to my heart!

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