Whether young or old, experienced or inexperienced, what has struck me most about the stories of missed opportunities and derailed careers was this: Their problem rarely stems from lack of technical or professional expertise but rather from a shortfall in their soft skills. This includes personal, social, communication and self-management behaviors.
Soft skills are one of the hardest you will ever learn. Technical skills are easier to teach than soft skills. And it is the soft skills that have the greatest impact on your level of success.
Here is a list of soft skills to consider:
positive attitude, good communication skills, time management skills, team player, self confidence, facilitation, stress management, conflict resolution, ability to accept and learn from criticism, coaching, systems thinking, mentoring, working well under pressure, presentation skills, people oriented skills, work ethic, flexibility, active listening, active learning, critical thinking, speaking, social perceptiveness, writing, getting the job done, self promotion, keeping visibility when you are not face to face, organizational astuteness, strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, leadership and adaptability.
Wow that’s a lot to learn, won’t you say?
Project management has been gradually shifting its focus on softer skills. Those touchy feely areas are perceived as more and more important. Go to any major project management seminar and you will find a number of tracks and presentations on soft skills. These are also the sessions that are usually well attended. That means people do perceive these as something they need to learn more about. Take the example of leadership; I am amazed at how leadership sessions are overbooked at most venues. Projects never operate under ideal circumstances, you need to motivate people, get alignment and work under time pressures. And to do all that you need those soft skills.
One roadblock for many project managers when it comes to soft skills is that they want to play in the known and definite. Soft skills take you into those grey areas where you don’t always have a black and white option. Take flexibility for example. I always admire a sponsor or a stakeholder who is flexible in their approach to projects. They understand that estimation is not an exact science, predicting a date is as hard work and that people need to be cared for. Don’t you want others to have the same perception of you? Reflect a little on how others perceive you.
Here is a challenge for you. Pick any one of the soft skills and build a plan on how you are going to improve. Read, take courses, and ask around, but above all practice! And that is the hardest part about soft skills.
Be brave, pick a skill & plan improvement, do it now. You will thank yourself for it.