4 soft skills for successful project management

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The work environment around us is changing at a break neck pace. Technology alters the way we work day in and day out, like sand shifting under our feet. Information is being shared across multiple platforms and devices in varying formats. Our matrix is increasingly complex to navigate, and our dependencies can have a higher impact than our direct contribution.

Asking or even telling others to get something done is simply not enough most of the time. Even if most people genuinely want to deliver quality, on-time work, often that’s not what happens. Why? Conflicting deadlines. Different short-term objectives. Unexpected fire drills. Misunderstood expectations. These and a hundred other things stand in the way of smooth project deployment for marketing teams. How do you prepare account managers and project managers for the inevitable conflict and strife of working across teams, technologies and temperaments?

4 skills can make or break any team or project. The capability to influence without authority is needed to drive motivation and collaboration across the matrix. Effective communication is critical given the complexities and volume of data and information. The ability to manage stressful situations and to resolve conflict are key to ensuring that inevitable hiccups don’t explode into crises.

Influencing

Let’s start with influencing. It would be nice to think that just communicating deadlines and expectations is enough to ensure that jobs get done on time. After all, we are only asking other people to do just that, their jobs! But people need to feel motivated and they also need to feel the same level of urgency as the requester. Ideally, they also trust the requester. Some of the core ways to influence others include: Expertise, resources, information, relationships and attitude.

Communicating

Collaboration tools are, in theory, supposed to simplify communication. But in complex, matrix environments, the flow of information is anything but simple. Effective communication starts with a solid understanding of who needs to know what. A communication framework establishes who, what, when, where and how communication takes place. But communication isn’t a one-way street. Effective communication requires us to decode and interpret different communication styles. Above all, effective communication requires engaged listening. Asking the right questions can mean the difference between gaining superficial agreement and getting genuine commitment.

Managing stress

Complex projects and matrix environments are a breeding ground for frustration, overwhelm and ultimately anger and discontent. Conflictual situations are stressful. The best first step to resolving any conflict is to manage one’s own stress level. How can you learn to be the calm in the storm when emotions are running high? Learn to decode what strong emotions are trying to tell you so you can focus on taking action instead of focusing on the emotion.  Learn how to recognize and disrupt negative thinking patterns. Avoid speculation. These are just a few of the tools to help you avoid the traps of strong emotions and stress.

Resolving conflict

Resolving conflict requires all the skills above! It starts with keeping your calm so you can focus the conversation on the problem, not the emotion. Follow simple problem-solving steps and make sure you’ve gotten to the root cause of the problem. Avoid the traps of negative thinking patterns. Use engaged listening to explore and understand the root cause and weigh the different potential solutions. Finally – it’s important to know when a consensus is required and when it is not. Most problems can be solved with a solution which is not ideal for each person involved but which is recognized as the best solution for the group.

This blog series will explore each of these skills in more detail. Stay tuned for the next blog, focused on the power of influence. Find out more about training your team in these core skills.