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      Software or soft skills

      By Melissa Smith     

      Software or soft skills — what matters for Project Managers?

      Industry Club founder Melissa Smith says that, when it comes to project management, organisation and tech skills are only half the story…

      Given the ever-evolving technical scene and widening array of channels and platforms we exploit in brand communications today, the role of the agency project manager has changed dramatically. Gone are the days of relatively straightforward advertising campaigns, coordinated by the agency via a mixture of traffic, account management and production.

      Now, we’re all looking for highly intelligent, decidedly techy project managers, those masters of Microsoft Project and Basecamp who can whip up a RAID register quicker than the old school can mutter, ‘Sorry, what’s a Risk, Assumption, Issue or Dependency?’

      There are certain things project managers can control through accurate scoping, great planning and robust schedules, routinely using purpose-built templates and project-management software. But when it gets to the implementation stage, getting stuff done (or ‘JFDI’ as one of my favourite MDs charmingly put it), there are far more complex and unpredictable areas that no amount of software or project-management tools can influence: the personalities and emotions of the people actually doing the work.

      Project managers need to acknowledge that their ‘art’ is getting work done through others and that they are dependent on them for their success.

      As none of the project team reports directly to the PM, any methods of exerting authority you might employ in other management situations are largely irrelevant – to get what you want on a project, you need great people skills.

      Of course, technical ability and IQ are all important qualities for a successful project manager, but the sweet spot, for me, is finding the individuals with all of these skills plus well-honed social intelligence.

      Author Daniel Goleman explores the function of Emotional Intelligence at work in his book of the same name, showing that EI is the largest single predictor of success in the workplace. He summarises EI as ‘managing feelings so that they are expressed appropriately and effectively, enabling people to work together smoothly toward their common goals’. According to Goleman, the four major areas that make up Emotional Intelligence are:

      1. Self-awareness
      2. Self-management
      3. Social awareness
      4. Relationship management

      So how do we determine whether our project managers have the Emotional Intelligence we need to successfully motivate the team and consistently deliver? Here are some questions you might want to explore with potential PMs:

      • How aware are you of your own strengths and limitations?
      • How do you modify your behaviour to suit changing situations?
      • How do you react to pressure?
      • Can do you control your impulses when under stress?
      • How sensitive are you to other people’s emotions?
      • Do you excel at developing relationships?
      • How self-motivated and adaptable are you?

      How a project manager communicates, solves problems and leads from the middle are vital indicators of successful project management – and all require great people skills.

      When delivering a project, we tend to concentrate on filling in the right forms – briefing templates, scope of work, estimates, etc – and that process is often at the core of an effectively run project, but even the most stringent form-filling and watertight procedure can only take you so far. Empathy, charisma and the talent to read and respond to the mood of the team can make all the difference between going through the motions and delivering brilliance.

      If you can’t solve a problem with competence, finesse and good old-fashioned human flair, all the forms and processes in the world won’t be worth very much.

      Melissa has worked in project management since 1993. A qualified trainer, Melissa runs project management workshops –  teaching a mix of project-management techniques and bringing first-hand agency experience to arm your team with the skills and techniques to approach and deliver tasks successfully across all media.