Why project managers need to invest in developing essential skills and professional behaviours

Five project managers sitting and standing at office table with project management documents

Technical competence is no longer enough to be a great project manager. In today’s new world of work, technical knowledge and ability need to be aligned with the right essential life skills and professional behaviours in order to be truly successful, according to Kara Flanagan:

Gone are the days when technical skills were the only driving force behind successful people. While training around process and methodology undoubtedly remain essential, those individuals who also commit to developing wider professional capabilities are the ones who will thrive in a modern working environment. The most successful people are the ones that are exceeding their job requirements by going above and beyond; using professional behaviours to think critically, connect with people internally and externally building relationships to help make sure the companies mission and vision are accomplished.

The value of emotional intelligence

On one hand, the fact that people with lower IQ and higher Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can actually outperform those with higher intelligence is astonishing – but on the other it shows the real value of these “softer” skills. For a project manager, this means being able to communicate effectively across the organization with complex teams made up of diverse individuals. The term soft skills is very misleading because to some it implies that they are “soft” or should be easy. In reality, they are some of the hardest, most essential skills and behaviours a person needs to be successful. It takes practice and determination to step out of the technical box and relate on a human to human level.

Mastering assertiveness is also crucial to success; supporting key areas such as negotiation and the ability to read body language and ensure stakeholders are on board with project goals. Equally important are leadership skills which are often overlooked, but it is those who inspire and drive teams to greatness that become outstanding project managers.

Taking the initiative

Of course, developing these skills takes time. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight. However, the process can move faster if individuals take the initiative and invest in their own learning. This can be done in a number of ways, which all work in combination to broaden horizons and aspirations:

  • Sign up for a professional training course: A useful starting point, this provides a valuable introduction and guidance on key steps going forward.
  • Find a trusted mentor/advisor: This should be someone who understands the whole picture and walks with you through your entire learning journey. Learning partners should be interested in helping you succeed, not just selling you.
  • Attend networking events: Joining mastermind groups or organizations, such as Toastmasters, which run regular leadership events to complement continuous learning and be a positive long-term support.
  • Join the conversation online: Virtual communities, such as LinkedIn, offer a platform to discuss issues, challenges and solutions.

Organizations need to understand that investing in their employees’ “people skills and behaviours” in this way is just as important as technical training and, crucially, will deliver a better return on investment in the person as well as have significant financial gains to the bottom line of a business over the long term.

Worthwhile rewards

Just consider the statistics. According to several studies between 38-68% of projects fail. Only 15% of those that fail do so because of technical issues. That means the vast majority fail due to the competency gap, poor leadership, interpersonal and/or communication skills and behaviours. When people know how to lead themselves, projects and team’s better success comes naturally.

So yes, certification training may provide an easily-connectible ROI and be instantly measurable – but that is not a valid reason for ignoring the bigger picture. A company that invests in its people being better people will be rewarded with enhanced teamwork efficiency, organizational culture and – most importantly – greater project success. After all it’s up to the people to bring a project’s goal and vision to life. When all of these things are aligned the company can serve employees and clients better.

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