It is almost a consensus that good project managers need both soft skills and hard skills. Without soft skills, project managers cannot lead their teams; without hard skills, they cannot lead the projects. Soft skills, also called emotional intelligence, include skills such as communication, problem solving, negotiation, leadership, and influencing. Hard skills in project management refer to the ability of applying the right tools and techniques to run and successfully complete a project.
The right combination of soft skills and hard skills is a matter of training and experience, but also being the right person for the job. In general, experts say that no personality is better suited to project management than another is. People with more extrovert personalities are naturally drawn to management positions, but this does not mean they make better project managers than introvert people with the right skills.
Excellent Soft Skills or Excellent Hard Skills?
Since finding a project manager with the right blend of soft skills and hard skills is not always possible, organizations sometimes need to choose between a project manager with excellent hard skills and one with excellent soft skills. Evaluating which of the two is better suited to lead a project is not straightforward. But finding the solution to this dilemma involves looking at two aspects. One is training. The other one is knowing what type of manager the project needs.
If hard skills can be taught through intensive training or coaching in a few months or a year, soft skills cannot be that easily taught. A person develops soft skills throughout experience, not intensive courses. There are ways to improve emotional intelligence, but since these skills are intangible, the assessment of the level of emotional intelligence is not as easy as taking a standardized test.
Ideal Balance of Soft and Hard Skills?
The other aspect to consider is what is the right balance between soft skills and hard skills for the manager of a given project? What’s the ideal recipe? There is no definitive answer because it depends on the type of project, experience of the project manager, and organization type (functional, projectized, or matrix, just to name a few variables).
Some project management practitioners say that hard skills are essential for less experienced project managers, but soft skills are essential for becoming a successful senior project manager. Other practitioners say that a project manager with good hard skills can manage simple projects but only a project manager with excellent soft skills and experience can manage complex, long-term projects where leadership is essential.
Ultimately, the project manager’s task is to deliver the project deliverables in time and within budget. Depending on the organization type, the project complexity, the team’s experience in conducting similar projects, and the team’s motivation, either the project manager’s hard skills or soft skills weight more to the success of the project. Since no two projects are identical, a different ratio of soft skills to hard skills is the ideal combination for each project.
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