According to a global survey conducted by Gartner, Inc., 88% of businesses around the world either mandated or encouraged their employees to work from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. With so many employees working from home, it is critical that project managers are equipped with the soft skills necessary to achieve project success. Soft skills are a combination of people skills, communication skills, and emotional intelligence quotients that enable leaders and independent contributors to navigate their environment, work well with others, and achieve project goals. Now more than ever, due to factors detailed below, project managers must be intentional about developing and executing on soft skills, in order to effectively lead projects into the future. Below, we’ll highlight these soft skills and provide further details as to why they are so crucial in project management.
As one of the top soft skills required in any position of leadership, communication is paramount. With in-person interactions remaining limited, ensuring teams continue to communicate efficiently and effectively while working remotely is of the utmost importance. Without the opportunity for casual, everyday interactions around the watercooler, project leaders need to be aware that their words in emails, phone calls, and Zoom conversations carry more weight. The process of maintaining and building workplace relationships is starting to look different. In a remote working environment, it takes more effort and intentionality to work on these relationships because the unplanned, in-person run-ins of pre-COVID days are no longer a possibility. It takes initiative from project managers and team leaders in order to move these relationships forward. In order to help facilitate efficient and effective communication, we recommend leveraging tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams to maintain consistent streams of communication.
Team members need to feel heard and understood. Connection through one-on-ones, team social hour over Zoom, and encouraging casual team chat/messaging throughout the workday are simple yet critical things project managers can implement in order to keep their teams engaged and working cohesively. Navigating the new business environment requires communication, teamwork, and above all leadership. Project managers are responsible for setting a tone of positivity and a clear expectation for work ethic, which will be key to driving teams forward within the now almost universally remote business environment. In order to set a positive tone, we encourage project managers to lead by example. This models the behavior expected by the teams, and can be accomplished by taking small actions over time, such as turning on the camera during meetings, arriving to meetings on time, and by checking in with team members regularly to find out how they are doing on both a personal and professional level during these uncertain times.
Adaptability is essential in project management. Creating a culture that fosters the acceptance of change plays a critical role in ensuring projects continue to stay aligned with organizational priorities. When change occurs within the project, we recommend holding a meeting with the employees impacted to cover four topics: what we know, what we don’t know, what we are doing to get answers, and when we are talking to you next.
Expectations for time management and productivity should be clearly communicated to the team, and when possible organizations should create and distribute tips and effective time management strategies to their employees in order to promote consistency and structure within the confines of their business environment, to help ensure projects run smoothly. We highly recommend changing the default meeting time from 60 minutes to 50 minutes. The benefit of this is to give employees time between meetings to prepare for the next call.
For more information on achieving project management excellence and soft skills in project management, view our recent webinar, “Project Management Success – Tools and Templates to Drive Performance” and visit our Management Advisory Services Page.