Project Management

PMP Exam Tip: The Project Manager’s Essential Interpersonal Skills

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Categories: PMP, PMP Exam, PMP Exam Tip

PMP Exam Tip: The Project Manager’s Essential Interpersonal SkillsA successful project manager must have many different types of skills. Those that come to mind immediately are the technical skills that we need to put together a project plan, schedule, budget and all of the necessary documentation. It is also important for us to have the conceptual skills needed to “see” the project as it is being developed.

However, those skills won’t ensure a successful project unless the project manager is able to complement his / her technical skills with many different types of interpersonal skills.

These essential skills include the following:

  • Leadership
  • Team Building
  • Motivation
  • Communication
  • Influencing
  • Decision Making
  • Political and Cultural Awareness
  • Negotiation
  • Trust building
  • Conflict management
  • Coaching

Being able to call upon and apply these skills at the right moment in your project can help ensure success. We will review each of these skills in our upcoming weekly exam tips.

1. Leadership

Leadership is one of the important skills that a good project manager must possess. The reason for this is that in many cases, the project manager doesn’t have any authority over the team members for a project. This means he or she must manage the project through leadership.

Although it can be more difficult to manage through leadership rather than authority, it is usually more effective because it is built on trust and respect.

A leader is especially important at the beginning of a project to define the vision of the project and communicate this vision to the team. This helps all of the team members to get on board with the goals of the project. Good leadership skills will also keep the members inspired and motivated to do their best work.

Unfortunately, leadership is difficult to teach from books (or tips like this one). You can learn the basics from the written word, but then you need to show that you “have it” by applying it on the job. For the PMP exam it is important that you recognize situations that require leadership and that you are able to select the appropriate action.

2. Team Building

Team building is another essential skill for a good project manager to possess. The nature of a project is that there are people from various different departments involved. In most cases, these people have not had the opportunity to work together and they may not even be familiar with each other’s departments. If the project manager isn’t able to turn these individuals into a team that is focused on the same goal, the project may not reach it’s potential.

Although some of the individuals or sub-teams involved in the project will complete their tasks independently, they will need to feel as part of the team. When a decision needs to be made related to their part of the project, their focus must be on what is best for the project, not just what is best for them and their departmental problem. A feeling of belonging to a team that solves a problem for the whole company (and doesn’t play departmental favorites) goes a long way.

Also, building a team where each member is comfortable in reaching out to the others will ensure small details don’t turn into larger issues later in the project.

It is therefore essential, that project managers not only know the tasks and processes that are involved in building a team, but that they have the skill and finesse to apply them appropriately.

3. Motivation

If you want to ensure the success of your project, you should work on developing your motivation skills. Having these skills will help that your project team members stay interested in the project, want to their best, and work toward the common goal.

Good skills as a motivator will allow you to create an environment that allows team members to meet the objectives of the project while simultaneously being satisfied with the work they are accomplishing.

Usually, being a good motivator and PMP is all about knowing how each individual member can be motivated. Some will do better work if they are challenged while others need to be reassured that they are doing good work. Other ways to provide motivation is through public praise or financial compensation.

Everyone is motivated differently. Your project will be much more successful if you can determine what motivates your team and act on it.

4. Communication

Good communication skills are important in most careers. If you are working as a project manager that is even more true, since we communicate about 90% of the time. Some project managers go as far as considering the communication aspect of managing a project as their main job responsibility.

Great communication skills are key to not only improving the relationships among all project team members, but also to establish trust and keep everyone motivated and on schedule.

Usually there are many stakeholders involved in a project and they must all be kept up to date on the status, timelines, progress, risks and issues associated with the project. A good project manager and PMP must communicate all of these details to project stakeholders in a timely fashion and in the format that they expect to receive it in. Project managers must also be able to properly communicate with senior management in their organization.

As you develop your communication skills, it is important to include all of its facets. This includes both written and verbal. Another important part of developing good communication skills is learning what information needs to be communicated and who needs to receive the information. Providing too much information or not enough to the interested parties can hamper the project from fulfilling its potential.

5. Influencing

If you want to become a successful project manager, it is important to be able to influence people. Just as critical is understanding when and how to use those skills and to ensure that you don’t become a manipulator. There is a fine line.

The role of a project manager is to bring together people from various departments and getting everyone to work together toward a common goal. Sometimes it can be difficult to get all of these different people to understand and agree on the details of reaching that goal. A good project manager will use her skills to influence people and help them to come to an agreement.

As you consider the influencing skills you need, remember your goal as a PMP should be long term collaboration. So consider your relationship and influence over others not only for the duration of the project but also how things will go long after the project has long finished. After the project is when the products, deliverables and results created by your project is going to be utilized by customers and end-users. A strong and positive influence fosters an environment of trust among all the team members both during and after the project completion.

6. Decision Making

There are many skills that a successful project manager mare develop and among them is good decision making abilities. There are four basic styles used to reach a decision. Project managers should be familiar with all four because at some point, decisions will have to be made from each style. The styles are consultation, consensus, command and random styles.

Clearly, it is always good to have effective skills in this area, but it becomes more important for a PMP because quite often other team members have to be involved in the decision making process.

Having a decision making model will facilitate this process. Since there are so many people involved in the project who may not agree on a decision, having a process to follow can be very helpful to gain consensus with the group.

7. Political and Cultural Awareness

In today’s world, project managers operate in an environment that is more globally focused than in the past. This makes cultural diversity another important component of successfully navigating the corporate environment as a project manager. A good project manager must have the skills necessary to recognize and understand those cultural differences as well as the ability to factor them into the project plan.

Cultural differences can influence the decision making process or the speed in which the work is completed. It can also cause members to act without proper planning. Not recognizing cultural differences can then result in conflict and stress within the project which will further delay it. Understanding these cultural differences in a scenario context will also be tested on your PMP exam.

Furthermore, it is important to recognize the politics involved in the project environment. Using political skills can help a project manager be very successful. However, more importantly, not recognizing the politics involved can create significant problems and roadblocks that could delay or completely derail a project.

8. Negotiation

The nature of the role of a project manager makes it essential for them to have good negotiation skills. There are usually many stakeholders involved in the project and most projects have team members from different departments. This usually results in several different points of view which can sometimes make it difficult to keep the project on track and within the original scope.

Negotiation skills help a project manager by reaching an agreement or a compromise of some kind on the issue that may be causing a problem or delay.

There are many negotiation skills that you should be able to use related to negotiation. These include being able to analyze each situation, being an active listener and clearly communicating throughout the discussion. It can be useful to identify the differences between the wants vs the needs of those involved. Another important focus is to realize the difference between the positions people have vs. the interests and issues directly related to the project.

Above all, skilled negotiators have the ability to manage the situation so that all parties involved feel as though they had a say that was taken into consideration.

9. Trust Building

Trust is a precious thing to have when you are working on a project. Having an atmosphere of trust allows for good relationship and communication among team members and various stakeholders. A project manager wants to promote climate of mutual trust. This helps to keep morale up, conflict low and everyone working well together.

If you were on a project, you want everyone engaged and working diligently to perform well. If you work hard, you want to be able to trust that others are also trying their best to meet project objectives. When a team member says they can perform a task well and by a certain time, you want to be able to take their word for it. If anyone in the team needs help, you want a team that will be supportive of one another and collaborate in order to get the job done. You don't want to waste time second guessing if someone is not honest or has ill-intentions.

As a project manager, there are many ways you can build trust. You have to be an excellent and open communicator so you minimize misunderstanding and foster trust amongst team members. You have to set a good example. Many times, you may have to set aside your own self-interests for the good of the team. You have to model and demonstrate the behavior you are expecting of others.

10. Conflict Management

Conflict is almost inevitable on a project. Project team members and stakeholders may have different opinions, areas of expertise, interests, personalities, work styles and the list goes on. Add other elements often a given on a project to the mix, such as tight deadlines, resource constraints, communication issues, you can see that conflict is rather likely to occur.

Many times, conflict allows for a better solution to a problem. If a team member would rather agree or go with status quo than cause potential conflict by pointing out a flaw, asking a question, or making a suggest an improvement, then it’s easier to be satisfied with a suboptimal solution. However, more often than not, conflict prevents the team from working well together and distracts those involved from the tasks at hand.

The key is being able to prevent conflict or its escalation or if you are not able to circumvent it then, you must know how to control or minimize it when it arises. There are many styles or behaviors that a project manager can choose to adopt when managing conflict. You can be assertive, accommodate, avoid or compromise. Some styles work better than others in certain situations.

How effective it might be depends on the project manager and the people involved in the conflict. A project manager also is not limited to applying just one style, if one approach does not work, he may have to try another to see if that is more effective.

11. Coaching

If you look up what it means to “coach” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it lists

: to teach and train (an athlete or performer)

: to teach, train, and direct (a sports team)

So, there is a bit of a sports analogy here, but being a coach is one of the hats that a project manager has to be able to wear for his or her team. Your goal as a project manager when coaching is for the team member as an individual and for your project team as a collective to be at their highest level of competency and performance. You want to enable them to do the work. 

Coaching may involve teaching and training or providing them a way to gain or increase their skills. This might be formal or informal training. You may have to find ways to develop their confidence and motivation. It may require you to increase team building and collaboration.


Posted on: July 19, 2016 06:47 AM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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Karthik T Senior Engineering Manager| Nike Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Thanks for sharing!

Mahendra Vissamsetty Transition Manager| IBM India Pvt Ltd Bangalore, Karnataka, India
I believe 'Leadership' trait includes all the rest :)

Christian Velazquez E2E Process Responsible | FEMSA Comercio Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico
Thank you for sharing the article!

Jason Belanger Consultant| JB Consulting Tustin, Ca, USA
A very solid article with sound guidance for action. Many thanks!

Vincenzo Musumeci Chelmsford, Essex, United Kingdom
Thank you for sharing!

Yousif Amin Muharraq 224, Bahrain
Well explained. Thanks a lot.
I do agree with Mahendra's comment that leadership includes all other listed skills as "Tools" to use as applicable...

Narayan Swarup Project Manager (MSP®,PMP®,CSM®,ITIL 4 ®)| TI Infotech Pvt. Ltd. Utter Pradesh, Utter Pradesh, India
Solid , Thanks.

Hesham Suqail Sana'A City, Sn, Yemen
Very concise and straight to the point. Thanks for the article!

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