Are you a project manager who feels the need to be in control of every aspect of your project? While being detail-oriented and organised can be beneficial, it’s important to recognise when your inner control freak is holding you back. Successful project management requires a range of soft skills beyond just managing timelines and budgets. In this blog, we’ll explore why being a control freak can hurt your project management success and how developing key soft skills can help you become a more effective project manager.

Why are soft skills important in Project Management?

In the past, project management was mostly about organising schedules and budgets, but in today’s world, managing projects is no easy feat. With increasing complexity, diverse teams, and demanding customers, project managers need a diverse set of skills to succeed. Let’s take a look at some of these areas in a bit more detail:

  • Projects are becoming far more complex:

    Modern-day projects are a puzzle with many pieces: people, technology, timelines, budgets, and more. To keep everything running smoothly, project managers need to be experts in communication. They need to be able to connect with team members and stakeholders at all levels, from technical experts to business leaders. 

  • Teams are more diverse:

    Today’s project teams are a melting pot of different backgrounds, skills, and perspectives. As a project manager, you need to be able to work with everyone on the team, leveraging each person’s unique strengths and minimising their weaknesses. Collaboration is key, and the best project managers are able to create a culture of trust and respect among their team members.

  • Customers demand more:

    In the age of Amazon and Netflix, customers expect products and services that are tailored to their needs. To be successful, project managers need to be able to put themselves in their customers’ shoes. They need to understand what the customer wants, what they value, and what they are willing to pay for. By empathising with customers, project managers can create products and services that truly resonate with their target audience.

How can I develop my soft skills?

The good news is that soft skills are something that even those who like to feel in control can develop over time. Here are some examples of what you might have found yourself saying (or just thinking) when faced with people challenges in the past:

Cartoon female in business attire with a gold key floating above her hand, indicating that she has the key.

“I need to fix this myself.”

Let’s imagine you are managing a software development project and a critical feature that was promised to the client cannot be delivered on time due to unforeseen technical difficulties. Your initial reaction might be to try to fix the problem yourself, without involving the development team or communicating the issue to the client – you have the hard skills to do it after all, you were a software developer for years. But ask yourself this, how might that affect those around you – your team, your client? How would you feel if your boss started doing your job for you without any warning: disrespected, untrusted, disengaged?

If instead, you proactively communicated the issue to the client, encouraged the development team to brainstorm solutions and developed a plan to address the issue, you could still manage the change, only more effectively and avoiding unnecessary upset to those around you.

Change is an inevitable part of any project. Whether it’s a change in scope, timeline, or budget, being able to manage change effectively is essential for keeping the project on track. Change Management is a soft skill that helps you to anticipate potential changes, communicate them to stakeholders, and develop strategies to minimise their impact on the project.

Male in business attire, holding his chin thoughtfully.

“I can’t believe it, why did this have to happen to me?

For this example, imagine yourself working as a project manager in the healthcare industry. Let’s say, you’re faced with an unexpected challenge, such as a key stakeholder leaving the project team or a delay in regulatory approval. With your control freak hat on, you may be tempted to become frustrated and fixate on the problem, piling all responsibility on your own shoulders, seeing no way out… “Why me!?”

But, if instead, you could remain resilient, maintain a positive attitude, seek input from team members and be open to new ideas and approaches, you’d be far more likely to find a suitable solution.

Project management can be a stressful and demanding job, and it’s important to be resilient in the face of adversity. Resilience means being able to bounce back from setbacks and maintain a positive attitude even in challenging circumstances. It’s about staying focused on the end goal and finding creative solutions to problems, even when things don’t go according to plan.

“No matter what I say, they just won’t listen.”

Last one! Imagine this time that you’re a project manager in the financial industry (you’re covering all the sectors today) and you’ve been tasked with implementing a new software system to improve customer service. However, you encounter resistance from some team members who prefer the old system. To take control of the situation, you may be tempted to force the new system onto the team without addressing them, it’s a much better system after all.

However, another approach may be to try to understand their resistance, are they nervous about the change, unclear how it will benefit them? Instead, you could try using data to demonstrate the benefits of the new system, actively listen to team’s feedback or even find ways to involve them in the implementation process. By using these soft skills you can influence them through empathy, and who knows, they may even become your greatest advocates of the new system roll-out.

Project managers need to be able to influence people at all levels both internally and externally to the organisation. This involves building strong relationships, communicating effectively, and using data and evidence to support your arguments. By being effective at Influencing, you can gain buy-in from stakeholders and drive the project forward.

A motivated team is a winning team

According to research by Dan Pink, there are three key factors that drive an employee to feel intrinsically motivated, e.g. motivated by the fun, challenge, or satisfaction of an activity, not by an outside outcome, pressure, or reward. These factors are: Autonomy, Purpose, and Mastery. Developing soft skills such as communication, collaboration, and empathy can help project managers create a work environment that supports these intrinsic motivators. When team members feel trusted and empowered to make decisions and take ownership of their work, they are more likely to feel a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

On the other hand, controlling behaviours such as micromanaging or dictating every aspect of a team member’s work can be demotivating and have a negative impact on team morale. When team members feel that their contributions are not valued or that they are not trusted to make decisions, they may become disengaged and less committed to their work.

Project managers should strive to strike a balance between providing autonomy and offering appropriate guidance and support. This means avoiding controlling behaviours that can undermine team motivation and morale, while also being available to offer help and guidance when needed.

5 Top Tips to improve your soft skills, today:

Become a soft skill superstar!

It’s important to remember that while being a control freak may seem like a fairly positive trait, it can actually hinder your success as a project manager. By developing your soft skills, you can achieve better project outcomes and build stronger relationships with stakeholders. It’s not just control freaks that can benefit from enhancing their soft skills, perhaps you recognise some of the following traits in yourself or your team?:

  • Introverted individuals may struggle with communication and networking in social settings. Soft skills such as active listening, empathy, and assertiveness can help introverted individuals improve their communication skills and build stronger relationships with others.
  • Perfectionists may struggle with delegating tasks and trusting others to handle them. Teamwork, collaboration, and delegation are all soft skills that can help perfectionists learn to trust others and achieve better results as a team.
  • Individuals with low emotional intelligence may struggle with managing their emotions and explaining their feeling with others. Developing soft skills such as self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy can help improve their communication skills and build stronger relationships with those around them.
  • Highly analytical individuals may struggle with interpersonal skills and relationship building. Practicing soft skills such as active listening, empathy, and effective communication can help highly analytical individuals improve their ability to connect with others.
Two cartoon characters, a male and a female, are depicted in a brightly colored image. They are shaking hands and appear to be engaging in active communication. The characters are smiling

If you’re interested in learning more about these soft skills and how to apply them in your project management role, sign up for our upcoming FREE Change Communication and Influencing, Resilience and Change Management and Stakeholder and Project Sponsor Management webinars, where you’ll learn practical tips and strategies from industry experts and have the opportunity to connect with other project managers.

Alternatively, check out our Training Course Catalogue to get you or your people improving their soft skills today.

Don’t let your inner control freak hold you back – develop your soft skills and become a more effective project manager.

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