Five Traits of a Great Project Manager: #5 – Interpersonal Skills

Updated: Apr 21

Our working lives require that we interact with people. Managing projects means that we are managing the work and managing the relationships with our project stakeholders. This brings me to the fifth trait of a great project manager. Trait #5: Great project managers have interpersonal skills. What are interpersonal skills? The common name for interpersonal skills is “people skills.” This skill refers to how you effectively interact with other people. More formally, interpersonal skills are defined as “the means by which people relate to, and interact with, other people.” No doubt, your technical skills as a project manager are extremely valuable. Your hard skills provide the technical competencies you need to perform the job. However, when combined with an excellent interpersonal skills set, project managers are able to elevate their performance, increasing their creativity and innovation on a project.

The application of the behaviors around interpersonal skills is key to building trust, ensuring project success, and positive working relationships overall.

Interpersonal skills focus on our behavioral competencies, such as how we communicate, resolve conflict, develop our teams, positively influencing our stakeholders, and more. It is true that interpersonal skills are more inherent with some than with others. However, it is a skill, which means it can be learned, regardless of your personality disposition. Scenario: Honey, not vinegar You weren’t sure you were going to see this project through. Just one week ago you were in the sponsor’s office getting read the riot act for missing a requirement of the product. You knew it was not a part of the original requirements but you also knew that the sponsor was under pressure from the board and wanted to do the right thing with this deliverable. You calmly said, “Chuck, I want to make this right. My team wants to make this right. They’ve worked really hard on this project and I know they want to meet your expectations. Can you give me the rest of the day to brainstorm with my team to ensure we meet this requirement? I will report back first thing in the morning with our next steps.” Chuck replied with a flat, “yes.” Back in the team conference room, what the team lovingly called “the war room,” Chloe approaches you. “Hey there. Rumor has it Chuck read you the riot act. And you were so calm. He had no right to do that. How could you be so calm?” Your response: “It would not have been any good to yell back. Sure he was wrong, but I know Chuck and his dedication to this project is unwavering. I chose to focus on that. When I listened to his concerns, I realized he was right that this was a requirement that should have been a part of the project all along. I’ve learned long ago, use honey, not vinegar. I try to demonstrate the behavior I wish to see in others. Now, we’ve got two more weeks on this project before go-live. Let’s get to brainstorming!” You look down at your phone and you see a text from Chuck that says, “thanks for your leadership and professionalism on this project.” Developing the skill Developing your interpersonal skills is an ongoing process. We are constantly evolving as individuals; for me personally I make a point to continually invest in my growth in this skill. I am a fan of the tips from Kelly Services; below are highlights from the blog article, 9 tips for improving your interpersonal skills:

  1. Cultivate a positive outlook. Look for the positive in the situation and try to build on that.

  2. Control your emotions. Part of having high emotional intelligence is being self-aware and managing your emotions.

  3. Acknowledge others’ expertise. Learn to appreciate the expertise of others—and give them credit!

  4. Show a real interest in your colleagues. Given that we spend much of our lives at work, getting to know a little bit about your colleagues will help to solidify your relationships with them.

  5. Find one good trait in every co-worker. We all work each other’s nerves, but surely there is one endearing quality that can help to interact with them in a professional and cordial manner.

  6. Practice active listening. Being an active listener shows that you are listening to understand and respect the talk time of the other person.

  7. Be assertive. Interpersonal skills (i.e. soft skills) does not mean we cannot assert our opinions. We still need to express our needs, as well as our limits.

  8. Practice empathy. This is another aspect of high emotional intelligence in the realm of social awareness and relationship management which allows your relationships to thrive.

  9. Maintain your relationships. Value the relationships you have established over time by sending a quick email, liking their social media posts, or setting up time to meet for coffee.

It is easy to hide behind the project and boast our technical skills as a project manager. However, since project management requires that we interact with people on a daily basis, the application of the behaviors around interpersonal skills is key to building trust, ensuring project success, and positive working relationships overall. Effective interpersonal skills will help you build a sense of teamwork among your team and garner support from the project stakeholders—especially during times when you need their support the most. “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” – Theodore Roosevelt What are your thoughts on this trait? Please share your comments. If you’d like to learn how to develop your interpersonal skills, ask me about my PM TALENT program. Resources: Cover image Designed by Raw Pixel


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