The art of stakeholder engagement is one of the essential skills for a Project Manager, therefore all project professionals should dedicate time to identifying, studying and practically developing their soft skills to ensure that project stakeholders help, rather than hinder project success. Soft skills are the unseen qualities against the hard skills (i.e qualifications). An appreciation of these skills are detrimental to success in any career.
As the APM says:
“…because the management of projects is a discipline spanning so many areas of human interaction; with different types of people in different fields, project management, uniquely as a profession, requires us to develop a range of personal skills, or soft skills, to complement our ‘hard skills’. It’s been said before but projects are all about the people; so it is a combination of this range of skills from the hard to soft and everything that encompasses in between that makes for an effective project manager, by which we mean simply a consistently successful PM.”
There are numerous soft skills, but what are the ultimate ones for engaging stakeholders?
An expectation of Project Managers is to converse with stakeholders both written and verbally in various situations such as workshops and reporting. Communication can be a challenging soft skill as some people excel at verbal communication but come off terrible in written communication.
Failure to utilise this soft skill creates the risk of being unable to get the support and buy-in of key stakeholders who can make a project sink or swim.
A master of good communication adjusts their message to suit their audience. Florence Nightingale was an excellent example of someone who mastered this attribute. Whether it was writing medical tracts aimed at the poor with simple English or making appeals to government, its clear that Nightingale understood the art of tailoring her communications to suit her stakeholder.
Negotiation & conflict resolution
The Project Manager faces conflict as part of their daily role, whether it is over resources, the direction of the project or general team dynamics; so the ability to understand, negotiate and resolve conflict is an important skill to have.
The problem of conflict arises in stakeholders due to lack of understanding or unwillingness to take on stakeholder needs. Conflict is not necessary a bad thing as Pinto and Kharbanda point out in their 1995 study, as the process of conflict has the benefit of creating mutual understanding and through the process of discussion can uncover further issues that would not have been visible without further negotiation.
The ability of negotiation and conflict resolution isn’t about just getting what you want, but being able to listen, understand, challenge and manage expectations of stakeholders so that solutions can be sought.
Project leadership, most simply, is the act of leading a team towards the successful completion of a project.
This is okay, but leadership isn’t restricted to those with ‘manager’ in their job descriptions. Some of the best leaders in fact have no management role, but are a key voice in making important decisions to influence, change and lead other stakeholders.
Therefore it doesn’t matter if you are an SRO all the way to Project Support, it helps to be able to demonstrate some sort of leadership skills. By being a leader you show the ability to take initiative and think critically of each situation; important attributes if you want to progress in your career.
Demonstrating leadership skills is effective for communication with stakeholders, it is not just about implementing what you think is effective, but being able to take a 360 view of your environment, taking the needs, motivation and thoughts of others into account.
Being a good team worker is always needed to achieve common goals, being able to fit the required roles, knowing when to contribute and when to listen.
Good team workers utilising each others strengths and minimise their weaknesses, assisting in the development of each other by sharing knowledge and experience. They also make attempts to understand the needs and feelings of their stakeholders.
There are excellent Project Managers who are good at working on their own, yet when it comes to working as a team, their cooperation and communication with the rest of the team is poor, leading to a project team who duplicates work, is clueless and lost without direction – wondering what is expected from them.
This concludes part 1 of the ultimate soft skills to engage your stakeholders. Join my mailing list to receive notification of part 2. To close see the following quote from Alexander the Great, which sums up the importance of soft skills not just in the project environment but in life, we can be great at what we do, but our people skills impact both ourselves and those around us.
“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”
Alexander the Great
Are there any soft skills that you feel are valuable for stakeholder engagement that I didn’t mention? Please comment below.
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