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.
This is a continuation of a two part series. Part 1 is available here.
Decisiveness is essential for the Project Manager to ensure that projects are kept on schedule and stakeholder needs are met. Failure to be decisive, by changing ones mind regularly, sitting on the fence or being unable to make a decision will frustrate stakeholders both internal and external.
Being decisive requires being able to review options, anticipate risks and make them in a timely manner – you are taking responsibility for your decision.
Whether your approach is to be completely decisive or prefer to take a more evidence based approach before making a decision, it is important you understand the direction you want the project to go in; whether it is to continue, delay or close – then it needs to be finally, otherwise you will get a lot annoyed people frustrated at the lack of clear leadership.
Work under pressure
A Project Manager has a number of pressures in their role such as being able to handle demanding deadlines and prioritise their workload. To ensure that stakeholder requirements are met, the need to work under pressure is expected, going above and beyond.
This soft skill is about handling this pressure by managing any stress, taking time to look after your wellbeing, managing expectations of stakeholders, being able to manage conflict, planning, and delegating. As Business2Community says – remain calm, focus on the task at hand and help others through the difficulty.
The advantage of working under pressure is that it tests and stretches potential, so you can become better than yesterday – which can’t be a bad thing if you want to move to the next level.
“Pressure makes diamonds”
General George Patton
You are waiting for an important piece of work from a supplier by close of play Friday, ready for a board meeting on Tuesday. It’s getting later in the day so you send a gentle reminder.
“Apologies we are not going to be able to get it done today, there has been an emergency”, they respond.
Your natural response might be to have a fit.
This is the wrong approach, a Project Manager needs to display flexibility, therefore the best response in this scenario is to understand the issue and renegotiate the deadline. For this scenario you’ve now agreed 12pm on Monday – for your report you will focus on the information you have and add their part afterwards.
The benefit to being flexible is that you will build relationships with stakeholders, by exercising give and take, they will remember your flexibility and should extend the same courtesy to you if you should ever need it. By having this skill you are proactive to meeting changing needs anticipating risks in a challenging environment and building stronger relationships.
In engaging with stakeholders Project Managers may have to explain various complex issues to a wide range of audience, as well as being able to communicate this appropriately if the Project Manager does not have the confidence to explain their thoughts and visions in an effective manner then stakeholders may not buy-in to the project.
Hernán Cortés burnt his ships when he landed in Veracruz in 1519, was a sign of confidence to his men that they would achieve his goal, despite the risks they faced. The Project Manager has to be confident to gain the buy-in of his stakeholders, being able to rise above risks and address dire and hopeless situations. If you are unable to speak with confidence, then why should anyone else have self-belief in your abilities.
Soft skills are an attribute often overlooked in preference for practical knowledge. They should not be, in a competitive work environment many people have the same hard skills on their CV – the soft skills are the attributes that make you stand out, showing your ability to handle situations and demonstrate true value.
There are numerous books on soft skills, but efforts should be made to go beyond theory, creating opportunities to practice these with your projects stakeholders. For stakeholder engagement it is invaluable as it shows the ability to engage, understand and lead those you directly work with.
Finally a potent combination is utilising soft skills with being a subject matter expert for a hard skill, which the average person does not know have in your project career path. This will create a major impact showing others what you can do.
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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