The Missing Soft Link

It is a shame to admit but during the first years of my project manager career I used to think that I was something like “the boss of the project team”. I expected to have formal authority over team members and be the main person they would report to. You get this impression from the classic books on project management, don’t you? The truth is that during the last ten years I have never witnessed such a project.

I found out that a project manager cannot rely on formal authority and needs very strong interpersonal skills to be successful.

There is an excellent book by Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People. It was published in the nineteen thirties and it is still one of the best books ever written on the subject of interpersonal skills. Let’s consider just three fundamental principles for handling people that Dale Carnegie suggests:

1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain

2. Give honest and sincere appreciation

3. (to motivate) Arouse in the other person an eager want

Do we as project managers apply these principles? Most of us, in most cases don’t. Let me share with you just two examples.

I am a project manager but sometimes I am “managed” by a fellow project manager. For instance I take part in some volunteer projects as a contributor. All people in these projects contribute during their spare time. Since this is obviously not the work I live on and cannot be my top priority, it happens that I miss some expected delivery date. The greatest nuisance I experience in such cases is when the project manager who all the time has sat passively, waiting for the deliverable, or even worse-has been pushing for volunteer team meetings during work time, sends an email to everybody stating ‘Deadline has been missed!’

Yes, it has. So, what?

Obtaining contribution from people, especially in volunteer projects, is a fine art. Unfortunately, there are many project managers around that think that their work is to set a deadline, command people and scold them if the work is not done. Dear fellow project managers, the bad news is that your team members are not your subordinates and even if they were, you still cannot scold them; not if you want to rely on them in the future.

The second example is that of a colleague project manager who complained to me that one of his “resources” in the project has issued an escalation to my colleague’s manager. I did not have to ask him what the escalation was about. The word “resource” told me everything. My colleague thought he was the boss of this person. Obviously the “resource” was of a different opinion.

The bottom line? At least sixty percent of the professional skills a project manager must possess should represent his or her ability to deal with people; technical skills take the other forty percent. Project management technique is just dead matter without interpersonal skills.

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