The most successful project leaders are those with the best people skills, especially when managing a difficult project. Poor communication and lack of interpersonal skills routinely thwart project leaders who are otherwise technically competent. To be successful, project leaders must be fully engaged with the team members who make up the project team.
Focusing attention on P.E.O.P.L.E. (Professionalism, Empathy, Optimism, Partnering, Listening and Empowering) will help project leaders better demonstrate caring, courage, and compassion to bring in projects on time, on target and on budget.
- Professionalism: character, composure, commitment, communication, competence and caring. Support professionalism with training and an atmosphere of trust, advises consultant Shawn Smith. Professionalism “problems can add up to significant legal exposure and loss of competitive advantage in the marketplace,” she writes. “The employers that best avoid these difficulties are not necessarily the ones with the fanciest professionalism policies, but those that most effectively provide their workforce with the framework to identify and address professionalism issues as they arise.”
- Empathy: connecting and building rapport, understanding others and valuing strengths. Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity. Empathy is a construct that is fundamental to project leadership.
- Optimism: enthusiasm, eagerness to learn and teach, and resilience. You can create optimism by:
- Partnership: collaboration (vs. competition), creating synergy and teamwork. In any project setting, team members must work together. Effective project leaders are able to pull together a project team, regardless of how diverse, and lead them effectively toward the successful achievement of a common goal. There are many people skills involved in team building from recognizing and building on strengths, to providing clear direction, to the ability to collaborate and achieve consensus.
- Listening with your head for the facts, your heart for the feelings, and your legs for the intention. A critical leadership skill for the successful project leader is the ability to listen. Rarely is that skill taught in school, though. It’s something that is picked up over time and that many project leaders struggle with. Listening involves paying attention to not only what is said, but the context in which it is said and being alert to non-verbal cues, says Lin Grensing-Pophal, communication consultant and author of Human Resource Essentials. The ability to listen, without interruption, can be challenging but is important to understand team members and their needs, and to build strong project team relationships.
- Empowerment: delegating, teaching, coaching and entrusting. Empower people to act competently and confidently. Encourage each team member individually. While there is nothing wrong with team encouragement, team members like to feel as though they are personally special — that they bring something to the project team that no one else can. Reach out to team members personally and let them know their unique gifts are appreciated and necessary to the project team as a whole.
- building a barrier against destructive complaining,
- effectively challenging negativity in others,
- developing a “we can get it done” attitude and
- bouncing back from setbacks and getting back on track.
Effective project leaders lead through strong people skills. Your job as a project leader is to get things done through others, so strong people skills are a must. Focus your attention on P.E.O.P.L.E. (Professionalism, Empathy, Optimism, Partnering, Listening and Empowering).
Learn more about how to improve your project leadership skills with one of Learning Tree’s leadership courses, such as Developing Your Leadership Voice.
James L. Haner