People Skills – Not So Important to Project Managers

Do you think people skills are important to project managers?  Of course you do or you wouldn’t bother reading this blog, since people skills are a major focus.  So let me ask you this, why do you think that people skills are important to project managers?  If you were to guess, I don’t think you would guess the same reasons as some of our brightest writers in project management.

You see, I was reading the book by Steven Flannes and Ginger Levin called, Essential People Skills for Project Managers.  With that title, you would think the authors know a lot about people skills.  I don’t know Steven at all though I have had the pleasure of working with Ginger last year on a writing project for a client.  Ginger is a fast and effective writer and a great researcher.

I was therefore surprised when I read the list of nine reasons that Steven and Ginger put forth on why people skills are so important.  In their book, they cited the following:

  1. The cyclical nature of projects
  2. Trend toward project-based organizations
  3. Increasing complexity
  4. Downsizing and outsourcing
  5. Increasing customer-driven focus
  6. Challenges inherent in leading in a matrix environment
  7. Increase in virtual teams (I would include global teams as well)
  8. Expectation that PMs are change agents
  9. People skills as a risk management strategy

I cannot say that I disagree with any of these reasons.  However, I think that Steven and Ginger have missed the single most important reason that people skills are important to project managers:

Project Management is Getting Work Done Through People!

It is people that do the work of the project, people that review and accept the deliverables, and people who are our sponsors and stakeholders.  Projects are about people!

I know that you could come up with situations where you don’t need other people to complete a project.  You could contrive a scenario where you were the PM, the only resource, and the main stakeholder – perhaps you are single and upgrading the kitchen in your house, by yourself.  OK, I guess you could say you don’t need people.  But I wouldn’t call that much of a project.

In 99.9% of all the projects out there, work is performed by people.  If you don’t have people skills, you won’t be a very effective project manager.

The rest of the reasons given by Flannes and Levin are also part of the equation; I just don’t think they are nearly as important as the fact that projects are getting work done through people.

Your thoughts?

Anthony

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Anthony: I absolutely agree with you about the importance of people in projects (for that matter in any venture). We concentrate on processes and procedures so much that we forget that they loose their essence if not attached to the best folks.
    I believe that ‘People Skills’ is a primary skill that a project manager has to develop.

  2. Joseph, thanks for your comment and for stopping by. Cheers!
    Anthony

  3. Hi Anthony,
    It’s challenging that it’s SO EASY to forget this simple truth: People drive performance (and emotions drive people). I suspect that because the PMs work is so filled with urgent tactical action they get absorbed in the tasks.
    I’ve also heard, “our people are paid, they should just do their work” — which is true AND a good PM will get far more working with and through people if they use emotional intelligence skills. I’d love to do a simple research project testing 100 PMs to see if they get more done, faster, if their EQ is high.

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