Printable version

When is a project management ‘soft skill’ not soft at all?

Blog posted by: John Edmonds, Axelos PPM Portfolio Development Manager, September 2023.

Business skills, including those needed for managing projects, are often grouped into so-called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills.

Hard skills are the nuts-and-bolts capabilities needed to manage a project’s tasks, timelines, processes, requirements and deliverables. These are the activities typically included on a project plan, as well as the knowledge required for using project management software such as MS Project or Project management training courses have traditionally focussed on these hard skills and underplayed the importance of soft skills.

In contrast, what is a soft skill? These skills are much more holistic, and people focussed. Whilst managing people and team members is important, we must look at the people aspect of projects much more broadly. After all, people are absolutely fundamental to delivering any project.

A project manager must carefully consider not just the deliverables but be clear on what tangible benefits they will bring to users, and take those people along on the journey. Organizations have wasted vast amounts of money delivering solutions they thought were right for their users, but which were proven inadequate or inappropriate through lack of effective stakeholder engagement. So hard skills, whilst still important, are not enough on their own and soft skills are at least equally vital tools in a project manager’s toolbox.

There are many people-centric skills, but here are my top three:

1.Stakeholder engagement and communications

In the past, project management training touched on “stakeholder management” but, in reality, stakeholders cannot be managed as you have no direct control over them.

Instead, we should think in terms of stakeholder engagement. This encompasses relationships, trust, and value. Project managers must engage productively with everyone who has a stake in a project’s success, not just the delivery team(s). When planning a project, identify who is affected by the project and who might affect project outcomes, due to their position or influence.

Some say that 90% of project management is communication. Project managers will simply not be effective if they have poor communication skills. Communication is not limited to keeping stakeholders informed of progress, but includes influencing, encouraging and supporting the right people at the right times to ensure the project progresses smoothly and delivers maximum benefits.

2. Change management

Project managers are sometimes reluctant to get involved in change management. However, it is unwise to deliver a project in isolation from the broader organizational context and expect that everyone will be happy with the results.

Change management addresses how people will do things differently once the project is delivered. What are the outcomes for users and how will this impact their work or lives? Without considering this during project planning and within the delivery stages, the project may encounter resistance and adoption may be slow or fail entirely. A key soft skill for the modern project manager is to help people transition from the old state to the new one, which leads on to the next key skill: leadership.


Management and leadership are often separated out and defined in relation to one another, but there is a huge overlap between the two. Managers ensure the work gets done, while leaders inspire, motivate and set the overall direction. Good project management encompasses a healthy dose of leadership, and a skilled project manager will achieve better results if they can truly lead and fire up their teams, as well as the nitty-gritty of task, process and budget management.

Soft skills for project team members

Project team members will not usually need the strong communication and leadership skills of their project manager, but strong people skills are advantageous when, for example, running a demo, attending or delivering a presentation or fielding technical questions from stakeholders and the project board. Having a good understanding of stakeholder needs will help team members to see the bigger picture and deliver more appropriate products.

Blending hard and soft skills

By now, it should be apparent that project managers need both hard and soft skills to succeed, but how best to acquire them?

Formal training courses in soft skills development exist and some of them are excellent. However, this format tends to be more effective to gain hard skills. To build your soft skills, seek as much practical experience as possible, finding opportunities to involve yourself in communication, stakeholder and change management, etc.

A good mentor can be an invaluable resource. Try to find someone who exhibits excellent interpersonal skills and is prepared to mentor you. Spend time with them, watch them work, ask questions, practise emulating them and do not be afraid to make mistakes.The language of ‘hard’ versus ‘soft’ skills sometimes leads people to believe that ‘soft’ skills are less important. Nothing could be further from the truth. With hard skills, you often have more-or-less complete control over the work and the outcome. As soft skills revolve around people you have much less control, which brings a range of new challenges. Rather than being vague and unimportant, soft skills are essential, core capabilities that are neglected at a project manager’s peril.


Channel website:

Original article link:

Share this article
Home Qualifications Training Licencing Store News


Latest News from