Many PMs and prospective PMs, knowingly or not, struggle over whether to work on hard skills or soft skills. Which PM skills will advance their careers more effectively?
Here’s something to consider:
- In the long run, soft skills rule.
- But in the short run, hard skills rule.
What are hard and soft skills for a Project Manager?
Typical soft skills include leadership, team building, communication, and management. You demonstrate your soft skills when you run an effective meeting, handle a thorny personnel issue, or negotiate an amiable solution with stakeholders.
Hard skills generally refer to being able to do something, usually of a technical nature; in the Information Technology (IT) field it could be expertise in a programming language like Java, a particular software suite like SAP, a class of applications like Customer Relationship Management (CRM), or hands on software expertise like being a guru in Excel or MS Project.
There is a vast gray area in between the extremes where something is neither 100% soft skill nor 100% hard skill.
Your need to demonstrate or draw on some combination of hard skills also varies depending on your specific situation.
That’s why you need to be strategic in prioritizing the hard and soft skills you want to develop – now and in the future.
Many people think of PM skills, particularly when they have earned the PMP, as hard skills. That is reasonable, but I would argue that it is somewhere in between hard and soft skills, but I would also argue that project management involves a wide array of hard and soft skills. There also are a lot of people now who have earned the PMP, and their skills range from very deep and broad to a narrow focus on certain types of projects in certain niches. PM skills and experience also vary in terms of true effectiveness on the job.
But here’s the interesting twist:
Hard skills can open the door for you to develop soft skills!
Let’s say you have some project management experience, and maybe even a certification. You would like to advance in experience and responsibility. Could it be that developing the hard skills in something like MS Project, and a certification to go along with it, could prove that you are a guru and go to person, and thus open doors for you? If you got onto a project team as that type of expert, can you imagine what you would see and experience on that project? You would be at the center of much of the management of the project, and would have the chance to develop and demonstrate your soft skills along the way. It could even open the opportunity for bigger and better things as others get to know you and you get to know the terrain.
Soft skills and hard skills can be a juggling act, but in the end you need to strike a balance. Think strategically about your career, and be realistic with your skills and opportunities as you make your choices. Consider the possibility that developing hard skills like MS Project to get your foot in the door, while the soft skills can be responsible for your long term success.
John Reiling, PMP
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