5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 9: Interpersonal Skills

A project manager is, at first glance, a person who manages projects, but in order to do so, he or she has to manage the people on the project team.    Adding t0 the project management knowledge that the project manager must have, PMI recognizes the necessity for skills in people management.    One of the tools & techniques listed for process 9.4 Manage Project Team is Interpersonal Skills.   The purpose of this post is to list what skills are described in the 5th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide under that heading and to describe these skills.

1.  Leadership

The two main roles of leadership are to communicate the vision of the completed project to the team, and to inspire the project team to achieve high performance in achieving that vision.    Now when it comes to styles of leadership, that is a vast subject in and of itself.    The next post will cover leadership styles in the various categories of top-down, bottom-up, and lateral.

2.  Influencing

PMI recognizes that many organizations are of a matrix type, that is, where the project manager may not have authority outside of the project over the members of the project team.    Replacing authority is the less direct and less coercive form of getting people to do things, and that is influencing them to do so.

There are five skills under the larger category of influencing skills.

  • Persuasion–the ability to clearly articulate points and positions
  • Listening–active and effective listening skills
  • Perspective–awareness of the various perspectives in any situation, and to be able to integrate them
  • Information gathering–gathering information that is relevant and critical to addressing the important issues
  • Trust–maintaining mutual trust in reaching agreements

The PMBOK® Guide itself takes the last two in the list and combines them into one, but I think maintaining mutual trust in reaching agreements is a matter of following through, and not just on being able to gather relevant information.   Gathering relevant information may help you to achieve the trust of the group, but maintaining it comes from having a track record of following through with what you say you will do.   If you don’t follow through, the influence of what you say will be diminished.

The perspective skill is one that is overlooked, but in the IT world for example, software and hardware engineers sometimes find it hard for the other group to take their perspective.   You need to be able to bridge that “perspective gap”.   In fact, the very name of this blog, 4squareviews, comes from the Integral Theory approach of solving problems by seeing it through various perspectives, so this skill is one I am particularly sensitive to.

Information gatheringlistening, and perspective are the input skills of influencing, because they are what you take in when you are getting ready to make a decision or to put forth your viewpoint.    Persuasion and trust are the output skills of influencing, because they are what you must do while you are making a decision or following up afterwards in order to make sure that your viewpoint is heard and agreed to.

3.  Effective decision making

Leadership skills cover communicating a vision and inspiring others.  Influencing skills help persuade others to do the work involved that you set forth with your leadership.    The third set of interpersonal skills, those of effective decision making, are designed to help you negotiate and influence the project team as a whole and the organization of which you are a part.

  • Focus on the goals to be served (derived from your leadership skills)
  • Follow a decision-making process (make your process as objective and transparent as possible)
  • Study the environmental factors (what factors in your organization and in your industry must you take into account in making your decision, this is the political part of being a project manager)
  • Analyze available information (same as under influencing skills when you are trying to influence individuals on your project team)
  • Develop personal qualities of the team members (improve the interpersonal skills of those on your team)
  • Stimulate team creativity (this reliance on the diversity of your team creates decisions that are bought into by the team)
  • Manage risk (reduce those environmental factors which may endanger the project or be prepared to deal with them if you cannot reduce them)

4.  Conclusion

I would say that any manager could benefit from these interpersonal skills, but the project manager needs them perhaps even more so because the authority he or she may have on a project may be limited by the organizational structure, or other factors.    These are sometimes given the description of “soft skills”, but they can translate into hard currency or an increased bottom line for your organization.




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