The world of IT project management is constantly evolving.
From mid-project shifts to poor inter-team communication and a general lack of resourcing for IT, managers in the field have a lot to contend with. As project scopes continue to grow and business needs become increasingly more agile, the role of the IT project manager is more pivotal than ever to organisational success.
In theory, technical experts in the field have the ability and know-how to tackle many common IT project challenges. But in reality, the sheer scale and a number of moving parts mean that IT managers need to utilise a different set of skills to keep their organisations on track – enter ‘soft skills’.
Common IT project challenges
Most organisations have significantly complex IT environments. This complexity often leads to an array of technical and delivery issues, including:
- Mid-project adjustments – requiring managers to adapt quickly and seamlessly
- Poor communication between teams – which can be harmful to a project’s success
- Unclear delivery models – can lead to differing or confusing expectations between departments and teams
- Deficient stakeholder engagement – which can lead to misunderstandings between stakeholders
- Lack of project management practices – making improvements nearly impossible to implement.
While these issues are common across numerous IT environments, the most successful project managers go beyond their technical training to address them. Instead, they develop a range of different skills to better critically analyse the root cause of these issues and apply new solutions for long-term success.
By balancing technical development alongside soft skill enhancement, IT managers are able to better contend with unexpected changes, craft people-focused solutions, clarify expectations and deliver on project promises.
Essential soft skills for project management
Put simply, soft skills are the traits, attitudes, habits and behaviours you display when working with others. While it’s important for all employees to hone their soft skills for personal and professional development, these skills are critical for managers. They’re especially important for managers working within increasingly competitive markets where hard skills are no longer sufficient on their own.
Communication skills are always high on any essential soft skills list. Managers with strong communication skills are able to build relationships, listen to feedback, avoid misunderstandings, and generally improve their workplace. IT managers who choose to focus on improving their communication skills are capable of dealing with change and are more prepared to actively contribute to team-related improvements.
Conflict management skills
Conflicts are an inevitable part of working life. However, managers who are able to master conflict management skills are more capable of bringing people together, not dividing them. This skill can lead to a suite of rewards, including company-wide digital innovation and widespread technology adaptation.
Active listening skills
Good listening skills are pivotal to successful two-way communication. They can lead to better customer satisfaction, greater productivity, increased information sharing and innovation. IT managers who hone their listening skills are more aware of creative solutions to pervasive problems and are more willing to take on different ideas to resolve them.
Strong decision-making skills make it easier for us to pick the right course of action to suit the situation at hand. Agile IT project managers are regularly tasked with complex problems that need solving, often quickly and intuitively. Developing these skills will help heighten your ‘gut instinct’ in times of stress, while also increasing your ability to reason through trying or emotive situations.
During times of stress, being able to stay focused and on task is pivotal to your success. For managers, motivational skills are also critical to maintaining overall team performance. This is especially true for IT project managers, where multiple and often conflicting deadlines are a core part of the job. Developing your own motivation skills can bring more positive results in your own work. It can also lead to opportunities to increase employee engagement and accountability in common IT problem areas within the organisation.
Ways to improve your soft skills
As with most things, you need to find opportunities to practise and develop your soft skills. There are a number of ways to garner this experience for the betterment of your personal and professional life.
Find a mentor
A mentoring relationship can help you improve various soft skills, such as listening, receiving and giving feedback, and being empathetic with those around you. A mentor can help you develop essential soft skills in a safe environment through open discussion, prompting deeper dives into your own thoughts, feelings and opinions.
Take on challenging projects
While non-technical in nature, soft skills often play a large role in our success. Taking on challenging projects or opportunities will enable you to stretch both your technical and soft skills in new and unfamiliar environments. The more you challenge yourself to grow and develop, the more you’ll be able to call on these skills in future endeavours or during moments of stress.
Embark on further study
Choosing to take on further study can improve your technical and soft skills as an IT project manager. Recognising the degree you did at 21 may not stand you in sufficient stead for your entire career, and changing your mindset to think of education as a ‘lifelong’ process is crucial. Institutions like RMIT Online have adopted new and flexible ways to deliver programs around the commitments of working professionals. Postgraduate study places equal emphasis on honing your technical skills for the digital future and elevating your interpersonal skills so you can compete and create with the best in the business.
Grow your project management skills
The fast-paced tech industry has created many opportunities for project managers to grow their skills. From finding a mentor and taking on a new project at work, to studying a graduate diploma or certificate in project management – there are plenty of ways to gain the skills and confidence you need to confidently lead and deliver a project. Learn how an online Graduate Diploma in Project Management with an IT Specialisation from RMIT Online can help you develop your technical and soft skills for the future.