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Sunday, 15 June 2008 19:06

What ARE Soft Skills?

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Margaret Meloni started an interesting discussion over at IT Toolbox. She asked: "I have a question for you. If you signed up for a class called 'Soft Skills for Project Managers', what would you expect to learn? What would you want to learn?" She received quite a number of responses, many of them extremely thoughtful and with a lot of good explanations.

One question that remains unanswered to me is where to draw the line between the non-technical soft skills and the technical hard-skills. I don't actually consider this question to be a serious project management problem, but more something to think about in the shower when you have nothing else to do... 

For instance: We probably all agree that project risk management is a "hard skill". The PMBOK Guide discusses it extensively, there are numerous tools and techniques and it is a skill that can be translated easily into a project management template that you can fill in. Project communications management on the other hand is usually regarded as a soft skill. While it is discussed in the PMBOK Guide a lot depends on your personal communication, writing and speaking style.

Upon closer inspection, however, you will find that much of what we do in project communication management can be turned into hard tools. There are templates available for press releases, agendas or meeting minutes. There are excellent books available on the topic (i.e. "Getting To Yes".) that give you a hard process to follow in order to steer your communications. And you can participate in communication trainings to "improve your communication skills". So if you can improve it, there must obviously be a "technique" to it, so we could argue that this is now a hard skill.

And on the other side there is a lot of soft-skill involved in project risk management. Creating your initial list of risk is often done in a brainstorming session and requires a lot of creativity and thinking along odd lines. Later on, when you decide what level of impact a risk will have on your project you might fall back on your "gut feeling".

So I argue that the categorizations that we have set up for soft-skills and hard-skills are arbitrary, fluid and cannot be seen with total finality. Each skill that you need as a PM will have a certain degree of softness and hardness. Like I said, I don't really see this as a major pm problem to solve, but it was an interesting train of thought. And yes... I did in fact start thinking about this about 30 minutes ago in the shower...

Read 9069 times Last modified on Thursday, 10 December 2009 19:59

Cornelius Fichtner, PMP is a Project manager, PMP trainer, host of The PM Podcast, creator of the PM Prepcast, PDUCast, public speaker and gummi bear addict.

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