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Hard and Soft Project Management Skills

Blog - Hard and Soft Project Management Skills

You have probably heard of ‘hard and soft Project Management’. In fact, you may have come across an artificially concocted debate about the merits of hard versus soft Project Management. In this article, I want to assess what the terms hard and soft mean, and why they are not in opposition to each other. 

What are Hard and Soft Project Management Skills?

At its simplest, when you hear the terms hard and soft project management, they are usually referring to:

Hard Project Management

The technical skills of analysis, planning, tracking, and problem solving. These skills are highly project management focused and are often numerical, logical, and data oriented. The kind of personality traits that support implementing them well are discipline, rationality, and cool rigour.

Soft Project Management

The people-oriented skills of empathy, collaboration, influence, and leadership. These skills tend to have a much wider business and social application. They are marked by high levels of ’emotional intelligence’ which is usually taken to be a combination of:

  • Self awareness
  • Self-control
  • Empathy for others’ feelings
  • Social skills

So the sort of personality we see here is gregarious or caring, but certainly good with people and enjoys being and working with them.

Blog - Hard and Soft Project Management Skills

Hard and Soft Project Management Skills

Don’t these two personalities conflict?

This is an obvious question to ask. Many models of personality set up four types:

  • the hard-driving getting-things-done person
  • the coldly analytical rational-thinking person
  • the socially alert caring-sharing person
  • the openly gregarious influential-networker person

It is easy to see our hard and soft project management skills in the top two and the bottom two of these. But none of those models (when explained properly) seek to place you or I firmly into one box. Many people do have a style that make us more most comfortable. That’s true. but we can all be flexible, and many of us happily adopt more than one personality style. Sometimes you prefer different styles in different situations. You can also move form one style to another.  Maybe your ‘style’ is a combination.

What seems to me to be true is this:

Good Project Management is Hard and Soft Project Management

This is to say, that if you want to be a good project manager, you need to be able to deploy hard and soft project management skills. You need to be able to choose which ones to focus on at any time. And you also need to be able to switch quickly, or even combine hard and soft project management approaches, as the situation merits.

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Take a look, for example, at why projects fail. In two recent posts, I introduced Ten Points of Project Failure.

  1. Project Definition
  2. Governance
  3. Planning
  4. Politics
  5. Stakeholder Engagement
  6. Resources
  7. Project Management
  8. Testing and Quality
  9. Implementation
  10. External Factors

Some of these are clearly related to hard project management skills – 3, 8, and 9. Others seem strongly linked to soft project management skills – 2, 4, and 5. You can easily see the influence of both hard and soft project management in the remainder. But even the clearer cases have both hard and soft project management skills wrapped into them.

On the other hand, you can also see a good balance of hard and soft Project Management skills in both our Seven Vital Project Management Priorities, and our Ten Critical Things to Learn about Project Management.

A Spectrum of Project Management Skills

I am not even sure that hard and soft project management skills truly represent two different things. Rather, I refer to think of them as two ends of a spectrum. Like red and blue, they are easy to distinguish. But there is stuff in between that is may start as hard, but have a bit of soft, or seem soft, but with a little hard edge. And there are some project management skills that are certainly both logical and emotional in nature. Orange is mostly red. Green is mostly blue. And yellow is somewhere in between.

The Hard and Soft Project Management Skills Spectrum

Let’s take a list of Project Management skills and place them on a spectrum. This is not an attempt at an exhaustive list. Nor is the placing on the spectrum anything more than my subjective assessment. The purpose is purely to illustrate my point.

Hard and Soft Project Management Skills Spectrum

Hard and Soft Project Management Skills Spectrum

How Can You Develop Your Hard and Soft Project Management Skills?

There are two approaches to developing your hard and soft project management skills:

  1. The Integration Approach
  2. The Individual Approach

Let’s take a look at each in turn.

The Integration Approach to Developing Hard and Soft Project Management Skills

In this approach – which a I recommend for new and intermediately experienced project managers – you develop the two skill areas together. My core project management courses are all designed to emphasise how the whole spectrum fits together, and how you can’t separate the two ends.

However, as you move from our more basic to more comprehensive core courses, you will find a greater proportion of soft skills content. The entry level core video program is the Project Manager’s Fast Start Program. It is clearly focused on the basic hard skills, with all the core soft skills integrated. In the mid-tier Project Manager’s Skills Mastery Program, you will find more material on stakeholder engagement, and governance. There is also some new material about team leadership. In the most comprehensive core course, The Project Manager’s Immersion Program, there is a lot of material on the leadership, stakeholder engagement, and psychological dimensions of project management. Indeed, I suspect there is a far greater proportion of soft management skills here, than you will find in a vast majority of commercial (and academic) project management courses.

The Individual Approach to Developing Hard and Soft Project Management Skills

As you improve your Project Management skills and experience, you will want to focus on your development more tightly. Now, you will want to select the topics where you can get most leverage for your learning. This will depend on you past experiences and what you are are already good at. It will also depend on the nature of the projects you are doing, and what you think are the priorities for improving your successful delivery.

Now is the time for a more individual skills based approach to learning. This is our phase two objective. We plan to create a range of programs based on all the possible project management skills and project manager’s personal skills that will make you a first rate project manager.

Project Management Skills

First, we will be starting with Project Management skills. We are planning a wide range of topics. Consequently, we would value your contribution to helping us decide what would be most valuable to you. Please do help us decide what to work on first, by responding to a short questionnaire.

Topics in our plan include:

  • Risk Management
  • Project Definition
  • Procurement and Cost Control
  • Project Planning
  • Benefits ManagementProject Resource Management
  • Introduction to Agile Project Management
  • Change Management / Leadership

  • Sponsorship and Governance
  • Project Team Leadership / Management
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Project Communications
  • Quality Management for Projects
  • Project Control during Delivery
  • Introduction to PRINCE2
  • Project Change Control

Project Manager’s Personal Skills

We will then be turning our attention to Project Manager’s personal skills. Successful Project Management relies on a wide range of personal effectiveness skills. We are planning programs on topics like:

  • Assertiveness
  • Influence
  • Delegation
  • Personal Impact

  • Personal Time Management
  • Presentation Skills
  • Workplace Political Acumen
  • Resilience and Stress Management – self and others

Some of our Best Articles, for Hard and Soft Project Management Skills

Building Your Project Career

If you are committed to building a Project career, you will need to learn both hard and soft Project Management skills. Plan your own professional self-development around the idea of balance… I would not necessarily counsel that you aim for an even balance of time spent on each. This to me seems like an ‘input measure’. What Project Managers should be focusing on is outcomes. The outcome measure is your balance of hard and soft Project Management skills, so balance your learning and practice efforts to achive the output  you want. Balanced skills.

I think this is going to be an essential thing for you to demonstrate, if you want to get a Project Management job role. And, in particular, you should be ready to discuss your perspective on this balance at a Project Management job interview too.

What do You Think?

Please do use the comments below to let us know what you think are the most important hard and soft Project Management skills.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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