Missing Communication Skills Doom Projects

Why is there such a high failure rate among projects?  One reason is that there is a gap in the soft skills of project managers.  Although project managers are well trained in the technical “hard” skills of risk assessment, project planning, etc., little attention is given to interpersonal or people skills – the so called soft skills.  To correct this shortcoming, members of the Association for Project Management group on LinkedIn have proposed that project managers need strong leadership skills, to train/coach stakeholders on their roles and responsibilities, speak up openly and honestly, be assertive, have greater self-awareness, and so on.

Unfortunately, in none of the recommendations offered for improving “soft skills” is there an explanation of how project managers translate these personal capabilities and understandings into other people taking effective and appropriate action in a timely manner.  Rather, it is assumed that having these capabilities will somehow magically translate into project managers do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.  Now that’s a big, and erroneous assumption.

Getting other people involved, engaged, and continually contributing requires communication.  But not just any communication.  I recently led a training program to a Master Black Belt group in which we explored why they were having difficulty getting projects accomplished.  Interestingly, none of them ever said anything like “I am having problems because I am ineffective in my communication with other people.”  However, by the end of the class, they began to see that one reason they were having difficulty is because they were either using the wrong type of conversation or the conversations they were using were missing important elements that reduced their effectiveness.

It would be nice if there was a direct link between personal qualities and attributes and effective communication.  However, as such books as Difficult Conversations, Crucial Conversations, and The Four Conversations point out, there is much more to effective communication than simply talking.  Until project managers realize that the results they get are a direct product of the appropriateness and completeness of their communications, communication skills will continue to be missing and projects will continue to fail.

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