Balancing Hard and Soft Skills: A Day in The Life of a Project Manager

Balancing Hard and Soft Skills: A Day in The Life of a Project Manager
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Brian J. Galli

Last updated August 22, 2017


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If you’re considering a career in project management (or any particular field, really), it’s helpful to understand not only what it takes to achieve credibility in the field, but also what a job in that field typically looks like. Otherwise, you may find yourself months into a new job that required an investment of time and money only to decide, this is not for me.

So what does the day-to-day life of a project manager look like? Is it running meetings? Reviewing the project plan, the budget, the schedule, and project status? Or managing the core team, the customer, and other critical stakeholders?

To be honest, a project manager does all of these things throughout a regular workday. Project management is a culmination of the skills, tools, and knowledge a person needs in order to facilitate and lead a project team to ensure that the project is effectively planned and executed  to achieve the deliverables.

More Than Delegation—Communication

When I began my career in engineering many years ago, I thought a project manager only told people what work needed to be done and made reports for upper management. But after working on project teams, leading project teams, and earning my PMP certification, it is clear that a project manager has to be someone that has multiple skillsets and traits. When one thinks of a project manager, they might think that he or she only needs technical skills to be successful in a project environment.

But an effective project manager needs to be able to do much more than just the technical side. They also require soft skills (aka the people skills) as well.

Going through training many years ago, I learned the saying that a project manager spends 90 percent of their day on the people side of the project equation and only 10 percent on the technical side. After managing so many projects in my tenure, I agree that this is a completely true statement.

Breaking Down a Workday

On an average day (according to my experience and experience of my peers), a project manager spends a lot of time managing the expectations and needs of the customer, stakeholders, sponsor/champion, and the core team. Each one of these parties have different expectations, and they are constantly changing as we progress through a project. In some cases, a project manager is handling conflict among the team members in order to resolve the conflict effectively; in other cases, he or she must spend time reporting out (aka making a presentation or a project status) to the customer or project sponsor.

In each of these situations, they must rely on communication. My style and approach to communication varies per stakeholder as well as the message that I am trying to convey, but every day a project manager will need to communicate to various parties. The message could be about risks, project status or resource issues, but in order to effectively manage the day-to-day work of a project, a project manager must communicate in some capacity. It could be formal communication, such as reports or presentations or informal, such as phone calls or emails. If you look at a syllabus for project management certification training, you will almost certainly discover that communication is a heavy focus—and now you know why.

Earning certification in project management is helpful in learning different communication styles and how to effectively manage stakeholders across a project environment. Communication is an integral part of PMBOK® Guide and the skills that any project manager must have, so its value cannot be stressed enough.

Certification also helps to teach the critical technical skills that a project manager needs to be effective in a project environment, including the tools and methods to manage project cost, schedule, risk, and quality. 

Certification is critical since it enables a project manager to learn the needed soft skills as well as the critical technical skills, but one of the critical aspects that help a project manager to effectively manage the day-to-day work of a project is the experience. Through experience, a project manager is able to learn that one size does not fit all when it comes to communication styles and leadership styles; a project manager must be able to adjust their style based on the changing needs and status of the project.

Certification and experience are both critical pieces of the puzzle since they serve different purposes. The certification provides a project manager with the tools, theories, and concepts they need to be effective in both soft and technical skills. But experience is needed to gain a chance to apply the concepts and tools, which turns theory into practice.  Of course, this often brings up the chicken-and-the-egg scenario for new students. How does one get experience without the job? That’s exactly why courses like Simplilearn’s project management certification training offer true-to-life projects that address issues dealing with scope, time and cost, and risk assessment.

So if you’re someone who communicates effectively, can pivot at the drop of a hat and roll with the punches, maybe you should consider a career in project management! It’s a career with promising growth and a bright future

Preparing for your PMP® Certification? Take this Practice Test to find out where you stand.

 PMP and PMOK are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc

About the Author

Brian J. Galli holds a doctoral degree in Engineering Management from Old Dominion University. He also holds a Bachelors of Science in Industrial Engineering from Binghamton University and Masters of Science in Engineering Management from Missouri University of Science & Technology. He works as an Assistant Professor of Management Engineering at Long Island University – Post. He also owns Apex Strategies, Ltd, a company that that specializes in continuous improvement consulting and training. He has over 9 years of experience in applying continuous improvement tools in many arenas.


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