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Combining The Hard And The Soft – The True Key To Success?

I am often intrigued by the technical articles written to support project managers to achieve success. Whilst I agree, technical competency and project management frameworks are an essential element of success, my experience and the various surveys on the failure of projects reveal that the main reasons why projects fail are down to an inability to motivate and utilise the skills of project teams and engage effectively with stakeholders. Just think back to some of your difficult times, I’d guess that like myself, these difficult times have been down to the relationships you have had with other people. If this is the case, read on.

When I first became a project manager and undertook and passed my project management examinations, almost 20 years ago, like most project managers, I thought that I was going to change the world overnight using my newly acquired skills, how wrong I was!!

I was given the responsibility to run a project to deliver a new accounting software platform that would enable monthly online forecasting by 500 business units and 2,000 users. The business units were global however reporting deadlines allowed leeway for differing time-zones. Easy I thought, a standard set of coding with well defined business objectives, buy-in from the business units, good programmers to write and test the code and there it was job done and a nice bonus as well for delivering it successfully. My brief stated that the implementation date was the key driver to comply with central government reporting. 6-months to complete from start to finish.

My project team consisted of 10 including myself, a mixture of business analysts and programmers. A couple of months into the programme it became apparent things weren’t on track, business requirements still changing, business users wanting different functionality, changes to the project team due to business as usual and pressure and little support from key stakeholders for delivery. You may be nodding your head when you read this, as it has probably been something that you have experienced or are experiencing. As project manager I had many sleepless nights, wasn’t far off being signed off work with stress and couldn’t understand why it was all going wrong.

One day I therefore took a day out of the office to take stock of all that was going wrong with the project and ultimately came to the conclusion that it was my lack of leadership skills that were a major factor. Whilst my project management course provide me with an excellent framework for running a project, the ‘hard skills’ it paid scant or little attention to the other key success factor, engaging effectively with your team and key stakeholders, the so-called ‘soft skills’.

At this point I took it upon myself to study behavioural psychology and in particular to understand better what my leadership style was – both strengths and weaknesses, understanding the needs of people different to me and therefore how I needed to adapt my leadership style to engage with them effectively. Having done so, I was equipped with not only a framework to run a project successfully however the necessary leadership and communication skills to do so.

Since then, I have gone on to run many successful projects, the largest of which affected 5,000 people and 6-years ago set up a company called The Colour Works ( to support other managers in the project management community who have the technical skills however, like me, did not have the necessary understanding of the communication skills and different leadership styles to both motivate and get the best out of their project team and also get buy-in and commitment from stakeholders.

If I can provide any support to community members based on my knowledge and experience, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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Comment by Steve Dages on March 24, 2009 at 10:32am
Well Said!!!! PM's seeking to take it up a notch, take heed.

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