How to Improve Your Project Interpersonal Skills

If you wish to be a great project manager, focus not only on your technical skills but seek to improve your project interpersonal skills. Extraordinary project managers know how to relate to others when things are going as planned as well as on days filled with undesirable events.

picture of project team

Perhaps you’ve faced situations like these:

  • A team member constantly treated other team members with disrespect.
  • Your team was in trouble, but your sponsor was unavailable to help.
  • Your client was troubled because their expectations were not being met.
  • Meetings, meeting, and more meetings but little progress.
  • A senior leader was undermining your efforts.
  • A problem team member continually failed to complete their activities causing adverse impacts to the project schedule.
  • Management wanted your project completed in four months, an unrealistic deadline.
  • Decisions were made, but few of them stuck.
  • You’ve been asked to take on a troubled project where team members are at odds with one another.

How we handle these events either help and advance our projects (and our career) or cause harm. Are you aware of your emotions and your relational skills? Well, let’s discuss ways to improve our project interpersonal skills.

The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people. –Theodore Roosevelt

Project Interpersonal Skills

What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills are relational and communication skills. They are soft skills, but that does not mean they are not important. Seth Godin argues that these should be called real skills — these skills are critical to our success.

Imagine a project team with strong-willed individuals who battled one another over a buy vs. build decision. Sally, a long-time employee and senior developer, made a case for leveraging the tools and experience of the company to build a solution. John, an operational manager said, “We don’t have time to develop a solution; our competition is already ahead of us. Let’s buy and implement a commercial solution as soon as possible.” How would you have handled the relational and communication aspects of this conflict?

Interpersonal skills come in many forms such as:

  • Leadership.
  • Decision making.
  • Communication.
  • Team building.
  • Trust building.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Conflict management.
  • Collaboration.
  • Negotiation.
  • Planning.
  • Facilitation.
  • Influencing.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

Ready to work on your interpersonal skills? Allow me to offer some practical steps.

We must first identify our weaknesses? Look at the list of interpersonal skills above. You may want to force rank the list. Start your list with your greatest weakness and then add your next greatest weakness. Continue the process until you’ve listed all of the skills in descending order. Add others where necessary.

Second, pick one or two of the skills you wish to work on in a particular project. Furthermore, you can identify specific things within a category. For communication, a project manager could work on active listening. Another person might work to learn and incorporate new decision models to improve their decision making.

It’s one thing to identify a skill to improve, but it’s an entirely different thing to change our behavior. An experienced coach can be helpful in the following ways:

  • Discuss current habits and desired future habits
  • Identify resources such as classes and books
  • Specify ways to improve
  • Determine how to measure your progress
  • Provide feedback, encouragement, and accountability

Third, confirm your progress through before-and-after evaluations. Identify other ways to make further improvements.

Lastly, capture your results and implement the new habits across all of your projects. One way to do this is to keep a project journal which is great for personal reflection and helping you to see your progress over time.

Of course, this process can be iterative. Loop back to the planning and start again if necessary.

Interpersonal Skill Resources

Covey Steven. 2006. The Speed of Trust. Free Press.

Dow William & Taylor Bruce. 2015. Project Management Communication Tools. Dow Publishing LLC.

Duhigg Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. 2014.

Kouzes James & Posner Barry. 2008. The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations. Hoboken, NJ, US: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes James & Posner Barry. 2010. The Truth about Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know. Hoboken, NJ, US: Jossey-Bass.

Maxwell John. 2005. Developing the Leader Within You. Thomas Nelson.


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