Behind every successful project, from the Fortune 500 Company to the small business, is a project manager who understands how to blend a wide array of skills, which are sometimes measurable and observable—and other times subtle and difficult to define. So in an effort to understand successful project management, it’s important to examine the attributes of an effective leader and analyze the different skill sets. So what makes a successful project manager? Perhaps it’s best to start with the reasons why projects fail.

10 Reasons for failure.

Reasons for failure

  • Lack of sufficient charter.
  • Lack of mutual accountability.
  • Unsure of what requires team effort.
  • Lack of resources.
  • Lack of communication.
  • Lack of leadership.
  • Lack of planning.
  • Lack of management support.
  • Inability to deal with conflict.
  • Lack of focus on creativity and excellence.

By examining the above reasons, it becomes apparent that a project manager has many different obligations and qualities that can seem incongruous. However, on further examination, it becomes clear that there are two main skill sets necessary to prevent failure: hard and soft skills. Some project managers are talented in one set of skills—communication and creativity—and struggle with the other—planning or acquiring resources—but a balance of hard and soft skills create the perfect formula for team harmony and progress.

Soft Skills


Soft skills are interpersonal skills that are intangible and difficult to teach and found at the top of the list for attributes necessary to lead successful projects. For example, being insightful, organized, influential, articulate, pragmatic, and empathetic are all soft skills that are communicated verbally or through non-verbal cues. A successful project manager spends 85% of their job communicating. It’s a particular talent that some people find naturally, while others struggle and have to find new ways to improve their abilities.

Hard Skills

On the other hand, hard skills are tangible, technical skills that are easier to evaluate and teach than soft skills. For example, hard skills are budgets, evaluations, risk management, timelines, variance analytics, and project planning. Hard skills are concrete and observable, and they are the barometers by which a leader can evaluate the overall progress of the project. Without hard skills and accurate analysis, the project wouldn’t be able to run or continue, and there would be nothing to communicate.

Hard Skills + Soft Skills = Project Success


Many project managers feel more comfortable in one skill set than the other. Some leaders are experts at making budgets and ensuring projects follow a concrete timeline, and other leaders are skilled communicators that can motivate and influence an entire team with a few words. But without a combination of the two, a project is doomed to fail. Learning to balance the two skills is necessary, and it often starts with improving soft skills.


Tips for Improving Soft Skills

93% of human resource managers say that technical or hard skills are easier to teach than soft, but there are ways to improve soft skills.

  • Make the commitment to learn and improve.
  • Surround yourself with those who have the skills you want to gain and observe them.
  • Visualize yourself doing what they do.
  • Put yourself in situations where you can practice, even in a small way.
  • Practice with intention.
  • Evaluate your progress periodically and make adjustments as needed.

A project manager can improve their soft skills by utilizing their hard skills and create a chart or matrix to outline, prioritize, and categorize their communication skills. The trick for a successful project manager is to learn to balance these two disparate skills while recognizing they are linked.