Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Soft Skills--The Only Bottom-Line Skills You Have

The first seminar I ever taught was entitled Leadership Skills for Project Managers. It was run through San Jose State University and drew 23 participants. They were a great group and very enthusiastic. Two more test offerings were conducted and we rolled out the program to be run on a regular basis at other universities. Unfortunately, we went into a recession shortly after the initial offerings, and the seminar could hardly be given away.

Later that year I bought my first personal computer (this was in 1981) and we launched a training program called Project Management and the Personal Computer. This program was a huge success, and for the next three years, we had full classes most of the time.

Eventually I got tired of teaching the computer program and began leading Project Planning, Scheduling, and Control. This course also sold well, and continues to do so today, under a slightly different name.

The point to all of this is that companies think Leadership Skills have no bottom-line relevance, so they are reluctant to send project managers to courses on the topic. They will, of course, send the CEO to a program at Harvard Business School or Wharton to take week-long programs on leadership, but won't train lower level employees.

This is an interesting and erroneous view. For one thing, project managers usually have no direct authority over the members of their teams, and so must use influence (call that leadership) to get those people excited about their work. Yet many of the project managers are technical people who have never had training in leadership, and are often not very good at it.

Another strange fact is that our accounting practice places value on capital equipment, but none on human resources. As Peter Drucker used to argue, this is misguided. We should do human resource accounting, which would make us realize that human resources appreciate in value over time, while capital resources depreciate.

Furthermore, your capital equipment won't make a penny for you unless those human resources use them correctly, and with employee engagement running at about 35 percent, as measured by Gallup surveys, the level of motivation of most employees is not so good.

Thus the need for those soft skills. They really are the most important--possibly the only--bottom-line skills you have.

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