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Episode 386: Interpersonal Skills for Project Success (Free)

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Presenters Collage
Congress presenters reveal their most important interpersonal skill

Last year at the Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Congress 2016 in San Diego, California I recorded an all time high of 14 interviews. They have all been published over the past few months and you’ve probably heard some or all of them. But what you don’t know is what happened once each interview was complete.

I pressed the recording button one more time and asked each of my guests the following question: Which is the interpersonal skill that you attribute the most of our success in your career to? In other words, what skill has helped you most on your projects when you interact with others?

And today you are going to get all the answers. In one nice mashup. Here are all the presenters in the order you will hear their answers

  • Jay Payette
  • Kristy Tan Neckowicz
  • Nk Shrivastava
  • David Hillson
  • Denise McRoberts
  • Joy Beatty
  • Kristine Hayes Munson
  • Andrew Burns
  • Kim Wasson
  • Wanda Curlee
  • Beth Spriggs
  • Cyndi Snyder Dionisio
  • Connie Inman

Oh, and spoiler alert... the answer that I received most often was "Relationships".

It's not a surprise to me, a this comes up time and time again in the things we see on social media for project managers, and you'll have picked up the trend in my past interview. Whether you are leading a PMO, directing a huge project, taking part in an IT software development initiative, or working in the role of project manager in SAFe agile, or any other project role, relationships are the things that power our success. Project manager coaching and mentoring can only get you so far. Building effective working relationships with your colleagues is what really makes the difference. But I have a feeling you might have already known that!

Enjoy this special episode.

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner:  Hello and welcome to Episode #386. This is the Project Management Podcast at and I’m Cornelius Fichtner. Last year at the PMI Global Congress 2016 in San Diego, California, I recorded an all-time high of 14 interviews. They have all been published over the past few months here on the program and you’ve probably heard some or all of them but what you don’t know is what happened once each interview was complete because I pressed the recording button one more time and I asked each of my interview guests the following question: What interpersonal skill do you attribute the most to your success in Project Management to? In other words, what skill has helped you most on your projects when you interact with others? And today, you are going to get all the answers in one nice, big mash-up. We begin with Jay Payette who attributes his success to what I have to do a lot here on the Project Management Podcast and that’s talking.    

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner:   Jay, please tell me which is the interpersonal skill that you attribute the most of your success in Project Management to?

Jay Payette:   It’s an excellent question and it’s a difficult question because there are so many interpersonal skills I know that being able to be empathetic is important and understand different people’s perspectives but for me actually, if I have to attribute success in Project Management, it would be in simply, communication—being able to stand up in a room and present and speak with confidence and win people over with my ideas. Being able to speak confidently, being able to speak what I would hope to be charismatically to me has been the one skill that has allowed me to win confidence in my clients but also drive success in delivering projects.  

Cornelius:   Now that we know that talking is important, how about listening? Here are Kristy Tan Neckowicz and NK Shrivastava

Kristy:   I would say that one key skill that I attribute my success to is active listening. I feel like the fact that people that I communicate with recognize that I’m listening, that I actually do care about what they are going to say and I’m actually going to take action as a result of what they say. That has given me a lot of leeway in building relationships with them and also getting the results that we both want. So I say active listening is key.

NK:   If I were to put the interpersonal skills I will say listening is the most critical skill because that tells me to understand the customer and it goes with one of the seven habits of highly effective people: seek to understand first than to be understood. I don’t know which habit number is that, probably #2, I think, or whatever. But I think that’s the most important thing—listening. Listening doesn’t mean hearing. Listening means really, really understanding what somebody sitting in front of you is talking or wanting to communicate. That’s the most important thing and sometime I have sit in user sessions where I have not talked for one hour, two hours. Just listening. And I remember in one of the sessions where I was one of the project managers and I went with the sales team and it was a big insurance company in the world, very senior leaders. It was a one day session where the sales guys were trying to know what they are looking for and they took me as a key sales support project manager and I was sitting there and for first half day, I did not speak anything. I was just listening, listening, listening, listening. Then during lunchtime, I asked them, the sales guys 2 or 3 questions. And they said, “Oh, we did not think about that”. I said, “Yeah, because you were talking, you were not listening”. So then in the afternoon when we went and talked about those 2 or 3 questions that I raised, even the customers sitting there were, “Oh we did not think about that!”. So then they started talking and we came to know about the requirements for that project that were not on the table for any time in the past. That project became 3 or 4 times the scope of the project and the customer was very happy with that of course they did not have that much money so we went and prioritized what is most important for you. Then we had a project that we did for that customer and it was a very good project. So I still was not talking for half day and just listening. Just listening—I feel that’s the most important interpersonal skill and it also helps in personal relationships. So for example if you know your son or daughter is talking and you are not listening, they may not talk to you anymore after some time. It’s important in any relationship is to listen. That’s why I listen.

Cornelius:   So I asked a total of 13 interview guests: Which interpersonal skill helped them the most? Four of them shows the same skill and here is the big winner of this informal survey. It is “relationships” but each of my guests has a different take on it. First here are David Hillson and Denise McRoberts.

David Hillson:   I’ve learned a lot in terms of interpersonal skills from the idea of transactional analysis. We call it TA, for short and the idea that you can take the approach of people being OK or not OK. So I’m OK, you’re OK or I’m not OK and you’re OK, or I’m OK and you’re not OK. Those kinds of things I think are quite important to think about in terms of our relationships with each other and in TA, transactional analysis they talk about the parent-child relationship where the child-parents talk about the adult-adult relationship and then the others are sort of combination between parent, adult and child. I think clearly what we should be looking for most of the time is adult to adult relationships but very often we treat people as if I’m the parent and you’re the child. In other words, I’m OK and you’re not OK and I need to teach you how to do the right thing and to get your life sorted out and to perform effectively and you just do what I tell you. Sometimes we’re in the reverse where I’m the child and you’re the parent and I’m needy and I’m dependent on you and then I’m a kind of my drawing my authenticity, drawing my direction from you and that’s not healthy either. And so that idea of transactional analysis where you consciously become aware of those different levels of relationship and actively choose to treat the other person like an adult is important. I found that’s been a real challenge to me as a technical expert, I mean I’m a risk management expert, but also a person in Project Management, I’m a fellow of PMI, I’ve been managing projects for 30 years. Actually I feel like the parent and very often my starting position is you’re not OK, you need to listen to me and that’s very arrogant. I don’t know everything and so I do need to just correct myself quite often and say, “You know what, your position has value, I can learn from you. Let me just adjust my positioning and treat each other as equals and not be dependent on you but not trying to put myself above you”. We’re all trying to do the same thing together here and that is really helpful to me. That adult to adult relationship has a choice to do it intentionally has been I think the thing that has helped me the most.

Denise:   I would have to say most of my success is attributed to connecting with people. As a project manager I get to work with all different levels from C Level executives to all various resources on a one-on-one level and it’s fun and challenging to work at those different levels, figure out how to best communicate, how to most effectively communicate and how to connect so that people feel inspired to work on projects and to collaborate and as a team environment and really impart change.  I think connecting to those people is the most fun and I think it’s one of my strongest skills that I think has really helped me out in my project and portfolio management career.

Cornelius:   So that was David Hillson and Denise McRoberts. By the way, if you want to hear me stumbling over my own tongue when I asked David the question, you’re going to have to listen all the way to the end. We’re going to be adding that blooper right off to the ending music here in this episode. Moving on to Joy Beatty and Kristine Hayes Munson who agree with the previous two guests. The interpersonal skill that is most important for them as project managers is relationships but not all of us are in fact project managers. 

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

PDUs: Ways of Working, Project Manager Soft Skills, Project Manager Interpersonal Skills, PMI Global Congress, Project Manager Skills, PMI Global Congress NA 2016

  • Last updated on .
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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