Soft Skills vs Hard Skills in Project Management

Soft Skills vs Hard Skills in Project Management

What makes a great project manager? While many professions require technical expertise or excellent interpersonal skills, project management is unique because it demands both. Project managers must excel at building relationships and managing a team as well as being experts in project management methodologies and the tangible deliverables they require. 

In the world of project management, it is equally important to successfully engage colleagues as it is to have the ability to perform risk analysis. Project managers who have the right mix of hard and soft skills can be a driving force behind successful projects.

This article highlights the soft skills and hard skills project managers must have and explains their differences and similarities.

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Soft skills vs. hard skills in project management

A great project manager requires a combination of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are the more technical abilities that allow you to get the job done, such as project management systems, data analysis, understanding of budgeting and finance, scheduling, and risk analysis. On the other hand, soft skills are personal attributes or interpersonal qualities that enable you to interact with colleagues and stakeholders professionally. These include strong communication skills, problem-solving capabilities, active listening, influencing people, and emotional intelligence.

Furthermore, effective project managers should possess a certain level of creativity and the ability to think outside the box and develop innovative solutions to challenging problems. They need to be able to work independently but also collaborate effectively as part of a team. A good project manager should have excellent organizational skills and keen attention to detail to keep projects on track and ensure accuracy. They must also be able to plan strategically and prioritize tasks. Finally, project managers must be able to remain calm under pressure and can handle difficult conversations when needed.

Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills: Differences

The primary differences between hard skills and soft skills include the following:

  • Hard skills are easier to quantify and thus can be more easily compared and measured.
  • Soft skills are more difficult to quantify, but they are often considered just as important as hard skills in organizations that utilize project management.
  • Hard skills usually relate to specific tasks or activities that can be learned through education or experience.
  • Soft skills relate to an individual’s personality and ability to interact effectively with others.
  • Hard skills can be improved through training and practice.
  • Training and practice cannot continually improve soft skills – they are often innate traits or characteristics.
  • Hard skills are essential when working on specific tasks or projects.
  • Soft skills are essential for developing relationships, problem-solving, and managing time effectively.

Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills: Similarities

The similarities between hard skills and soft skills include the following:

  • Both are important for the overall success of a project. Having a team with a mix of hard and soft skills allows projects to run more smoothly and efficiently.
  • Both sets of skills can be developed over time but require practice, dedication, and effort.
  • Both hard and soft skills can be used to complement one another.
  • Both skills can make a person more effective at their job role.
  • Both skills give an employer insight into a candidate’s abilities and potential.
  • Both skills can be beneficial in various professional settings, from small businesses to large corporations.

Soft skills project managers should have

Soft skills are essential in every workplace. They allow us to navigate our daily interpersonal interactions to develop relationships and find innovative solutions to any challenges. Completing projects requires cooperation amongst all stakeholders involved, including outside parties and the project team itself. Cultivating a soft skills arsenal is essential to manage these personalities and human dynamics to ensure the successful completion of a project.

Specifically, project managers should demonstrate the following soft skills:


Without good communication, any project is doomed before it begins. Project managers must communicate transparently and proactively with all stakeholders to foster trust and ensure everyone in on the same page throughout the project lifecycle.


The best project managers are leaders who understand how to guide their teams to success. As the one in charge of delegating tasks and responsibilities, you must know how to manage personalities, expectations, and your team’s constantly shifting interpersonal dynamics.


Project managers are responsible for seeing projects through to completion, under budget and on schedule. Getting there requires keeping teams on track to meet all goals and deliverables. Talking and listening to your team is essential to discover what motivates them to stay productive.


Few projects encounter zero hurdles during their lifecycle, and project managers must be able to guide their teams over them. Whether there is a technical problem, a budget concern, or interpersonal friction, critical thinking, conflict management, and problem-solving skills are essential assets for any project manager.


There are countless moving parts involved in a project, which is why project managers are in such high demand. Companies need someone to keep everything in line and ensure teams complete deliverables and reach milestones on schedule. Strong organizational skills are a must for project managers.

Hard skills project managers should have

Project managers need hard or technical skills to create deliverables such as project schedules and budgets. With the digitization of work, this need increasingly involves using project management software to develop schedules, spreadsheets, and modeling tools.

Successful project managers exhibit the following hard skills:

Understanding of project management methodologies

The most vital skill for a good project manager is knowledge of the various project management methodologies in use today. Project managers often obtain certifications in one or more to demonstrate their proficiency. The most common project management methodologies include waterfall, agile, scrum, and lean.

Risk management

What can go wrong? Project managers must know all the variables so they can mitigate project risk. From creating the project charter to creating a risk management plan, project managers must be adept at the entire risk management process, including risk identification, analysis, prioritization, and control.

Digital Technical skills

Project managers should know how to use project management software as technology advances. With more tools on the market, you might be expected to select software, so it’s imperative to familiarize yourself with their features and understand what works best for your organization.


Although some consider it a soft skill, every project manager writes a lot. It would be best if you had substantial comprehension of written communication to excel in a project management role. Good writing is direct, easy to read, and error-free.


Every facet of business is data-driven now, and project management is no exception. Project managers with analytical prowess excel at resource management and reporting tasks, making them increasingly valuable. Using data in project management can help with problem-solving and is an excellent way to complete projects under budget consistently.

Budget management

When a project kicks off, it has a strict budget to adhere to. Good project managers are prized for their ability to keep projects under budget. Budget management requires project managers to combine multiple skills, including organization and analysis to ensure the project remains within the allotted budget. Project managers should have a solid comprehension of basic math and know how to build spreadsheets.

Characteristics that make a great project manager

As with any calling, many successful project managers demonstrate similar characteristics. At their core, project managers are natural leaders. They are intuitive and personable, demonstrating the industry expertise necessary to see projects through. The qualities often found in excellent project managers include:

Resolve: The ability to make decisions, often quickly, even if it’s hard. The best project managers understand perfection is the enemy of good and are fearless in settling on a path for the project when others might be reluctant.

Patience: A project isn’t completed in a day, and there are always setbacks. Project managers must expect the unexpected, whether resolving conflicts on the team or handling lofty expectations from external stakeholders. The best project managers are patient and can remain calm to avoid disrupting the project unnecessarily.

Flexibility: Disruptions and sudden changes are a fact of life, and project managers must always be prepared to adapt. Budget cuts and personnel changes happen, and the best project managers can pivotGoo to find ways for their teams to be successful despite them. 

Self-starting: As the project’s leader, you’re responsible for motivating yourself and everyone else. You set the example for how your team should work, which is why it’s imperative to come to work each day with the will to succeed.

Diplomacy: Companies are comprised of many personalities, cultural backgrounds, and work styles. Project managers must account for all these and understand how to govern them. Everyone has their pressures and motivations driving them at work which influences projects. The best project managers can sympathize with them while remaining focused on what’s best for the project and understanding what it needs to succeed.


Overall, a great project manager should have a comprehensive blend of technical know-how, professional experience, and emotional intelligence that allows them to lead successful projects from start to finish. With the right mix of hard and soft skills, a great project manager can ensure that any project is well-managed, meets deadlines, and achieves its objectives.

From start to finish, project managers must have strong leadership qualities that inspire confidence in their team. These qualities include a clear vision, a positive attitude, and the willingness to take risks and think outside the box. By developing strong communication skills and trusting relationships with stakeholders, a great project manager can ensure that every aspect of the project is properly managed, resulting in successful outcomes. A great project manager needs to be organized, decisive, flexible, and have excellent communication skills to be successful. By having a combination of hard and soft skills, as well as strong leadership qualities, a project manager can help ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.

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About the Author

Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO

Director of Product Development at Project Management Academy

Detail-oriented business professional with fifteen years experience in the customer service, project management and finance industry. Dedicated to helping make a positive impact at the organizations with which I partner.

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