People Skills: The Secret Ingredient For Project Success

New research from Association for Project Management identifies recipe for better project outcomes

Association for Project Management (APM) [], the chartered membership organisation for the project profession, today announces the findings of its latest research into the most important conditions for project success, and how these can be applied at the organisational and individual level.

The new report, Dynamic Conditions for Project Success, is based on research conducted by APM with the Universities of Sussex and Southampton, and builds on the findings of APM’s 2015 report on factors for project success.

Following an in-depth literature review, project professional interviews and a survey attracting over 1,000 responses, the research team identified nine ingredients for determining success: interpersonal skills, training and qualifications, team ethos, technology and data, contracts, knowledge management, agility, sustainability and diversity.

The study highlights opportunities for organisations that deliver projects to improve outcomes, including prioritising informal mentoring, improving data analysis and decision making with technology and AI, and establishing knowledge management roles for more effective learning from past projects.

Despite project management often being sharply focused on processes, soft skills emerged as a prominent theme throughout several of the dynamic conditions identified; particularly in interpersonal skills, team ethos and contracts.

Soft skills

Interpersonal skills are the most important condition, deemed important or very important by 97 per cent of respondents. Specifically, communication, leadership and listening to one’s team were rated the highest key indicators of success.

Importance level attached to interpersonal skills as a way of ensuring project success

Interviewees noted the importance of both tailoring communication to individuals and keeping projects on track, with one commenting that “understanding how people need to be managed helps you use different approaches that will bring better results depending on who you are talking to” and another that “a project manager should be supportive and emotionally intelligent but also with a backbone of steel to take difficult decisions”.

Team spirit

A project manager with strong people skills has a significant influence on their team’s ethos, which was highlighted as the second most important condition, with 92 per cent of participants deeming it important or very important.

Trust, transparency and openness are the best indicators of team ethos. Reflecting this, one interviewee remarked on the connection between communication and team ethos, saying that it “stems from understanding what the goal is and how you contribute to that”.

The ranked importance of key success indicators linked to team ethos as identified by survey respondents

Clear expectations

Three-quarters of respondents said contracts are important or very important, with interviewees commenting on their role in setting expectations and obligations. Crucially, they highlighted good relationships as imperative for contracts, setting the stage for clear communication to manage potential issues early on.

Professor Adam Boddison, chief executive at APM, comments: “Project management is often perceived from the outside as a profession of processes. While these are important, our research shows that project success relies not only on taking the right steps, but also taking them in the right way, with people in mind.

“The findings back what APM has advocated for years: successful project management requires a broad skill set, including strong leadership and clear communication. The world is changing. In order for project professionals to remain at the forefront, they need people skills and emotional intelligence to respond to, and productively manage, a diversity of perspectives.”

Dr David Eggleton, Lecturer in Project Management with Innovation Studies, University of Sussex says: “Our research shows how a very different set of organisational, professional and socio-economic conditions can contribute to project success. It offers the exciting potential for a much broader range of stakeholders, including data and sustainability specialists, to come together to enhance outcomes. I hope this report will provide important insights for project professionals, helping them to achieve project, organisational and professional success.”

Dynamic Conditions for Project Success offers recommendations for both organisations and professionals on how to lay the groundwork for project success. Find out how your organisation can improve its outcomes here.

About Association for Project Management (APM)

APM is the Association for Project Management, a professional membership organisation that sets the standards for the project profession and the only chartered organisation representing the project profession in the world. As a registered charity, APM provides education, qualifications, networking opportunities, research, resources, events and best practice guidance for the project community, helping the profession deliver better.

APM currently has over 35,000 members and more than 450 corporate partners based in over 128 countries across the world. Please see for further details.

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