Soft-skills is the key

Raymond Young discusses the importance of soft-skills for project management and invites us to participate in research contributing to the development of a tool to assess soft-skills required for project success.

Our conception of a project is probably flawed. I came across Figure 1 in a project management textbook and thought to myself, “that’s not the way it really happens”. Figure 1 gives the impression that each stage of a project takes roughly the same length of time when in fact initiation of a project can take many years (while people think about what they actually want) and realising the benefits should be as long as possible. The problem with Figure 1 is that it is a project manager’s view of the world – the focus is on planning, development and implementation.

Figure 1. Typical understanding of a project

Figure 2 redraws the diagram from a client’s perspective. Here we see the briefing process needs to start, not at the planning stage, but much much earlier during the initiation period. Equally importantly Figure 2 highlights that the objective of the project is not simply to come in on time and on budget (project management success), but to realise some kind of business benefit (project success).

Figure 2. A better understanding of a project

Recently we took this insight and surveyed an international audience to try to find out which project management certification is best and which factors are most strongly correlated with success [1]. We found earlier studies were right: technical certifications like PRINCE2 and PMP are not correlated with success [2]–[4]. What we also found is that organizational skills and experience leads to on-time delivery, however more importantly, the only factors that correlated with project success were people skills. Project managers and designers both need people skills for benefits to be realised!

Figure 3. Only soft-skills correlate with success.

We’ve now taken the next step and developed a tool to assess the soft-skills needed for success. The tool is an enhancement of the International Project Management Association’s Individual Competence Baseline (IPMA ICB4.0). Project managers and other stakeholders can identify their strengths and weaknesses visually and focus effort on the skills they need to develop to be more successful.

Figure 4. The PM CAT survey tool. Source

Our tool is informed by research and practice. We encourage you and your project managers to take 12-30 minutes to try it out and contribute to the leading edge of research. Your results will be anonymous but we hope in a future blog to present the average values of various practitioner groups. Our hope is to identify the people skills that will make the biggest difference to project success rates.


[1]         R. Young, Y. Wei, and Z. Lu, “Which project management certification is best ? Identifying the project manager competencies and certifications that lead to higher project success rates.,” Suzhou, 2021.

[2]         J. A. Starkweather and D. H. Stevenson, “PMP® Certification as a Core Competency: Necessary but Not Sufficient,” Project Management Journal, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 31–41, Feb. 2011, doi: 10.1002/pmj.20174.

[3]         J. T. Catanio, G. Armstrong, and J. Tucker, “The effects of project management certification on the triple constraint,” International Journal of Information Technology Project Management (IJITPM), vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 93–111, 2013.

[4]         N. Joseph and C. Marnewick, “Investing in project management certification: Do organisations get their money’s worth?,” Information Technology and Management, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 51–74, 2018, doi: 10.1007/s10799-017-0275-y.

Dr Raymond Young is a Senior Associate Professor of Practice in project management at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University. Prior to entering academia he had a long consulting career culminating in a CIO role within Fujitsu Australia.

3 thoughts on “Soft-skills is the key

  1. Pingback: Which project management certification is best? – PM Competency

  2. Pingback: What do we know about Project Sponsorship? The best advice from the body of knowledge in 2021 – 6Q Governance

  3. Pingback: Soft-skills is the key – PM Competency

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