Power Skills: Redefining Project Success
Power Skills, Redefining Project Success
For several years now, PMI has been advocating the importance of power skills — those “soft” or “interpersonal” skills like communication and strategic thinking. Built on top of a solid foundation of technical skills, power skills enable project managers to align their projects to organizational objectives and inspire their teams to work together, solve problems and deliver results that contribute value to the organization and its customers.
We believe in this connection so strongly that we have updated the PMI Talent Triangle® — which represents the ideal skill set for project professionals — to reflect that power skills are a necessity for project managers. When integrated with strong technical skills that stay current with evolving ways of working, power skills help project professionals navigate the rapidly changing business landscape in which we now operate.
The connection is borne out through research. Our Narrowing the Talent Gap report, produced in collaboration with PwC, indicates that power skills top the list of the most important capabilities project managers need. And we have seen a number of other organizations echo this emphasis through reports that connect power skills to outcomes.
Our latest Pulse of the Profession® research was designed to explore the connections between power skills and project success. The results reveal some compelling links. For example, 92% of respondents agree that power skills help them work smarter. And organizations that place a priority on power skills see higher rates of project management maturity, benefits realization management maturity and organizational agility.
Project professionals who hone their abilities in communication, problem-solving, collaborative leadership and strategic thinking will have the most critical power skills to help them fulfill organizational objectives.
The report also identifies opportunities for organizations to capitalize on these connections and drive increased project success and value. Organizations only spend about a quarter of their training budget on power skills, for example, and do not universally assess power skills in project managers or teams during performance evaluations.
When power skills are an organizational priority — communicated clearly by leadership and reinforced through professional development offerings and individual and team assessments — organizations can expect better project performance.
Read on to learn more about these connections and the steps that you and your organization can take to harness the competitive advantage of a strong emphasis on power skills.
Pierre Le Manh
PMI President and CEO
Pulse of the Profession® 2023, 14th Edition
What Are Power Skills?
PMI defines power skills as abilities and behaviors that facilitate working with others and help project professionals to succeed in the workplace. Some individuals and other organizations also refer to them as “soft skills” or “interpersonal skills.”
Calling these abilities and behaviors “power skills” signifies the value they bring to project professionals, teams and organizations. Through this new lens, power skills become critical in any professional’s toolkit.
In our survey, project professionals rated communication, problem-solving, collaborative leadership and strategic thinking as the most critical power skills in helping them fulfill organizational objectives.
When I first started my career, I wanted to understand how to deliver a project on time, within scope and on budget. The more that I learned about project management and the more I developed my skills, the more I realized that the impact you can have when you combine both those technical and business skills with power skills is much broader.
PMIEF Board of Directors
The Relationship Between Power Skills and Project Success
To understand what drives project value delivery and success, PMI analyzed data from nearly 3,500 project professionals who responded to the Annual PMI Global Survey on Project Management (see About This Research). Benefits realization management (BRM) maturity, organizational agility and project management maturity emerged as top drivers of project success, alongside other factors (see Figure 1).
Note: Robust regression modeling is used to identify the factors that contribute most heavily to project success, based on respondent data. "Percent of projects that successfully met business goals" is the dependent variable (the measure of project success). "Drivers" of success are the independent variables from the survey ranked according to their relative contributions to the dependent variable.
While many of these factors are often associated with project and organizational success, our research now connects these key drivers to power skills and shows that these factors are significantly more prevalent in organizations that prioritize power skills than those that do not (see Figure 2).
Our research further indicates that organizations that place a high priority on power skills are significantly better at completing projects that meet business goals. They also experience significantly less scope creep, and even though they do not fare better at avoiding outright project failures, these organizations experience significantly less budget loss if the project fails (see Figure 3).
Prioritizing power skills pays off. Wasted investment due to poor project performance is 4.8% for organizations that put a high priority on power skills, while it is nearly double (8.8%) for those that put a low priority on power skills. The global average for wasted investment due to poor project performance is 5.2%.
From a regional perspective, project professionals report their organizations placing a higher priority on power skills in sub-Saharan Africa (67%) and India (64%), and report a lower priority on power skills in Asia Pacific (27%) and North America (24%). The industries most likely to place a high priority on power skills are information technology, manufacturing, energy and telecommunications. Project professionals who work in government, healthcare and training/education are most likely to report that their organizations place a lower priority on power skills. Project professionals from the construction, consulting, financial services, automotive and retail industries report a mixed prioritization of power skills, with an almost equal number of respondents from organizations that place either a high or low priority on power skills.
An emphasis on power skills, in concert with strong technical skills, boosts organizations’ project management capabilities, leading to better performance on individual projects and project portfolios. Organizations leaning on power skills like problem-solving and strategic thinking can expect to see higher organizational agility and project management maturity to help them face complex project challenges, market changes, technological adoptions and socioeconomic pressures.
Technical skills are important, but so is understanding interactions between people. At the end of the day, projects are done by humans. We need to appreciate that. We need to work on that.
Luis Revilla, Ph.D.
Chief People Officer, Softtek
What Are BRM, Project Management Maturity and Organizational Agility?
Benefits realization management (BRM) is a set of processes and practices for identifying benefits and aligning them with formal strategy, ensuring benefits are realized as project implementation progresses and finishes and confirming benefits are sustainable — and sustained — after project implementation is complete.
Project management maturity is the extent to which the organization consistently uses formal methodology, aligns projects/programs with organizational strategy, tracks benefits and focuses on continuous improvement.
Organizational agility is the ability to adapt rapidly in response to changes in the market or other external factors. Organizational agility includes making use of all approaches to project delivery — traditional, agile and hybrid.
These definitions were provided to respondents in the Annual PMI Global Survey on Project Management.
Consensus Across Project Management Community on Top Power Skills
Nine in 10 respondents to the Annual PMI Global Survey on Project Management agree that power skills help them work smarter, while eight in 10 also agree that their organization places value on all employees possessing power skills.
When it comes to the power skills most critical to helping project managers fulfill organizational objectives, communication, problem-solving, collaborative leadership and strategic thinking ranked highest among our global sample, regardless of region, industry, years of experience, project management leadership level or PMP® status (see Figure 4). Project management approach — agile, traditional or hybrid — also did not impact these results.
These findings closely mirror those from recent research by PMI and PwC, which identified relationship building, collaborative leadership, strategic thinking and creative problem-solving as the top capabilities successful project managers need. On the other hand, empathy, discipline, for-purpose orientation and future-focused orientation rank consistently at the bottom.
The important thing is people skills: engagement, seeing the bigger picture, understanding strategy and aligning with all of that. They are the things that really matter.
Europe P&PM Community Lead, Fujitsu
London, United Kingdom
Professional Development Time and Budget: Power Skills versus Technical Skills
Despite the strong connections between power skills and project success drivers, we discovered that many organizations still do not prioritize efforts to help employees develop them.
As part of our research, we also surveyed talent decision makers who focus on talent acquisition and development in their organizations. These talent decision makers report spending only one-quarter of their annual budget (25%) for training and development on power skills, whereas they spend more than half (51%) on technical skills like agile practices or proficiency in collaboration tools.
This breakdown is confirmed by project professionals who report spending almost half (46%) of their professional development hours on technical skills and less than one-third (29%) on power skills (see Figure 5). Further, nearly half (47%) of project professionals say their organization did not discuss power skills when they were hired or promoted into their role, highlighting that power skills are not being discussed in job descriptions and career growth as widely as they could be.
Who Are Talent Decision Makers?
Talent decision makers are recruiters and professional development specialists whose primary responsibilities are talent acquisition and professional development of nonexecutive employees within their organization. As part of PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® 2023 research, these talent professionals shared their insights on their organizations’ commitments to recruiting, training and development of nonexecutive project leaders, especially regarding power skills. A global, cross-industry sample of 1,059 talent decision makers responded to the Annual PMI Global Survey on Talent Development in May 2022.
Project leaders and talent development professionals can work together to place more emphasis on training and development for power skills to align with competencies like those outlined in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®Guide) and the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification, which are based on extensive research and analysis of the practices of project managers and reflect a stronger emphasis on power skills. For example, the PMP® certification examination includes 42% of questions from the “People” domain. The need to find balance in building skills is also represented in the PMI Talent Triangle® with three sides that represent the broad skill set project managers need: Power Skills, Ways of Working and Business Acumen.
Key Barriers to Prioritizing Power Skills Training and Development
If power skills are so important, why do organizations not invest more heavily in them? According to our talent decision makers, the main barrier is cost, followed closely by a lack of perceived value. Even for organizations that prioritize power skills training and development, perception of value is no less of a challenge (see Figure 6).
From a regional perspective, talent decision makers report lack of perceived value of power skills development most often in Europe (57%) and sub-Saharan Africa (54%), and least often in Asia Pacific (28%) and the Middle East/North Africa (35%). By industry, the lack of perceived value is highest in energy (58%) and manufacturing (57%), and lowest in construction (34%) and financial services (45%).
Our research reveals steps that organizations can take to improve this perception problem. Organizations that start the conversation during the recruitment process by emphasizing power skills training as a benefit of employment are much less likely to report perceived value as a barrier to prioritizing training. The same holds true for organizations that incorporate power skills into individual employee development plans and performance goals. Thus, those who weave power skills into regular touchpoints with employees are less likely to see the lack of perceived value as a barrier (see Figure 7), according to talent decision makers.
Project leaders and talent decision makers can also collaborate to ensure that professional development and training opportunities for project professionals provide ample and effective opportunities to learn and practice power skills. These opportunities – which can include formal coursework, online learning, mentoring relationships and more (see Appendix: Building Power Skills in Project Teams) – should be reinforced with project professionals and built into individual development plans.
My CFO… ask[s] about the return on investment [of] power skills. It is very complicated. I understand the concept of ROI, but we need to recognize that humans are of a very different nature than resources. I can measure resources, but for humans, we need to have faith in them.
Luis Revilla, Ph.D.
Chief People Officer, Softtek
Opportunity to Emphasize Power Skills Through Team Assessment
Perhaps unsurprisingly, organizations that prioritize power skills development are assessing these skills in individual employees and teams far more often (91% use individual assessments and 86% use team assessments) than organizations that place a low priority on power skills (69% and 43%, respectively). Twelve percent of respondents to the Annual PMI Global Survey on Project Management say their organizations do not measure power skills in individuals at all, and 20% say these skills are not measured in teams.
Organizations that do evaluate power skills in individuals use a variety of methods, including formal performance assessments (79%), supervisor/manager assessments (74%), customer feedback (47%), 360-degree surveys (41%) and standardized testing (29%).
It is much less common for organizations to evaluate power skills among teams. Among those that do, customer feedback is the most common mechanism, used by 67% of organizations, followed by supervisor/manager assessment (53%), formal performance assessments (44%), 360-degree surveys (44%) and standardized testing (34%).
This gap in assessing teams on power skills could signal a major opportunity for organizations to demonstrate the value they place on these skills. Connecting team performance to power skills through team-based assessments could yield increased organizational efficiency.
We do have an annual assessment review for all employees. We assess communication and the ability to communicate. But I do not know if we do enough assessment of how effective the communication was, the style of communication or how successful they were in critical negotiations and persuading others. Maybe we can enhance these assessments to include a lot of the power skills.
Mohammed Al Sadiq
Project Manager, Saudi Aramco
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
A Call to Prioritize Power Skills
When organizations put a demonstrable emphasis on power skills, the benefits are clear. These organizations stand out for their commitment to factors that drive project success: benefits realization maturity, organizational agility and project management maturity. Their projects are more likely to be successful, and less likely to experience scope creep. When projects do fail, these organizations lose less of their invested budgets.
What can organizations do to prioritize power skills?
Our research revealed a number of approaches used by organizations that place high priority on these skills:
- Understand the connection between project success and power skills. Expand beyond the iron triangle of scope, cost and time to tap into the positive impact that power skills have on project success.
- Focus on the power skills most tied to fulfilling organizational objectives — communication, problem-solving, collaborative leadership and strategic thinking — and bake them into the organizational DNA. Have project management leadership model these critical power skills and communicate their importance consistently.
- Emphasize the value of power skills by connecting them to hiring and ongoing performance. Start talking to employees during the recruitment process by emphasizing power skills training as a benefit of employment. Build power skills into their individual career development plans in ways that align with professional competencies, and track their mastery of these skills during performance evaluations.
- Evaluate professional development and training programming to ensure it reflects the organization’s commitment to building power skills in employees. Back that commitment up by allocating the right funding to power skills offerings.
- Consider introducing team-based assessments of power skills as an additional way to evaluate these skills in context and reinforce their importance in the organization.
Power skills can redefine success for both project professionals and organizations; those who use these approaches can see a clear return on their investment.
About This Research
In March and April of 2022, PMI conducted and deployed the Annual PMI Global Survey on Project Management to 3,492 project professionals (individuals who use project skills to deliver change), including 538 project leaders (individuals responsible for the organization-wide integration of consistent project management methodologies and terminology, including directors who lead the organization's project management office (PMO). The survey explored multiple facets of project management, including key drivers of project success, power skills, evolution of the PMO, adoption of standardized project management practices, and professional training and development.
To better understand the factors driving the evolution of project management and the importance of power skills, we carried out interviews with 12 project management experts who serve in leadership roles in large organizations around the globe and have primary responsibility for projects and/or talent development for project managers. Their insights helped bring real-life examples to many of the key insights from the global survey.
Power Skills Examined in This Research
In the Annual PMI Global Survey on Project Management, we asked respondents to select from a list of 12 power skills most critical in helping them fulfill organizational objectives. The power skills examined in this research are:
- Accountability – Taking psychological ownership for what you say you will do
- Adaptability – Ability to respond to unforeseen changes
- Collaborative leadership – Ability to work with others across boundaries to make decisions
- Communication – Effective in explanation, writing and public speaking
- Discipline – Ability to impose structure through planning, routines and timelines
- Empathy – Ability to sense others’ emotions by imagining yourself in their situation
- For-purpose orientation – Recognize the needs of others and actively seek ways to help them
- Future-focused orientation – Ability to energize others with your vision of the future
- Innovative mindset – Ability to generate creative ideas and act upon them to solve problems
- Problem-solving – Ability to figure out what is wrong and resolve it
- Relationship building – Ability to deepen personal relationships through building trust
- Strategic thinking – Ability to see patterns and alternative paths rather than complexity
Appendix: Building Power Skills in Project Teams
How can organizations prioritize power skills and reap the benefits they provide? The following examples showcase how three organizations provide training and development opportunities for project professionals to gain these skills. These organizations demonstrate their commitment to power skills through a variety of formal and informal interventions.
At IBM, a regional program called “Lead to Influence” helps project managers in the organization’s Asia Pacific region (including Australia, India, China, Japan, Korea and Singapore) learn the power skills to become true leaders. Six 3-hour modules, built in collaboration with experienced program managers, focus on skills like stakeholder management, negotiation, problem-solving and storytelling.
“We have so many courses on how to manage a risk log or things like that, but this one is actually helping you work with your stakeholders and your teams,” says Janelle Delaney, a delivery excellence executive based in Sydney, Australia. “It is about ‘How do I, as a project manager, lead my team, work with my team and influence my client to be where we want them to be?’”
While the program was created for the Asia Pacific region — and offers courses in local languages for staff in different countries — Delaney is now working to take it global through IBM’s Project Management Center of Excellence. She is also working to integrate it with IBM’s internal certification system, which offers badges to indicate skills and abilities.
At Safaricom PLC, a telecommunications company in Nairobi, Kenya, employees are required to pursue professional development goals, and are given the time and resources to do so. Meetings are discouraged on Fridays to focus on learning activities, and staff have access to a wide range of online training resources, including LinkedIn Learning. A dedicated coaching program offers professionally trained coaches to anyone in the organization.
When it comes to assessing power skills, managers regularly review teams’ power skills during performance appraisals and offer coaching and feedback. “We talk about things like clear communication, project objectives, stakeholder engagement and making sure that the users you are delivering for are satisfied with your engagement with them,” shares Mary Murekio, Senior Program Manager - Digital IT. “We talk about leading your project team members toward achieving the goal.”
Mentoring, whether from formal coaches or managers, can help employees connect what they learn to their work, Murekio believes. “When I first did the emotional intelligence training, I was a fairly new manager in the organization. However, I did not really connect with it on a personal level until I got a coach. That is when I realized I need to implement everything I learned in my emotional intelligence training.”
Project professionals at Kalyani Steels, Pune, India, have access to a variety of learning and development opportunities over the course of their careers. “Soft skills are more important in driving through or negotiating through the project more smoothly,” says Partha S. Ghose, PMP, Director - projects. However, not all employees come in with the power skills they need to succeed in implementing the project. “We try to train them, and we keep training them continuously. Sometimes it is informal through one-to-one interactions, and sometimes through formal meetings and organized classroom training.”
Junior and mid-level project team members are assigned an experienced mentor when they are assigned to a new project team. Mentors coach them on a range of skills, from technical skills to power skills like communication, people skills and instilling in them cultural and environmental awareness. Soft and behavioral skills are also incorporated into both individual and team assessments.
On the individual level, annual reviews include quantitative criteria for power skills. Team evaluations are less structured but more frequent. During weekly or monthly team meetings, project leaders review the team’s performance and identify issues and constraints — including those related to power skills — where the team needs support.
PMI would like to thank everyone who took part in the surveys and in the qualitative interviews referenced in this report.