Why Are Negotiation Skills Important for Project Managers?

Project managers must have strong aptitudes across a range of interpersonal skills and continually cultivate their abilities to ensure success in their projects and careers. One of the most important courses in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s MBA with a Project Management Specialization online program is Negotiation and Interpersonal Skills for Managers. It develops skills for a number of scenarios including conflict management, negotiation and crisis/change management.


Most people develop negotiation skills early in life and use them every day in a variety of personal and professional settings. Successful project managers have developed these skills by learning specific negotiation skills, styles and tools as they apply to project management.

Negotiation is typically thought of as a formalized discussion aimed at resolving the terms of an agreement, but it can be any process that involves two or more people using persuasion to meet their objectives. In this sense, the work of a project manager consists of many negotiating scenarios in which the PM engages in discussions to arrive at a joint decision, works to find mutually acceptable solutions to a shared problem or collaborates to achieve an agreed-upon outcome.

For each project, a PM must go through a negotiation lifecycle process that includes the following steps:

  1. Decide to negotiate
  2. Prepare
  3. Negotiate
  4. Execute
  5. Follow up

In the negotiation step, the PM must be able to determine the right negotiation style, whether it’s hard (controlling), soft (giving in) or principled (focused on creating a win-win outcome). Just as important, the PM must also be resourceful and creative in order to find alternative solutions in the event of a stalemate.

There are two types of negotiation, and both are prevalent in project management. A PM must be able to identify the negotiation type and then apply the appropriate styles and sources of strength (such as making carefully crafted commitments, developing strong working relationships and understanding the interests of all parties involved).

Distributive negotiation: Each party’s aim is to maximize share of a resource, or fixed pie, being allocated. Example: Personnel involved in the execution of a project are often stretched thin and a project manager must negotiate for the time of an in-demand specialist.

Integrative negotiation: The objective is for each party to gain value (win-win), with the outcome of the project always front and center. Example: In a marketing campaign, each of the parties may be asking for different deliverables, such as a newsletter, blog articles, emails and videos. The PM must bring these needs into harmony, so that the overall project objective is met as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.


It is easier to project manage from a position of authority, but the PM does not typically manage the parties involved in a project, so he or she needs leadership skills. Leadership is the ability to synthesize several skills in order to gain support and cooperation. In project management, leaders must be able to define the vision of the project, communicate effectively and keep contributors inspired and motivated to perform at their best. Strong leaders have an arsenal of skills and can reliably identify which ones to leverage in each situation.

Team Building

The nature of project management requires the ability to bring together people with different skills and perspectives to focus on a common goal. While individuals may have slightly different agendas of their own, the PM is responsible for fulfilling the vision of the project, and has to gain buy-in from each contributor. The PM must assure everyone’s comfort and confidence in their roles and be able to foster an atmosphere of trust and collaboration. When glitches inevitably arise, the PM must have the team-management finesse to keep the project on track.


It would be ideal if everyone involved in a project would always buy in to the vision and be willing to do exactly what is asked of them to make the project a success. But the reality is that contributors often have competing projects vying for their attention. Contributors do not always agree with the purposes of a project or with the solution the PM seeks to implement. In this case, the PM must be able to exert a strong and positive influence on individuals and the collective group when necessary.

Conflict Management

Conflict can either lead to the failure of a project or to the most innovative outcomes possible. Team members and stakeholders may disagree on action items, come armed with seemingly contradictory information, or have clashing personalities. Conflict derails projects, and with so many possible sources of conflict, the PM must be able to navigate potential landmines. This requires a full suite of skills including diplomacy, dispute resolution and creative problem-solving. PMs must know when to be insistent and when to be accommodating.

It is no coincidence that many project managers work their way up the corporate ladder into executive and leadership roles. The same interpersonal skills required for successful project management apply to management of people, processes and even entire organizations. If you develop the interpersonal skills to master project management, no goal is out of reach.

Learn more about SIUE’s online MBA program with a Project Management Specialization.


Scholar99: Interpersonal Skills of the Project Manager

Simplilearn: Interpersonal Skills of a Project Manager

ProjectManagement.com: PMP Exam Tip: The Project Manager’s Essential Interpersonal Skills

PMI.org: Five Things Every Project Manager Should Know About Negotiation

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