When it comes to project management negotiation skills are essential and when these skills are refined it is possible to lay the right foundations for a successful outcome with your project. Whilst negotiating skills are something that you will learn about during your training for project managers there are significant benefits to a project manager to continue improving these skills during the course of their career – there is always something new that can be learnt.

As a project manager you are not just the leader of your project, you will also be a delegator, a mediator and of course a negotiator.

Here we will look at the importance of negotiation skills and the benefits of improving the skills you have whilst developing new ones.

How important is negotiation for project managers?

Negotiation skills are used every day, not just in the workplace but in everyday life. You might find that you used them at home, on the phone or even at the shops. Some of these skills are second nature but there are others that you will need to adapt and improve on as time goes on.

There are a few situations in which the success of a project will be determined by the ability that a project manager has to negotiate:

  • When the project manager is involved in negotiation with a vendor of tools and goods that are required for the project
  • When the project manager is negotiating with a potential investor for a project
  • When a project manager is negotiating with stakeholders about support for any major change that they might be considering for a project

The right negotiation skills will enable a project manager to build a firmer relationship with the project stakeholders, customers and to offer a more conducive working environment to the project team members.

How can you improve negotiation skills?

There is always room for improvement, and this is certainly true when it comes to negotiation skills. There are several ways in which a project manager can improve their project management skills that relate to the negotiations they will need to make:

Practise – There will be plenty of opportunity to practise your negotiation skills, in fact more than you might think, so take the opportunity to learn from your negotiations and practise any new skills that you do pick up. During your negotiations analyse how the new skills work for you and see if there are improvements that you need to make.

Preparation – unfortunately, negotiations can happen when a project manager is least expecting them, when this happens preparation is a little difficult. However, if the negotiations are planned then it is possible to devote some time beforehand to preparation. Whether the project manager is meeting with a vendor or a stakeholder the right preparation will give them the tools they need to be in the best position to carry out successful negotiations and have contingency plans should the negotiations not go the way that they are hoping.

It might be that you enter the negotiation with a formula of what you are looking for in a particular order, for example:

  • The best alternative to an agreement that you negotiate
  • The worst alternative to an agreement that you negotiate
  • An area of possible agreement
  • A solution that is not acceptable

With this in mind a project manager can begin the negotiation process with the understanding of exactly what it is that they are hoping to achieve from their negotiations. It is always worth remembering to remain open to the point of view, and suggestions of the other party.

Managing emotions – negotiations and conflict situations can all too often bring out the worst in people. As a project manager it is important to ensure that you are prepared for this type of reaction and lean how to manage this as all too often conflict can make for difficult conversations.

Make sure you have enough time – Negotiations can often be an ongoing thing, a “work in progress”, requiring more than one single meeting. This is particularly true when the negotiations are very important or complicated.

Even once the negotiations have reached a conclusion, you may still find yourself revisiting them to “negotiate” the finer details or new terms in order to keep your project going properly. Make sure you leave enough time for these negotiations and never rush.

Listen – When you are preparing for negotiations, it is not only important to consider what you are going to say and how you are going to say it but also how you are likely to respond to anything that the other party, or parties involved are likely to say.

Many people forget that they need to remember to listen actively when negotiating. Active listening can help you when it comes to identifying any weaknesses that the other party may have and this in turn can help to give you clues as to what the other party might actually want from the negotiations.

A project manager who listens actively is far more likely to be able to offer answers that the other party will be happy with.

Have confidence in your abilities

More than anything else it is really important for any project manager, whether involved in formal, or informal, negotiations to have confidence in their abilities. When you have confidence in your negotiation skills it is much easier to achieve your goals. This is just one of the reasons it is important to look at training courses even after you are qualified; they can really help boost the skills that you already have.

Good negotiation skills are a vital project management tool for helping you get the best from your project. These skills go beyond the ability to increase or reduce the price of any offer that you might get and will form a part of your daily work. This is a soft skill and will with application improve over time, making you a better negotiator as time goes on.