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A Balance of “Style” and “Substance” Will Bring You PM Success

November 15th, 2012 · 4 Comments

Style without substance – or substance without style – is sure to reduce your effectiveness on projects. Here’s why.

SUBSTANCE – a “left brain” operation characterized by logic, language and analytical thinking – is all about WHAT you communicate.

STYLE – a “right brain” operation related to expressive and creative tasks – is all about HOW you communicate.

Here’s why both style and substance are equally important for your effectiveness on projects:

Substance is about the hard skills, which again involve logic, language and analytical thinking. MS Project expertise is an example of a hard skill with substance. Using your MS Project skills, you:

  • produce accurate data
  • analyze and ensure understanding of that data
  • derive meaning and implications for action from the data
  • ensure that the underlying data is accurate

Style is about soft skills, which again involve expressive and creative tasks. Presentation skills – for example, presenting progress against a project plan using MS Project as a tool – is an example of using soft skills. In presenting, you:

  • want to convey ideas and understanding
  • want others to understand so they can make the right decisions or provide relevant input
  • can facilitate cross communication on the team and with stakeholders
  • provide emphasis to the points you want to be sure people understand


You can see, from the example above that, in the case of presenting schedule status to a group of stakeholders, style and substance are inseparable, and that both are required if you are to be effective on your projects. You need to analyze your own capabilities at any given time and in any given area and try to strike your own balance.

Your ongoing learning efforts, including the requirement to earn PDUs, if you are already a PMP, provide you with the opportunity to develop your own personal balance between hard and soft skills.
John Reiling, PMP

Tags: Soft Skills