10 Essential Project Management Skills
Project management is not an easy job. In fact, it’s several not-easy jobs, including the initiation, planning, executing, controlling, and closing of a project. Even more difficult, that project is delegated to a team of your choosing, given specific goals to achieve over a defined timeline for a determined budget.
That’s a lot to ask of any one individual, but project managers have a variety of skills to get the job done. These include the expected technical business and management skills you’d expect, but also a number of soft skills. Project managers aren’t only dealing with systems and processes, but also people. When you boil it down, successful project management is built on creating and maintaining strong relationships across the organization.
But that’s just one aspect of the project manager’s many faceted job. Below we’ve collected the top 10 skills every project manager should have. There are certainly more than just the following 10, but if you have these, you have the foundation on which to build a successful career in project management.
We have to start with the big daddy of them all – leadership. It’s a bit of a slippery skill in that some believe you’re born with leadership skills and that they can’t be taught. But we think everyone has the potential to learn how to apply proven leadership skills and techniques. After all, what’s the alternative? As a project manager you’re responsible not only for seeing the project through to a successful completion, but you’re leading a team to achieve that goal. This requires you to motivate and mediate when necessary. Remember that project leadership comes in different styles, one of which will suit your personality. It’s more than managing tasks, it’s managing people.
Communications really goes hand-in-glove with leadership. You can’t be an effective leader if you’re not able to articulate what it is you need your team to do. But you’re not only going to be communicating with your team, you’ll need to have clear communications with everyone associated with the project, from vendors and contractors to stakeholders and customers. Whether that’s through reporting tools or fostering collaboration with chat, file sharing, and other means to tag discussions at the task level, you’re going to need both systems in place to facilitate communications. These tools also help connect people one-to-one and in group settings, such as meetings and presentations.
Project management skills
A great project manager knows how to deliver projects on time, budget, and scope. However, the job of a project manager goes well beyond delivery. Project managers are also responsible for
The difference between hard skills and soft skills
Hard skills or technical skills refer to the job-related knowledge and abilities that employees need to perform their job duties effectively. Hard skills can be quantified and measured, and transferred when changing a company or industry. These skills are usually learned through formal project management training or on the job as a project manager.
On the other hand, soft skills are the personal qualities that help employees thrive in the workplace. Some people see soft skills as a resume fluff, but in reality, they do carry weight. And although difficult to define, they are all related to how project managers interact with colleagues, solve problems, and manage their work.
1. Planning and forecasting
It’s often said that project success and failure are determined in the planning phase. And the responsibility of creating a realistic roadmap and conveying their vision to stakeholders, clients, and other team member falls on the shoulders of a project manager.
2. Budget management
Only 43% of organizations say they’re delivering projects on budget. And with most organizations being forced to tighten their belts during the Covid-19 crisis, accurate budget management has never been more important.
Experienced project managers know how to create a viable budget and control it throughout the lifecycle. They also have the ability to efficiently track costs, put together spreadsheets and decide what the budget should be spent on.
3. Risk management
As a project manager, you can put together a perfect plan, but things will still go wrong. Indeed, unless you have a magic eight-ball, you cannot account for everything. And that is okay… as long as you’re prepared for them.
Risk analysis during the planning phase enables project manager’s to define the most difficult moments, put together a risk mitigation strategy, and be much more proactive in those difficult situations.
4. Tracking and monitoring
And the best way to do it is by having a structured way to track and monitor progress. This enables project managers to be much more proactive and make quick changes on the go when projects run into any problems or fall behind.
5. Subject expertise
Project managers work in a variety of industries, from construction to IT and everything in between. And every industry comes with its own specifics. This means you can be a fantastic project manager in one field but fail in another.
6. Project management methodologies
It’s not enough to know just one because the best methodology depends heavily on the industry and the nature of the project. A skilled project manager has the ability to recognize the best approach and apply it to that specific project.
As organizations become increasingly digitized, an excellent technical skill set is essential for project managers to keep up and lead the way. Not to mention, using project management software to manage projects will make it easier to ensure project success. Research shows that 77% of the best-performing projects use at least one project management tool.
Skill #8: Organization
When people think of a project manager, they generally think of someone who’s amazing at multitasking. While it’s true that PMs have a lot to keep an eye on, multitasking isn’t actually something they should do. Why? Researchers have found it reduces efficiency, and that people juggling multiple streams of information cannot pay attention, recall information, or complete any one task particularly well.
So good organization for a project manager — who does have a bajillion streams of information to deal with at any one time — is more a question of prioritizing multiple issues, combined with a generous helping of focus.
Never underestimate the benefit of having the right tools for the job: choose quality project management software that lets you track updates, measure progress, and share information with clients. This way, you can focus more on the task at hand and leave the multitasking to the software.
It’s easy to read through this list and start to think of a project manager as some kind of superhuman on the team. While that is a little bit of a stretch, it does take a person who can keep their feet in several different places at once while maintaining focus and strong communication. A good tool can make their jobs just that much easier. If you’re a PM, consider adding our own project management tool, Backlog, to your team and see how much strain it can relieve from your workday.
Georgina Guthrie Georgina is a displaced Brit currently working in France as a freelance copywriter. Before moving to sunnier climates, she worked as a B2B agency writer in Bristol, England, which is also where she was born. In her spare time, she enjoys old films and cooking (badly).