To be a successful project manager, you should possess a number of key project management skills that define your ability to deliver value to the market successfully. There are different project management skills which are a mix of technical and leadership competencies. Especially nowadays, project managers should operate with agility and set up their processes to support that. This requires a number of soft skills that are essential in building an open and collaborative culture where people feel valued and are capable of shifting their direction whenever necessary.
Some of the most crucial project management skills are listed below.
- Organization Skills
- Leadership Skills
- Team Management Skills
- Time Management Skills
- Communication Skills
- Negotiation Skills
- Problem-Solving Skills
- Budget Management Skills
- Risk Management Skills
- Research Skills
- Reporting Skills
- Conflict Management Skills
- Technical & Management Knowledge
Let's briefly go over each one of those points below.
First and foremost, organizational skills are essential for any project manager who is usually required to manage several projects simultaneously. That's why they need to be able to successfully juggle between priorities and support their teams to get things done. This requires a great deal of self-discipline and work organization.
To better organize their work, many project managers use visualization practices. That's why methods such as Kanban are instrumental in helping them put on display what needs to be done, what's currently in progress, where work gets stuck, etc. This can be achieved through flexible Kanban boards and project management systems that allow the orchestration of complex or multiple projects simultaneously. As a result, project managers can see emerging priorities, create better plans, and allocate capacity accordingly.
Other than organization skills, being a good leader is essential for project managers nowadays. Instead of micromanaging their teams, they should set a common vision before them and create an environment where every single individual feels respected and empowered to elevate their skills. There are many leadership models, such as transformational, servant, authentic leadership, etc., that project managers should study. As leaders, it's also important for them to make decisions based on accumulated data rather than gut feelings or seniority.
Team Management Skills
Team management is another important facet of a project manager's skill set. Rather than micromanaging their teams, successful managers empower every single professional to become the best version of themselves. This happens by respecting their opinions, encouraging them to give ideas, and learning new on-the-job skills.
Project managers should be able to set and clearly communicate a common vision for the team. It's important for them to manage the work and let the workers self-organize around it. This creates an environment where people feel like valuable assets to the company and increases their morale. As a result, teams deliver more value to the market, which eventually positively reflects the project manager's career.
Time Management Skills
Having time management skills is critical for every project manager. In today's fast-paced world, deadlines quickly come and go, and priorities unexpectedly shift. To keep up with this volatility project managers need to develop a strong discipline and a "get things done" attitude to keep up with this volatility. This can happen by reducing multitasking and focusing on one thing at a time. As a result, they will enable them to become more productive, meet strict deadlines, and ultimately deliver superior value to customers.
Moving forward, another critical part of a project manager's skill set is effective communication. From a project/product's vision to various technical details, it's important for a manager to maintain constant communication within the team. This gives clear details to everybody what should be done and facilitates the flow of work.
Furthermore, project managers should be able to clearly articulate their ideas to upper management to get their approval for the initiation of specific projects. Communication skills are also important in terms of conflict resolution between teams or individual team members.
It's important for project managers to be good negotiators too. This is mostly related to collaborating with stakeholders, external vendors, sponsors, etc., as project managers need to be diplomatic and find a common ground with them. For example, stakeholders might have demands that can impact the project scope and ultimately, its deadline. As a project manager, you need to assess the current situation. If those demands seem unrealistic, you should negotiate certain trade-offs, offer alternative options, etc., so the best decision can be made.
Problem-solving skills are critical for good project management. There is a plethora of challenges that come up on projects, related to impediments, team management, external demands, deadlines, budgets, etc. Project managers should research the reason behind problems, and hold collaborative discussions with their teams to solve them.
For example, a good practice for solving emerging problems is looking at their root cause and testing different solutions to minimize the likelihood of their recurrence in the future. In Lean, this is known as 5 whys analysis. Besides this one, there are many other problem-solving approaches that project managers can employ.
Budget Management Skills
Managing budgets is another important part of a project manager's skill set. When managing projects, it's important for the team to track their spending and ensure that it falls in line with the approved baseline budget. Project managers should gain skills in executing cost-benefit analysis to determine whether a given opportunity or investment is worth pursuing and if it would result in improved project performance. Having fundamental financial knowledge and the right tool to track orders, invoices, spending, etc, are both important when managing budgets.
Risk Management Skills
Risks are an inevitable part of projects. That's why project managers need to learn the right techniques to manage them. In a traditional environment, maintaining a RAID log (Risks, Actions, Issues, Decisions) is an integral part of risk management. However, project managers in Agile use techniques such as risk-adjusted backlogs, classes of service, cost of delay, etc.
For example, a risk-adjusted backlog gives priority to work items with high-risk potential together with the most requested ones by customers. The idea is to execute the work that could be a threat to the project early on so you can mitigate the risk. Furthermore, with the help of classes of service in Kanban, you can visualize and separate work with different urgency (which could be calculated based on the cost of delay), so you can allocate capacity to specific parts in your process whenever necessary. Becoming proficient at those techniques can help project managers better adapt to emerging risks or threats and mitigate their project impact.
Research skills related to data collection. Whether it's external market research for gaining competitive advantage or executing internal surveys for process assessment, project managers should be qualified to lead them. This requires getting familiar with different research methods as well as understanding quantitative and qualitative data analysis. Good research skills can help project managers better understand the market environment, find issues in the management process and continuously improve.
As a continuation to research skills, being able to clearly explain the collected data is another important facet of project management. Building interactive reports and presenting them to stakeholders is one of the essential duties of project managers. To do that, they can learn how to use reporting tools such as Excel, PowerBI, Tableau, etc., or the analytical capabilities of a given Agile project management software.
Conflict Management Skills
Project managers should lead their teams toward a common vision. This involves resolving conflicts and making sure that everybody is on the same page. This is easier said than done, that's why project managers need to be open-minded and practice active listening with the goal to put themselves into their team's shoes. As a result, they can better understand the points of view of the conflicting sides, act as a mediator between them and look for ways to achieve consensus. The active participation of a project manager in conflict resolution is important because this way teams understand that their opinions really matter which can increase their overall motivation to perform better.
Technical & Management Knowledge
Last but not least, a project manager should be knowledgeable about the technical aspects of the work that the team does. This doesn't mean they have to be a world-class expert but being able to lead in-depth conversations about improving product/service delivery is important for providing customers with the best possible value. Other than that, it's required for a project manager to become proficient at a certain management method or framework. Nowadays, the most famous ones include Agile project management approaches such as Kanban, Scrum, Scrumban, or combinations of Waterfall and Agile techniques.
What Are the Types of Skills for Project Management?
In summary, we can conclude that the two major types of project management skills fall under the following categories.
- Hard Skills
- Soft Skills
The hard skills for project management contain learned abilities that are enhanced through practice and repetition. Those can include budget and risk management skills, research/reporting, knowledge about specific management methods/frameworks, as well as everything else that you can gain proficiency at through education. Also known as "on-the-job" skills, these competencies are important for boosting the project manager's ability to optimize processes and keep stakeholders satisfied.
Even though called "soft skills", they usually turn out to be harder to master than the "hard skills". That's because soft skills are not quantifiable. They can include leadership, team and time management, communication, negotiation, problem-solving skills, etc. Also known as "people's skills", on many occasions they are the most important set of skills that every project manager should possess. That's because they have a central part in the team's motivation which has a major contribution to the success of any project. Even though it's hard for those skills to be taught, project managers can participate in dedicated training by psychologists to continuously improve how they lead or communicate with their teams.
Product Marketing Manager
Nick is a strategic thinker, passionate about marketing, sales enablement, project management and productivity. An avid sports and Star Wars fan, he spends most of his free time in the gym or the playing field.