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14 Project Management Skills To Succeed as a Project Manager

February 28, 2023

project management skills

Do you freeze when someone asks about your strengths and skills?

It can be hard to talk about yourself, to sell what you’re good at, and to hope a decision-maker will buy it. Can we even know what we’re best at? Or do we give an answer that reflects what we wish we were best at?

It’s why we study love languages and Enneagram tests: we’re obsessed with knowing ourselves better.

Project management is a role that requires a supremely self-aware persona. To handle stakeholder communication and keep business resources and goals on track, knowing your strengths and how to capitalize on them when working with others is important.

All businesses use some form of project management tool to help in improving organizational efficiency.  Modern businesses invest in high-performance project management software to monitor progress and productivity. These solutions are also adept at generating valuable critical paths when a project experiences unexpected changes.

Project managers require a skill set that includes both hard and soft skills. Technical skills, such as project scoping, soft skills like communication, and the ability to adapt, are vital to building experience in the role.

As with any career path, project managers with key role-specific skills and competencies in leadership and business acumen can easily find a good opportunity.

14 essential project management skills

Project managers never work in silos and are driven by cross-functional collaboration and better visibility over tasks and workflows across the company.

Whether your business uses traditional project management life cycle methodologies or advanced solutions to manage projects, the skills required by a project manager remain somewhat similar. If you want to enter the project management industry, here are some important professional and personal characteristics to develop to succeed.

Organization

Can you imagine a scatterbrained person trying to coordinate every aspect of a corporate-level project? There’s nothing wrong with scatterbrains – I, too, am part of that club. But a person should have excellent organizational skills to manage a project properly.

Project managers require organizational skills to keep their team and its tasks running smoothly. An organized individual responds to emails on time, keeps deadlines, and has checklists for everything. They are proficient in goal-setting methodologies and are accountable for ensuring project milestones are met within their deadlines.

Delegation and task management

Another aspect of project management is knowing who is best at what. In the event of a school project, this might mean asking who is the best at numbers versus who could come up with a creative project title.

In the professional world, this means knowing your employees and how to read people. Many projects fail because they were tasked to the wrong person or group simply because many leaders believe that teams should happily accept their assignments.

While this may work for them, it often fails. Employees are stuck doing jobs they don’t want to while feeling their talents are wasted. For this reason, look for or try to be the project manager who properly delegates aspects of a project by personality or talent.

Tip: Project management teams work in highly collaborative roles and require tools that help them stay on track and record progress. Check out our list of the best task management software to prioritize work and have more control over task completion.

Picking the right strategy

A good project manager knows how to choose the best strategy for your company, the project, and all those involved.

Ask the following questions before planning and implementing a company-wide project management strategy and roadmap:

  • What is a specific team good at?
  • What would they be capable of with the right guidance and leadership?
  • What are their biggest pain points and blockers that hinder project completion?

Project management methodologies shouldn’t serve as a challenge in and of itself. For example, a brand designer might find working with Gantt Charts challenging and may need a more intuitive medium to work successfully, such as easy-to-learn project management platforms.

Communication

Communication is an issue at many companies. We don’t say what we mean and are afraid of stepping on toes. Regarding project management, there’s no time for this apprehension.

Project managers wear a lot of hats, one being the head communicator. They communicate with every manager involved in the project, including every employee, those higher up at the company, and anyone external to the organization (eg., customer communication) that might be partnering with your company to accomplish this project.

For this reason, project managers have to be excellent communicators. This job isn’t for the person whose email inbox stays bogged down for days or speaks in circles, looking for what they mean. They should be a quick responder who can state the point they are trying to communicate concisely.

If something has changed, an employee has missed a due date, or the designs aren’t like the approved drafts, the project manager needs to be able to professionally communicate the situation to other employees or those in leadership.

Leadership

As a project manager, many people will look to you for answers, guidance, or solutions. Project managers should exhibit, among other things, strong leadership qualities.

By this, I mean your manager should be someone who can command attention easily. Others should respect them well at your company and by external stakeholders and participants. Project managers retain a certain level of authority over their colleagues.

Some employees are natural leaders. Others have the potential to lead after some coaching. If you have the perfect, organized communicator on your team but doubt their leadership abilities, consider putting them on as project manager with the knowledge that you’ll have to coach them through many stages.

Negotiation

While this is never the hope, projects can sometimes get rough. Maybe the price you were quoted doesn’t align with the final invoice. Maybe a graphic design team isn’t getting images back to you by the times you agreed upon.

Whatever the issue is, project managers need to be able to negotiate a solution. This characteristic is adjacent to leadership and communication skills. While they’re not identical, you often see all these features within the same person.

The following questions are a helpful guide to identifying negotiation skills in an employee:

  • How have they previously reacted in times of crisis?
  • Were they ever at risk of not getting their way, only to find a satisfying compromise for both parties?

Negotiation is challenging, and not many people want to do it. It can feel like arguing with other professionals -- but a great project manager knows how to find the middle ground between various parties or even between teams working for the same company.

Risk prediction and management

Risk analysis and management is forecasting any financial risks that might occur before they become a reality. In addition to forecasting these issues, risk management includes developing potential solutions to help avoid or minimize their impacts.

Risk management strategies are a great way to ensure you can recover from things that haven’t happened yet. By forecasting troubles and readying your company for anything, you can solve problems before they happen.

Risk management does not necessarily have to be narrowed down to financial trouble. Especially as a project manager, much of your team’s success depends on its ability to meet due dates.

One risk management strategy might be presenting each due date a week earlier than needed, ensuring the team works hard to meet it but allowing for some emergency circumstances.

 Consider the specific types of problems that might arise with your project. No two projects are identical, and neither will be the project-specific risk management strategies.

Scheduling

Scheduling is an important facet of project management, as other people rely on you to meet your deadlines. This is especially true if your team is contracted for projects. A quality project manager will ensure all clients deliver quality work on time.

The impact of proper scheduling goes beyond delegation and task management. Scheduling includes payment and billing scheduling, due date scheduling, shift scheduling, and more.

Good project managers can juggle multiple calendars with tactics like color-coding and prioritization labels.

Cost management

 Exceeding your team’s budget can not only throw off the project at hand, but affect your team and company for the rest of the fiscal year. This is why cost management and cost tracking is an essential project management skill.

Simply put, cost management refers to planning and monitoring business costs. Project managers often use project cost management software to ensure the team stays under cost while delivering a high-quality product or service.

Some costs to consider throughout a project are supplies, human resources – such as contractors or freelancers, equipment or space, and any payments that may need to be made should the job require more work than originally anticipated.

Critical thinking

If you had to take standardized tests in grade school, you remember the emphasis on being a critical thinker. It meant you could arrive at the best conclusion with the information you had. As a project manager, this skill comes in handy and is necessary.

Project managers make daily decisions, from project budgeting and stakeholder buy-in to goal alignment and workflow optimizations. Thus, it is critical (no pun intended) that a PJM be a good decision-maker. You want someone who weighs all their options and can choose the best one nine times out of ten.

Another key component of understanding project management is knowing which projects will succeed for maximum business impact. Knowing how to conduct feasibility studies can provide project managers with relevant information for project execution.

People-oriented

This skill is quite underrated and often overlooked in the business world. However, project managers must also be good people managers. It's obvious if you think about it.

Project managers deal with people on the daily. They’re a point of contact for their entire team and those involved in that project. They’re also the point of contact for external participants.

In cases of any altercations, dilemmas, or conflicts, a project manager is the go-to between different parties. Since they are responsible for ensuring people stay on track to meet goals and complete project milestones, it is vital for a project manager to be likable and a team player.

Problem-solving

This skill relates to critical thinking, which deals with an individual’s decision-making abilities. However, this particular skill refers to a manager’s reaction during a conflict.

When large groups work together, there’s the possibility of butting heads or for a disaster to strike in the form of a contract breach or going over budget. Project managers must be skilled in navigating complicated issues and comfortable in high-stakes working conditions.

Successful project managers thrive in developing complex systems such as critical chain project management methodologies.

Coaching

Unlike leadership, coaching deals with how a manager interacts with and teaches their team. Coaching is a form of helping people make the best decisions by providing them with the tools to get there.

A good project manager can raise their team by challenging its critical thinking skills, providing space for brainstorming and collaboration, and creating a goal-oriented department.

Timekeeping

We’ve all sat in a chaotic meeting room and wished we had a gavel to empower us while screaming, “Order! Order in the court!” Project managers know how to control a room without the title of honorable judge.

They’re skilled at scheduling meetings effectively, making the best use of their team’s time, and maintaining attention. They’re also skilled at ensuring the meeting stays on task and answering the necessary questions.

We’ve already discussed exceptional scheduling abilities – these come into play when discussing meeting management. When hiring or choosing a project manager, understand their experience managing and influencing meetings.

Hiring a project manager

The truth is, no person or project will ever be perfect.

When looking for a project manager, list the above features – which are the most important and valuable to you? Shortlist some of the skills mentioned above and consider those your must-haves.

If a candidate has extras, that’s great! Looking for someone who embodies everyone might limit your choices and elongate the hiring process. By choosing the ones you know you can’t do without, you can quickly gather a decent-sized group of candidates for interviewing and potential hiring.

Internal candidates

If you’re looking to choose a project manager from within your team, you probably already have a good idea of your employees’ strengths and weaknesses.

For example, you might know Janet frequently misses due dates, but turns in incredibly detailed work. Or perhaps Eleanor is organized but often fails to factor in potential emergencies.

If your team has made it difficult to choose a project manager, that’s a good problem to have. Consider sitting down with different employees at various times, discussing whether they’d be interested in the opportunity, and asking if they’d be willing to challenge themselves in certain areas to keep up with the role.

External candidates

If you’re looking to hire a project manager from a pool of external candidates, you have a slightly different challenge. It would be best to glean whether they possess these qualities in the short time you have to get to know someone during an interview.

A good way to accomplish this is by asking candidates to come prepared with visual examples or certifications they've received. In the same way, a sales candidate would provide their quarterly numbers, and ask a project manager candidate to provide some samples of their completed projects. This offers a verbal explanation of the project and allows you to see the impact they’ve had in the past.

Pave the way for project planning

Project management is an integral business function by managing several interdependencies, managing and allocating organizational resources, and enabling teams to achieve business goals seamlessly.

When hiring a project manager, focus on the skills they bring to the table, as those are the defining traits of a team that can move from indecisive to indestructible.

Project management is cross-functional in its role and processes. Learn more about project integration management and how it keeps different departments aligned on the same objectives.


This article was originally published in 2018. It has been updated with new information.

project management skills
Practice makes the project perfect

Project management software makes it easier for project managers to plan, schedule, and execute projects.

project management skills
Practice makes the project perfect

Project management software makes it easier for project managers to plan, schedule, and execute projects.

14 Project Management Skills To Succeed as a Project Manager Project managers are necessary for efficient operations in a busy or growing organization. Explore the 14 skills needed to be effective in the role. https://learn.g2.com/hubfs/G2CM_FI460_Learn_Article_Images-%5BProject_Management_Skills%5D_V1b.png
Grace Pinegar Grace Pinegar is a lifelong storyteller with an extensive background in various forms such as acting, journalism, improv, research, and content marketing. She was raised in Texas, educated in Missouri, worked in Chicago, and is now a proud New Yorker. (she/her/hers) https://learn.g2.com/hubfs/GracePUpdated.jpeg

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