Project management & leadership | May 11, 2023

Project Manager 101: The 20 Essential Project Management Skills

If you’re an aspiring project manager, an existing project manager looking to develop, or a project leader, this article is for you. We’ll look at all things project management skills, including the different types, why they’re so important, and the top 20 most important skills for project managers. Let’s get into it!

project management skills

Project management is a varied and rewarding career path that’s growing worldwide. That’s backed up by the stats, with a study backed by the Project Management Institute, the PMI, showing that the world will need 25 million more project managers by 2030. That’s a lot of people, all of which need a certain set of skills! 

What are project management skills?

Put simply, project management skills are the mix of competencies, learned behaviors, and personal attributes you need to be a great project manager that consistently delivers project success.

While there are hundreds of skills you may need depending on the type of project you’re delivering, there are a core set of skills every project manager needs as a foundation (hint, we’ll cover those later on!).

As a general rule, those skills are broken down into two categories: soft skills (e.g. interpersonal and communications skills) and hard skills (e.g. technical and trained skills). Especially on the highest risk and most important projects, it’s key to have a good blend of those hard and soft skills to ensure you’re ready for any situation.

How to develop your project management skills

It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting your career as a project manager or you’re a seasoned professional, it’s important to keep improving your project management skills. When it comes to developing those skills, there are three main routes to consider:

  • Education – Given project management is such a large and varied industry, there are so many training materials online to help you learn the most important project management skills. It’s as easy as running a Google search or heading onto platforms such as Udemy to get started, with paid courses providing 1:2:1 tuition or specialist knowledge.
  • Qualifications – If you want to take your education one step further, many project professionals turn to formal qualifications to dive deeper into certain aspects of project management and gain external recognition. One of the most popular qualification routes is through the Project Management Institute, but qualifications such as Prince2, AgilePM, and MSP are also available.
  • Experience – As you develop as a project manager, practical experience and skills are the most important ways to improve and grow. Especially when it comes to soft skills, these will only improve through working on different problems, dealing with different stakeholders, and delivering different goals.

If you’re on the route to becoming a project manager, we’d suggest aiming for 70% experience, 20% education, and 10% qualifications to help you maximize your personal development.

Soft skills for project management – why are they important?

Many people will argue that the best project managers are those who master project management soft skills. 

But what do we mean when we talk about soft skills?

Soft skills are defined as thepersonal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.’

Given project management is a people-focused profession, your ability to work well with team members and stakeholder is crucial for success. Examples of core soft skills include communication, leadership, motivation, and relationship building.

Read also: The Key Leadership Skills You Need for The 21st Century Workplace

Technical skills and hard skills for project management – why are they important?

Hard skills are also essential skills for project management. 

Hard skills are defined as the specific abilities, capabilities and skill sets that an individual can possess and demonstrate in a measured way.’

In project management, these are the specific tools and techniques you need to master to run a project from start to finish. These include planning, budgeting, stakeholder management, risk management, and quality management. 

While many people use the words ‘technical skills’ and ‘hard skills’ interchangeably. But in subfields of project management, such as IT or software development, you may also need dedicated technical skills such as coding or software testing to help you effectively manage the change at hand. 

Project management skills list – The 20 skills you need to succeed as a project manager

Great, we know all about project management skills, the types, and why they’re so important to keep developing. Now it’s time to explore a list of project management skills that are the most important to guarantee your success. 

1. Communication

As a good project manager, you’ll need to communicate regularly with clients, managers, and team members. to keep your project moving. In the modern world, you’ll need to do this through many channels, including in-person meetings, phone calls, and video conferences.

Excellent communication skills help you earn your team’s trust, convey ideas, and lead your team to successful project outcomes.

2. Leadership

As the leader of your project, a key project management skill you’ll need is leadership. 

Leadership is important for many reasons. You’ll use your leadership skills to set the tone for the project, define the vision and expectations, deal with unexpected twists and turns, and resolve conflict. Leadership skills go hand-in-hand with other skills, such as communication, motivation, and problem-solving, to make you an all-around effective role model.

3. Decision making

One of the critical skills needs to be a project manager is decision-making. You’ll need to make tough calls on things line tasks management, budgets, scope, and risks to keep things moving while maintaining control. Strong decision-making will also help you set expectations, earn respect, and set clear expectations for the team. 

4. Problem-solving

When managing complexity, effective project managers need to solve problems quickly. It’s common for issues to arise, such as scheduling conflicts or delays, but a project manager’s job is to solve those problems and lead the way forward for the team. 

Problem-solving is one of the most important soft skills for project managers, and as such, we’d recommend putting it into your development plan, no matter your level of project management experience. 

5. Conflict management

When people work together in business, you must expect conflict to occur. As the central figure in a project team, you’ll need to master conflict management to keep everyone happy. 

Project managers are often the ones to facilitate and mediate a conversation, helping the team present their ideas and opinions in a constructive way, and find common ground to identify a potential solution. This helps the project move forward and deliver their objectives.

6. Motivation

The best project managers can motivate their teams to keep them operating at their most productive level. Of all the soft skills mentioned in this article, maintaining motivation can be one of the most difficult as every individual reacts and works differently. 

To do this, the best project managers alternate between providing constructive criticism, giving rewards, and celebrating milestones to keep morale high and productivity high.

7. Relationship building

Project managers are often expert networkers, building strong relationships with stakeholders, team members, and clients to create an army of project allies. 

The best way to build relationships within the team is to run team-building activities, while also taking dedicated time to learn about people’s lives, what matters to them, and how you can all work together to achieve your individual goals. 

To build great relationships, emotional intelligence and self-awareness are a must to ensure you push and pull at the right times, avoid conflicts, and create long-lasting bonds.

Read also: Personality types and soft skills for Agile workers. How to make a good Agile team?

8. Organization

Project managers are responsible for organizing the entirety of their projects. As such, they need organizational skills to see the bigger picture and manage individual tasks and actions. Organization skills also help to keep the project on track, including managing resources, timelines, and budgets.

Organization is one of the basics of project management, so if you’re new to the profession, make an investment to become organized as quickly as possible. 

9. Time management

All projects have deadlines, milestones, and goals, and managing them is a major part of the project management role. As such, you need the time management skills to keep your own time in check, as well as oversee the time management of those around you.

Project managers employ many different ‘hacks‘ to help with team time management, including scheduled meetings, timeboxing, prioritization, and to-do lists to help them focus on the right things at the right times.

10. Planning and Scheduling

Effective project planning and project scheduling, and ultimately creating a project plan, is crucial to the success of any project. Without project management planning and scheduling, there’s no way to monitor that a project is on track, assess progress vs goals, and give guarantees that objectives can be met.

There are many techniques and tools project managers can use to help with their planning, including the critical path method, PERT, and Gantt charts.

11. Budgeting and Financial Management

No projects come for free, so one of the most important skills in the entire project management field is to know how to budget and manage tour finances

While you don’t need to be a qualified accountant, you do need to understand how to cost for different resources, track expenditures, and consider concepts such as inflation, capitalization, and depreciation. While we’ll come onto it later, many project managers use a budget management tool to ensure their finances are always healthy.

12. Risk Management

Projects are inherently risky places to work, with twists and turns around every corner. To improve your project environment, the best project managers need to identify, assess, manage, and mitigate risk

This includes developing contingency plans, working with experts, and putting plans in place to mitigate events before they cause serious problems. Risks can be industry specific or general and can vary from legal to business risks to reputational risks.

13. Project Methodology

A key to project success is to determine which project management methodology to use within your project. While Agile and Waterfall are the most common high-level approaches, there are a range of project management processes, project management techniques, and project management tools to utilize. 

Both traditional project management and agile project management techniques have pros and cons, so the devil really is in the detail to select the correct one. This becomes easier over time, but it’s important to base your selection on the needs of your stakeholders, your budget available, the risks of your environment, and the level of detail available to you when you begin.

14. Technical Knowledge

As we discussed earlier on, if you’re working on specific types of projects, you may need an element of technical knowledge. This will work on a case-by-case basis to know what skills you need for your technical environment. 

This could range from simple skills, such as how to use computer systems or workplace technology, through to being able to write your own software code, test scripts, and deploy new features.

15. Quality Management

In the same way project managers track timelines and costs, they also need to ensure the project delivers to the right level of quality. Many project management methodologies include structured tools, techniques, and frameworks for managing quality that can help you ensure you deliver what your project needs.

Read also: The Complete Guide to Agile Project Management

16. Task Management

If you want to be a great project manager, you need to master the art of task management. While it’s a pretty tactical, low-level skill, it’s one of the crucial skills needed to keep your project moving. 

Many project managers manage tasks through action and to-do lists, ensuring everyone understands the tasks that are assigned to them, when they should be completed by, and the consequences if they are late or of poor quality. It’s important to ensure you manage your own tasks effectively to set a good example to the team and keep your project’s progress on track. 

17. Project management software

Ever looked at a successful project manager and wondered how they do it? Chances are they’re using project management software to make their lives 100x easier. Project management tools such as Jira, Asana, Monday.com, and ClickUp are great for keeping the team’s work in one, easy-to-access place. 

The size and scale of these tools vary from simple task management software to full enterprise-scale reporting and monitoring. Wherever you are in your project management journey, an effective project manager must master their PM tool, so take the time to learn what’s used in your business.

18. Scope management

If you don’t have a strong grasp of your project scope, there’s a good chance your project will fail. Project scope defines exactly what you’re going to do (and what you’re not going to do), and an effective project needs to deliver the project goals. 

As a project manager, your job is to manage the scope throughout, including identifying the scope, managing any changes, and ensuring the full scope is delivered at the end. Like budget or quality management, there are many frameworks out there for managing scope, so take the time to find one that works for you. 

19. Stakeholder management

The best project managers know how to get the best out of their project stakeholders. Stakeholder management is one of the essential project management skills every project management professional needs.

This all begins with stakeholder analysis, before putting a plan in place to manage each stakeholder effectively to keep them on side with your project’s objectives. 

20. Facilitation

If you want to be an effective project manager, you need to use your interpersonal skills to bring people together, brainstorm new ideas, and come up with solutions. 

One of the most important skills to use to achieve this is facilitation, be that in team meetings, one to one’s, or in a large group setting. When choosing the right project management approach, more and more project managers adopt a servant leadership style that focuses on bringing the best out of others through facilitation rather than pushing forward their own ideas. 

To Wrap Up…

Project management is one of the most exciting, rewarding, and challenging career paths out there. But, if you can master the hard, soft, and technical skills, you too can be a great project management professional. 

Our list of 20 skills is just the start of your journey, and we’d encourage you to learn project management skills throughout your career to keep growing and developing your own effectiveness. 

If you’re a CTO, Change Leader, or Transformation Director looking to bring new ideas, skills, and solutions to your business, why not check out the Inetum website? We offer services across transformation, digital, and innovation that could help you and your team move to the next level and deliver even better results. Read more about how we deliver value here.

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