09 Apr 10 Essential Project Management Skills
Some people naturally possess project management skills. You know who you are. The innate ability to keep things in order and keep people on task is valuable in a team environment, and you can actually make a living out of it. To formally turn those strengths into a career as a project manager, identify and hone these in-demand project management skills.
What Are Project Management Skills?
You need a variety of both hard and soft skills to be a successful project manager.
The soft skills are those you can develop through any education or work experience, and they help you shape the right temperament for project management. The hard skills are those you need to learn specifically for this role, and you can learn them through formal project management training or on the job as a project manager.
You’ll also need to learn common project management techniques and tools, which you can pick up through training or work experience. We didn’t include those in the list here (but they are in the FAQs below) because the exact techniques and tools you need depend on preferences in your industry, company and team, and you have a wide variety to choose from.
Hard Skills for Project Management
Aside from learning specific project management methods and tools, these are the hard skills you can gain from formal training or on-the-job experience in project management.
1. Risk Management
The process of making conscious decisions to maximize the upsides and minimize the downsides of actions in your business is known as risk management.
As a project manager, you have to be aware of a project’s potential for profit or loss and the decisions that could lead to either. Throughout the project, you should be attuned to the stakeholders’ measures of success and how each person’s decisions and actions could contribute to—or detract from—achieving those aims.
You should understand your company’s (or the department’s) risk tolerance—do they have a budget dedicated to experimentation, or does every project need to yield a profit? With that framework, you can mediate decisions about the project’s timeline, resources and goals.
2. Cost Management
You’ll either receive a budget for a project or be tasked with presenting a cost estimate for decision makers to approve. It’s your job throughout the project to stay aware of the costs and keep the project from going over budget.
Cost in project management is one part of what’s called the “triple constraint” or the “project management triangle”—the three boundaries of cost, time and scope that define the project.
Managing cost includes balancing that constraint with the other two. You have to stay within budget while keeping the timeline on track and fulfilling but not exceeding the scope.
3. Reading and Writing
Reading comprehension and clear writing are vital skills for project managers. Strong reading and writing skills are important for just about any job, and they play a particularly prominent role in project management.
You may be tasked with reading and interpreting technical documents or legal jargon with which you have no subject matter expertise. Then you need to turn that information into briefs everyone involved with the project can follow.
4. Planning and Forecasting
One of the key roles of the project manager is creating a roadmap for the project that’ll guide all other stakeholders in their roles. Understand that different scenarios will require different project management methodologies, and you should know how to determine which is the best option for each situation.
You should have a penchant for order and organization; a quiet love for clear, measurable goals; and an understanding of tools like Gantt and PERT charts and other visual representations of project timelines and milestones.
Forecasting involves providing a prediction of project outcomes—profitability, in particular—for managers and company leadership. You have to be comfortable with data analysis so you can interpret how past projects have performed and use the information to inform the future of the current project.
Soft Skills for Project Management
You can’t learn specific processes or practices for these project management skills, but these innate strengths are important to your success in a project management role.
Though you don’t spearhead projects yourself in this role, your entire job is guiding others through a project. That requires management and leadership skills to feel comfortable doing things like facilitating meetings, holding participants accountable and enforcing constraints.
A project manager faces a particularly tough task in this role, because you have to be able to provide leadership for the project without being in a leadership or decision-making position.
Hand in hand with leadership is strong communication. You’re the point of contact for parties in a project who may have no other contact with each other, and you have to facilitate cohesive teamwork within that environment.
You should feel confident interpreting the needs of one group or department and explaining them to another.
You’ll likely also mediate conflicts among stakeholders and handle negotiations about time, cost and scope. You have to be able to understand everyone’s role and perspective while diplomatically communicating them across the project.
Project managers should be masters of written, verbal and visual communication. You’ll face instances of all three, and mastering them all lets you communicate effectively with a diverse group of project stakeholders.
7. Time Management
In addition to learning hard skills for planning, forecasting and scheduling projects, you should possess or develop a personal strength for time management.
Do you feel comfortable juggling multiple deadlines, constraints and stakeholder needs—or do you become overwhelmed when you’re faced with too many priorities at once?
Learning to calmly and consistently manage a complex timeline and help others stay on task is a vital skill for project management. So is the innate ability to foresee complications that could derail your timeline and suggest solutions to stay on track.
This is a soft skill you can learn, but project management is probably best suited for those who have a natural tendency toward organization and order.
Being at the center of multiple teams attempting to work together toward a common goal can be rewarding—and it can be frustrating.
You’re in charge of managing disparate expectations and objectives, all while mediating conflict,communicating needs and helping everyone around you work within the constraints you’re given for a project. All of these require serious patience.
You can’t help a project achieve success if you give into frustration when challenges arise or milestones aren’t met. You can’t facilitate communication and teamwork if you absorb the frustrations or resentments boiling among teams.
Your ability to remain a calm, neutral party is vital to your success as a project manager, as well as the success of a project and the success and satisfaction of the people working on it. Your patience through challenges can inspire persistence and diffuse conflicts, while your impatience or frustration could equally demoralize and exacerbate problems.
Tools and strategies for project management are constantly evolving toward better efficiency, teamwork and communication. You should enjoy and excel at learning new programs and methods quickly and encouraging others to get on board.
A measure of tech-savviness is important because much of your role is understanding and properly using project management software, as well as other tools for things such as analytics, document creation and sharing and communication.
Soft skills like adaptability and flexibility are equally important here, too. You have to exhibit a willingness to learn and adopt new technology and techniques before you can learn the hard skills to use them. A nimble mindset sets you up for success with anything new that’ll be thrown at you, regardless of your starting level of tech know-how.
Your mindset is also important for the success of the people you work with. You need their buy-in to keep communication clear and tasks on track, and you can only get that if you’re fully onboard with new tools and methods yourself.
10. Critical Thinking
Key for any management role, critical thinking will come into play daily in project management. You have to be able to make quick decisions within a set of constraints, foreseeing the potential implications for the future of a project.
Critical thinking in project management supports your ability to analyze the data and information you’re given to make decisions in the planning stage then carry that knowledge throughout the project as conditions change. It helps you make calls as needed to negotiate constraints and hold stakeholders accountable.
Article written by Dana Miranda and Adam Hardy 22nd March 22o2