The 26 Key Project Management Skills for Success
Project managers are expected to be a jack of all trades. Managing projects requires planning, building budgets, task management, and overseeing team coordination – to name just a few responsibilities.
But with all of these responsibilities comes many different skills required for success. Between hard skills, soft skills, and technical skills, there’s a lot to keep track of.
In this blog, we’ll dissect the different types of project management skills and provide you with ways to strengthen your abilities. So without further ado, let’s get started.
Project management involves the use of knowledge, skills, and tools to finalize a sequence of activities that must be completed to achieve a set of goals or objectives. As such, you might guess that project management skills are the traits and characteristics that better enable you to guide projects from start to finish successfully.
Project managers need to have a robust set of strong skills up their sleeves, although anyone working on projects can benefit from strengthening their project management abilities. Projects vary a lot in terms of industry and objectives, but many of the skills we’ll explore in depth involve being a strong team player who’s analytical and forward-thinking.
In general, the necessary skills for successful project management can be divided into three categories, which are usually defined as the following:
- Soft skills: These skills aren’t typically learned through formal education or training, rather, they’re developed through experience. Soft skills are often called “people skills,” as they usually involve how you handle workplace relationships and communication. Ultimately, soft skills will ensure your project team feels valued and motivated during the project.
- Hard skills: This type of skill can be learned through education and training, and they’re generally more quantifiable. Hard skills often come with experience in a role. For example, someone who’s been in a manager position for several years may have stronger budgeting and monitoring skills.
- Technical skills: Technical skills are a type of hard skill that refers to specific knowledge of methods, tools, and concepts within a particular industry – in this case, project management.
The good news is, advancements in project management tools have reduced the number of technical skills you’ll need to master to be successful. For example, tools like Rodeo make technical skills like financial management easier by helping project managers understand their project’s profitability without having to worry about manual data entry.
Despite soft skills being non-technical, they’re still critical for successful projects. Here’s a look at 10 of the most important soft skills for project management. And don’t worry if you don’t already have all of these skills – many of them come with practice.
At the end of the day, project managers are team leaders. You are the person your team members turn to for guidance and support, and you should always make it known that you’re a resource for them.
And don’t forget to lead by example. If your team members see you blowing off deadlines or producing low-quality work, they’re going to do the same. On day one, put some thought into what kind of leader you want to be and hold yourself to that standard.
2. Interpersonal skills
This one goes hand-in-hand with the last one, as interpersonal skills are key to being an effective leader. This includes practicing empathy, patience, and good listening skills in your interactions with your team. Emotionally intelligent leaders are far more effective than those who are harsh and cold to their project team.
Good communication is a key deciding factor when it comes to whether a project is successful. Expectations regarding how often communication should be occurring – and how – are often left unclear by project managers, which can have detrimental effects on the project.
Your team likely has several different communication channels that they’re using regularly, including video calls, instant messaging, and email. But when it comes to communicating updates, everyone might have a different preference, which can cause some messages to get lost in the mix.
In addition to ensuring your updates and communication with your team is always clear and consistent, it’s a good idea to develop a project communication plan. This will outline how and when communication should occur and help your team strike a balance between under and overcommunicating.
4. Critical thinking
Critical thinking involves high-quality analysis and evaluation of an issue before making a judgment. All projects involve critical thinking and problem-solving to some degree. That said, there’s no right answer to thinking critically – it’s more about having the right approach. Exercises like creating mind maps can help you expand your critical thinking skills.
Whether you’re working on a singular task or a project deliverable, approach your decision-making logically instead of emotionally.
Read also: 13 Ways to Boost Creativity in the Workplace
Some people are naturally very organized, while others are not. Regardless of your natural inclination, project managers need to have strong organization skills. Luckily, organization can be learned with practice.
Try to start small. If you’re prone to losing track of important emails, take some time to sort your inbox with folders. Take structured notes at every team meeting and store them on your desktop so you never lose track of them. You get the idea.
One common source of disorganization for project managers is when project information is spread out among too many apps. This could include using different platforms for time tracking, task management, and financial management. It can be hard knowing what information is stored on which platform, not to mention the time you waste by constantly switching between software.
This is why opting for an all-in-one project management software can be a timesaver for many teams. With all of your project data in one place, you have a centralized place to refer back to at all times. Storing information in one place also makes your reporting insights more accurate.
Adaptability means the ability to adjust to new conditions – in other words – the ability to pivot when your project plans change. As a team leader, you must be able to smoothly guide your team through changes when they occur.
Always expect a curve ball or two to get thrown at you during the project process. If you act as though your plans and strategies are set in stone, you’ll find yourself struggling every time something unexpected happens, hence why it’s important to know how to adapt.
7. Time management
Project managers are juggling a million and one things, and there just never seem to be enough hours in the day to get it all done. This is where your time management skills come in.
Despite there being a lot on your plate, it’s crucial that you’re able to prioritize your tasks. There are many strategies you can use to eliminate procrastination and maximize your productivity, such as through time tracking or time blocking, or trying out task batching and day theming. Following a technique can help you strengthen your time management skills, particularly if you struggle with procrastination.
Collaboration is an essential part of teamwork. Projects cannot be completed without the help of everyone on the team. As a project manager, your goal should be to foster this collaboration whenever possible.
Encourage your team members to be open and honest about their thoughts, and be sure to actively listen when they provide feedback. Taking team feedback into consideration before making large decisions can help the work environment feel more collaborative.
9. Conflict resolution
Conflict is inevitable when leading a team. In fact, some conflict is good, especially when it sparks a discussion on different ideas. But part of being a strong project leader is being able to resolve conflicts among team members while still making all parties feel supported.
If you’ve never had to settle workplace conflicts before, start by sitting down with the parties involved and making everyone feel heard. From there, develop a course of action to resolve the conflict step by step. Remember that your role is to act as a mediator.
You might be surprised to see negotiation on this list since it’s not a skill we typically think project management requires. However, there’s actually a lot of negotiation involved in agreeing on deliverables, timelines, budgets, and setting expectations.
If stakeholders want you to stick to a timeline that’s not feasible for your team, it’s important that you advocate for the timeline that will yield the best quality results rather than settling for a lower-quality outcome. If this takes negotiating and compromising with stakeholders in other areas, then so be it.
Now that we’ve covered the most important soft skills, it’s time to go over the hard skills. You might’ve gained a few of these skills in school or from prior work experience, but if not, it’s never too late to sharpen them.
You might be surprised by the amount of writing that’s required of project managers. From project proposals to reports to communicating with stakeholders, you must be able to communicate your thoughts and project updates succinctly and professionally.
Informed decision-making is at the heart of good project management, which makes research skills incredibly necessary for success. The ability to conduct research that yields valuable data or statistics can significantly boost the credibility of your client-facing deliverables and documents, such as the project proposal.
If your project involves an industry you’re unfamiliar with, you’ll need to dedicate significant time to background research. You should also be prepared to research how similar projects were previously conducted as well as investigate which project management methodology might work best.
Budgets can be tricky to oversee, as stakeholders oftentimes set the project budget and expect project managers to operate within the budget they’re given, even if it’s not large enough.
Knowing how to best allocate project budgets is certainly a skill, as prioritizing spending can be difficult. Familiarizing yourself with what a quality project budget looks like might be a good place to start.
We all know people who are big planners. They’re typically the ones who plan out every hour of a trip in great detail, leaving nothing to chance. Coincidentally, this is also a skill that’s important in project management.
5. Task management
Time is one of your most valuable project resources, and whether you manage it correctly all comes down to your task management skills. Forgetting to assign team members to work on a task can cause your project to fall behind its expected timeline.
The good news is, many project management software tools are positioned to help with task management. These tools provide a dynamic to-do list of all ongoing tasks while also allowing you to see what your team is working on at a glance. That way, as soon as a team member completes a task, you know it’s time to assign them a new one.
While project plans are necessary, nothing goes exactly as planned. That’s why monitoring is a necessary project management skill to have.
Monitoring involves tracking your project’s progress, metrics, and the status of individual tasks to ensure everything is on schedule and within budget. Should something go wrong, monitoring helps you identify issues and course-correct them as soon as possible.
7. Quality management
Picture this: You’re about to present the final deliverables to your stakeholders, only to realize that a member of your team has been producing low-quality work in need of revisions throughout the entire project. You’ll need to scramble to correct their shortcomings at the last minute.
This is why quality management is important. Looking over your team’s work along the way will ensure that everything is up to your standards and eliminate last-minute fixes. Plus, anyone can complete a project, but you won’t impress your clients or stakeholders if your deliverables are poor quality.
8. Industry expertise
This is by no means the most important skill to have on this list, but having some industry expertise can make it much easier to manage projects in that field.
There are many ways to acquire this sort of knowledge – you can read trade journals or follow thought leaders in the space. Regardless of how you go about it, you should try to familiarize yourself with the industry norms and standards that might impact your project or the feasibility of your deliverables.
The soft and hard skills we’ve already covered are certainly applicable to multiple industries and jobs. But what specific skills are necessary for success in the project management space? We’ve got you covered.
Here’s a look at 8 skills you should work on strengthening:
1. Project management software skills
Project management software solutions eliminate much of the logistical burden that project managers typically bear. Many tools are all in one, meaning you’ll find time tracking, financial management, and reporting all in one place, allowing the software to serve as a single source of truth for your projects.
Familiarity with these sorts of tools will make it easier to onboard your project team to a tool later on. Additionally, many platforms like Rodeo offer onboarding assistance and live chat support that can help ease the transition to a new tool.
2. Project management methodologies
There are thousands of project management methodologies, which makes it difficult to know which one is right for your team. That’s why knowledge of the various methodologies and the differences between them is an important skill to have.
For example, more traditional projects might require the waterfall method, whereas software development teams whose projects are subject to changes might find that the agile method works best.
3. Scope management
Project managers are all too familiar with the concept of scope creep, which is when stakeholders change the project requirements after the project is already underway, causing negative consequences for the project’s budget, timeline, or deliverables.
Scope creep is sometimes caused by miscommunication, and other times by disagreements. This is why scope management is an important skill to have – project managers need to be able to prevent projects from diverging from initial requirements by reinforcing expectations, communicating with stakeholders, and identifying scope issues before they grow into larger problems.
4. Risk management
Risks are an unavoidable part of project management. The only thing you can do is be prepared to tackle them, should you need to.
You might be wondering what constitutes a risk in project management. This can be anything like a shipping delay that changes the availability of the resources you need, or an internal issue like a team member suddenly needing to leave the team.
Project managers are expected to be prepared for risks and overcome them – all of which fall under the term “risk management.” It’s a good idea to create a risk management plan during your project planning process so that you have a plan of action for your most-likely risks.
5. Gantt charts
Gantt charts are a popular project management tool that presents your project schedule visually as a horizontal bar chart. Every bar represents a piece of work or task, and its length represents how long each item is expected to take to complete.
Understanding Gantt charts is an incredibly useful project management skill, as they help you visualize milestones, task dependencies, and start and end dates that will prove useful if you need to rearrange your project timeline.
6. Kanban boards
Kanban boards are a visual project management strategy that is often employed by creative teams. Each column on a Kanban board represents a different stage, and as your tasks progress, they move down the board.
Using Kanban boards helps increase transparency and accountability among project team members, as anyone can see where a piece of work is up to at any given time.
7. Workload management
Workload management involves appropriately distributing work to avoid under or overworking your team. The goal of workload management is to prevent burnout, which can threaten a project’s success.
Workloads are something that project managers have to continuously monitor throughout the project, and it’s certainly something they should take into account when assigning new tasks.
Many project management software can assist with workload management, as they can help you better visualize each employee’s capacity and rearrange responsibilities as needed.
8. Cost management
Budgets are outlined at the beginning of a project, but cost management is necessary to ensure that projects remain within budget throughout the project lifecycle.
To manage costs effectively, project managers must make a list of all costs early on and consider how every single cost impacts the overall budget, and make adjustments as those costs change.
For example, if it took a graphic designer double the expected amount of time to create the campaign visuals, your cost for that activity is now 100% more than expected. Cost management involves reducing your spending in other areas to eliminate the deficit that’s been created.
You might be feeling overwhelmed now that we’ve thrown 26 different skills at you. But no worries if you haven’t mastered every skill we included. There are numerous ways to strengthen the skills you don’t yet feel strong in.
For starters, make a list of what skills are your strongest and weakest. Reflect on past projects and work experiences and consider what your shortcomings were in those situations. Self-awareness is key in laying the foundation for improvement.
Here are a few other ideas to help you develop project management skills:
Ask for feedback
Not sure what your current strengths and weaknesses are? A good way to find out is by asking your coworkers and previous or current supervisors for feedback. These insights can help you identify patterns in your work behaviors that you can improve upon.
Read project management blogs, articles, and guides
There are thousands of project management blogs, guides, and other articles out there, all of which are excellent resources for people looking to grow their technical skills or break into the field. Plus, you’re already well on your way, as you’re reading a project management blog right now.
Take a course
Despite the vast amount of information online about project management, it can still be a lot to take in. If you’re looking to learn everything there is to know about industry standard methodologies and strategies very quickly, consider taking a certification course. The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers a variety of these courses, which can also give you a leg up when applying for project management positions.
Find a mentor
One of the best ways to overcome your weaknesses is by finding a mentor who excels in the areas you struggle with. Maybe this is a former boss whose leadership style you admired or a successful project manager in your network whose job you’d like to have one day. Regardless of who it is, soak up all the knowledge you can.
Familiarize yourself with project management tools
Especially if you’re not already working in the project management industry, familiarizing yourself with project management tools is a good way to better understand what goes into managing projects. After all, 77% of companies use project management software, and the use of such tools is linked to high-performing projects. Any experience you can get will prove beneficial.
We’re offering a 14-day free trial of Rodeo – no credit card required. Why not give it a try?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are strong project management skills. We hope we’ve left you with a big-picture understanding of the skills necessary for success in project management.
In terms of the next steps, we recommend picking one or two skills from this list to hone in on and seek out ways to improve upon them. Once you’ve mastered them, you can move on to two more skills. Eventually, you’ll master them all.
And remember: practice makes perfect. Best of luck!
Originally published on April 20, 2021, updated on Nov. 23, 2022.