If you’re already in project management and you have a project manager’s personality, you’re always looking for ways to improve your skill set.
Project management is not as simple as checking off boxes as your team flushes down a Gantt chart. It’s not just looking at and tracking bugs, learning Agile, or finding new ways to boast about your PMP certification.
In fact, being a successful project manager requires a huge set of proficiencies that vary by industry. If you’re wondering what project management skills it takes to become a well-paid project manager, or to just break into the industry, you’re in the right place.
Whether you’re trying to find the right project management courses to beef up your efficiency, wanting to pump up your resume, just breaking into the project management field, or a recruiter at a loss for what to look for in a good project manager, these project management skills will take you where you need to go.
There’s no getting around it: if you’re uncomfortable giving and receiving criticism, bad at communicating with stakeholders, or just aren’t good about responding to email, you probably shouldn’t be a project manager. Most projects fail because of a communication error. Don’t add to the problem.
The key here is communication — not charm. Yes, you’ll need a level of charisma to inspire your team members and to explain work processes to stakeholders, but I’m talking about simply transferring information clearly from one party to another. Project management communication is comes down to being clear about goals, concise about expectations, and concrete about quantitative results.
For more information on these three “C’s” of communication, check out “How to Create a Successful Project Management Communication Plan.”
If you have a messy desk or don’t always clean your dishes right after use, that’s not a big deal. If you forget where you stored essential project information, that’s a problem.
Project managers need to be organized people. Because projects have a clear start and end date, it’s tempting to dispose of all project-related activities upon completion. However, any seasoned project manager knows that what worked for one project might work for another; there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel every time a task comes up.
On a more granular level, project managers often have to juggle different reports, deadlines, tasks, meetings, risks, and QA issues all in one day. Organizational skills are an absolute must to keep any project manager on top of their daily task lists.
One incredibly common way that project managers deal with organizational issues is with project management software (the most popular software options include Microsoft Project, Atlassian, Podio, Wrike, and Basecamp). Project managers often use these programs to stay apprised of all projects at hand, generate reports, communicate with their peers and clients, manage tickets, create Gantt charts, and even to produce hourly billing statements.
Negotiations aren’t reserved solely for the beginning of a new project. According to the Association for Project Management, “Formal negotiations are typically with providers on such issues as agreeing contracts. Informal negotiations include discussions to resolve conflict, or discussions to obtain internal resources.” In other words, if you work with people and have a decision-making role, you’re going to need to know how to negotiate.
There are four keys to being a great negotiator:
- Be respectful. Getting hot-headed or dismissing coworkers’ opinions is only going to take a toll on morale. Always be clear and considerate when dealing with your team.
- Abandon the “winner take all” mentality. In a negotiation, meeting everyone’s interests is more valuable than winning.
- Establish an atmosphere for candor. It’s tough to negotiate everything without knowing all the variables. That means that you should take the time to establish “rules,” like “In this meeting, we’ll figure out how to move forward with our next deployment” and “We’re not going to talk about the QA problem from Monday morning.”
- Don’t be afraid to bring in third parties. Whether you’re having trouble with a team member or struggling with a client, there’s nothing wrong with pulling in HR, the IT team lead, or another appropriate third party that can help facilitate discussion.
4. Mentorship mentality
I’ve talked a lot about servant leadership in the past, and every single point is worth repeating. I wrote,
What comes first, the business or the team? Without the business, the team doesn’t exist. But without the team, the business is not viable. Your service should be equally distributed to both. That means that sometimes, the team must come before the short-term interests of the company, or vice-versa. Too often, project managers believe that they only serve the bottom line. What they don’t realize is that the bottom line is often facilitated by long-term investment in the supporting players.
Balance supporting your team with supporting the company. If a team member makes a mistake, first look into what you can do to help them succeed. If their failure is a result of a systemic issue, it’s your job to step forward and advocate for them. Take on the responsibility for your team’s growth, and your job as a project manager will become much easier.
5. Tech skills
Even if you’re not working in an IT department, there’s no avoiding the need for technical prowess to navigate today’s business world. If you are managing a tech team, the need for a technical background grows much higher.
CIO spells it out when they reference Bob Herman, the owner of Tropolis Group. He says, “a great project manager needs to have enough technical knowledge about areas of the project to be able to assign themselves to some of the tasks.” He adds, “Assigning yourself to some of the project tasks and successfully completing those tasks on time helps you earn the respect you need to successfully manage the project team.”
Knowing the extent of what you’re asking your team to do, and the technicalities involved, will inevitably make you a great project manager. You wouldn’t be a Scrum Master without learning Scrum; you shouldn’t be a project manager without learning exactly what you’re managing.
I’m sure that there are plenty more project management skills that are imperative for success. What did I miss? What would you add? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.