8 Key Skills Every Project Manager Should Have

Team working together

Project management is not an easy job. In fact, it’s arguably not a job at all; rather, its several different roles combined into one, requiring a multitude of professional skills and competencies in order to ensure the successful delivery of a project.

Naturally, this means that it’s necessary to have many strings on your bow, with every member of your team expecting you to understand their own concerns and capabilities – all while juggling a whole host of external factors such as cost and time constraints. Therefore, it’s important to be prepared.

For those with their sights set on a project management role, we’ve compiled a list of the essential attributes you will need to see you through each stage of the process. Read on to see if you have what it takes…

1. Leadership

Although it may seem blinding obvious, an effective project manager needs to be a strong leader; this also means being able to differentiate between the two.

Devising schedules, understanding contract nuances and delegating tasks are all textbook management tasks that can be taught and developed, but motivating team members to push on against deadlines when it’s well past 5 o’clock requires something else: leadership.

Project management isn’t just about the allocation and organisation of quantifiable resources; it is also about building relationships with people and understanding how to get the best out of them. Sure, you’re responsible for seeing a project through to completion, but the only way you’ll achieve that is by leading your team.

2. Communication

Being able to communicate efficiently is a vital soft skill for any employee, but none more so than a project manager. Your entire operation will live or die on your ability to convey instructions clearly to your team, as well as your capacity for listening to the issues that they may be having.

You’ll also need to communicate with everyone else associated with the project, such as vendors, contractors, stakeholders and, of course, clients. This may require adapting your style or approach as necessary, so focus on knowing how to cultivate those relationships.

Make sure you utilise the various communication tools available to you as well; there are numerous project management software systems designed to make your life easier. From start to finish, a project is a continual cycle of instruction, delegation and feedback, so whether it’s through cloud-based collaboration or one-to-one meetings, make sure it’s effective.

3. Negotiation

Negotiating isn’t just about haggling with vendors to get a better price or with clients/senior management to get an extension on a particular deadline; negotiation is also about managing conflicts when and as they arise, often between two parties that are both equally vital to the project’s success.

Keeping everybody happy simultaneously requires a lot of tact and diplomacy, especially when things start to get political. Being able to bring about compromise and establishing a middle ground is a valuable skill in itself, and comes back to that ability to build and maintain relationships with people.

Knowing how to strike a balance between the advancement of the project and the needs of everybody involved is a certain earmark of a good project manager; knowing how to do it so that everybody feels like they’ve won is the sign of a great one.

4. Risk Management

Risk management is another delicate balancing act that will come under your remit, especially when something inevitably goes wrong and senior management put you in their gunsights. Preparing for these eventualities is an important part of project management, as well as identifying practical solutions should the worst happen.

In reality, though, the secret to effective risk management is essentially experience. Unless it’s your first rodeo, chances are you will have seen it all before and can spot where potential problems may occur; unfortunately, there is no way to mitigate this other than simply learning on the job.

Which illustrates the key point: risk management is about being flexible and adapting quickly to any shift in circumstances. You can put countless warnings and plans in place, but you will always be suspect to unforeseen factors, regardless of whether it’s your first project or if it’s your 20th. Utilise your existing knowledge, but always be ready to adjust

5. Organisation

When you’re responsible for a wide array of monetary, technical and human-based resources, being able to arrange them accordingly – and keep track of them all – is hugely important. Therefore, organisational skills are key.

As an overseer, you don’t need to be on top of every minute detail – nobody wants to be micromanaged, after all – but you do need to know that each resource is being used effectively at all times in order to maximise output. Workers will always respond when they are given defined roles with a clear end goal.

Organisation also applies to yourself, too. If you can’t manage your own schedule effectively, then there’s no hope for the rest of the team. Know where you should be and when, as well as understand where you are likely to be needed.

6. Business Acumen

Project management involves taking responsibility for a lot of things; for the majority of the stakeholders, the most important of these will undoubtedly be the budget.

Unless you’re lucky enough to be given carte blanche by the organisation you’re working for, this is where you are going to need to make tough decisions. Unlike people, money isn’t flexible – knowing where to prioritise and allocate your funding requires a strong sense of business know-how, as you’re likely going to require every single penny.

The key is to stay on top of the project’s finances and weigh every decision against the fiscal implications. You may not enjoy tapping into your inner Scrooge every time your team asks for an extra resource, but if you don’t, then the project costs – and the sponsor’s faith in your ability – will evaporate.

7. Subject Matter Expertise

Although the majority of the skills on this list are transferable, it’s also an undeniable truth that project management is very difficult unless you have a knowledge and an awareness of the business and industry that you are in, especially the more technical work that your team does.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to know every single nuance. But understanding the platforms and the systems that they use will give you a much better idea of what can and can’t be achieved, as well as allow you to communicate more effectively not just with the team but also with clients and stakeholders.

The important thing is to learn. If you try to stumble through a project with no real idea of what your own team’s capabilities are, then you’re unlikely to be successful. During the initiation and planning stages, if you’re presented with areas that are unfamiliar to you, take the time to research and understand as much as you can. The more you know, the more your team and your clients will appreciate you.

8. Patience

As a project manager, patience is indeed a virtue. You will be at the constant mercy of Murphy’s Law, whereby if something can go wrong, then it most certainly will. Being able to take a deep breath and a step back to reassess the situation (while resisting the urge to throw your laptop out of the window and immigrate to Fiji) will undoubtedly serve you well.

On a similar theme, a good sense of humour will also help. When your team is working to deadlines, there is always the potential for friction; humour will ease the tensions and demonstrate that you are not overawed by the process. As the leader, it is down to you to set the tone and culture of the workplace – just because you all work hard, it doesn’t mean that the environment needs to be stifling.

Of course, these are just the top examples of the wide and varied skillset a successful project manager undoubtedly needs. But they also form a very strong foundation. If you tick all these boxes, then you should seriously consider putting yourself forward for the next task that comes through your department’s door.

What other skills make a successful project manager? Let us know in the comments below…