Project managers play a very important role in any organization. They are responsible for moving major projects from concept to execution. Whether the project needs help getting started or simply getting dragged across the finish line, the manager is here to make it happen.
However, this places a lot of pressure on project managers, as they must have a wide range of project management skills to get the job done. What are those skills, why are they so important, and how can you acquire the project manager skills you need to succeed?
Critical Qualities of a Project Manager
Every project manager has a different leadership style. So while no two managers are completely alike, a few qualities are shared by every effective manager: leadership, communication, organization, problem-solving, and adaptability.
Leadership is important because your job is basically “applied human resources.” You need to know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and how to use that knowledge when assigning responsibilities. You also need to manage your team’s easily-bruised egos (one of the lesser-known skills of a project manager).
Communication and organization are related and essential to project manager-required skills. You need to leave your door open for questions and concerns and update everyone on new developments regularly. Regular communication can help you organize different teams and make the best use of your personnel.
The last two skills are also related: problem-solving and adaptability are skills for project managers who are in this for the long haul. Being a good problem-solver means knowing how to collaborate with your team and how to utilize technology to solve the problems in front of you best. When things unexpectedly change (like a product delivery deadline suddenly changes), you need to model adaptability and the general ability to think on your feet for the rest of your team.
Technical Project Manager Skills
Much of project management involves “soft skills” such as communication and collaboration. But there are some technical skills you will need to master to become an effective manager.
First, you’ll need to understand the major project management methodologies: Agile, Waterfall, and Scrum. You will likely need to get certified in at least one of these, but it’s also helpful to have a working knowledge of other methodologies. For example, you can’t master agile management without first understanding Scrum’s role in Agile.
Second, you’ll need to master some of the popular project management software and tools, including Jira, Asana, and Trello. Part of what makes these tools popular is that they provide a visual way of organizing tasks, which is great for any of the visual learners on your team.
Third, you will have to wear a few different hats as you oversee projects. For example, you’ll need budgeting and financial management skills to utilize your resources and complete projects under budget. It will also be up to you to anticipate risks and find ways to mitigate negative outcomes. All of this helps ensure you have the time and resources left to complete quality control, which is important since the project manager’s reputation will ride on the quality of the final, delivered product.
Soft Skills of a Project Manager
One thing project managers learn very quickly is the importance of soft skills. These are the kinds of skills project managers that can’t be taught, and you can’t get a certification in them. Nevertheless, these project manager skills often make the difference between projects succeeding or failing.
The cornerstone of your soft skills is your ability to build and collaborate with your team. Once you have the right team assembled, they need to know that you will be carefully working alongside them rather than giving orders from a distant office.
No matter how good the team is, there will eventually be internal conflict. As a good project manager, you need to be able to negotiate between workers to achieve compromise and conflict resolution. This may be difficult when bruised egos are involved.
Another soft skill that may hold sway over the entire project is your skills in time management. In the end, project management is all about math: if you know when a project is due and you know approximately how long it will take different workers to accomplish the task, you can assign responsibilities and get the job done promptly.
The final and maybe most difficult soft skill involves utilizing your emotional intelligence and empathy to build relationships with your employees and priority stakeholders. As the manager, you are the conduit that links these different groups together into a united team.
The Project Manager’s Role in the Project Life Cycle
The main reason that project managers must wear different hats is that the project grows and evolves. Thus, your exact responsibilities will change as the project moves from its planning stage to its execution, monitoring, and closing stages.
After the project is initiated, your early focus will revolve around planning. Specifically, you will have to create different plans to help complete the project on schedule. This means balancing different schedules, coordinating with upper management, and finding the optimal way to utilize the resources you have on hand.
You shift into a direct managerial role once you have the plans and optimize your resources. You must manage the various tasks you have initiated and monitor progress to ensure everything is within the projected project timeline. Make no mistake: at this juncture, the project’s timely completion should be your highest priority.
The monitoring stage runs hand-in-hand with the execution stage. In short, when—not if—you encounter problems, you need to be on hand to quickly develop workaround solutions that don’t jeopardize your ability to complete the project within the deadline.
Finally, when the project is over, the closing stage is where you review everyone’s performance and document what went well and what you and the team need to improve. Don’t forget to help your team celebrate by singling out employees who go above and beyond.
Developing Project Manager Skills
As with many jobs, you will naturally develop the skills of a project manager over time by simply practicing the skills in question daily. However, whether you are a veteran project manager or someone hoping to break into the field, you can develop more PM skills you need in a few ways.
First, make sure to jump on any professional development opportunities your employer offers. These opportunities help provide the skills you need, and by volunteering for additional project management training, you demonstrate your devotion to lifelong learning.
Second, we recommend you seek out experienced project managers who are willing to serve as your mentors. They can help you overcome many of the early hurdles you will face in your career, and having such mentors as part of your network can potentially open some job opportunities.
Third, and finally, you should focus on joining industry-specific communities and participating in workshops and conferences. We encourage you to find online communities where you can find guidance and offer your advice. We also recommend joining organizations such as the Association for Project Management and the Project Management Institute. By becoming a member and attending specific workshops, conferences, and webinars, you can take all of your management skills to the next level.
Challenges Faced by Project Managers
The responsibilities of being a project manager can be intimidating, but you should also be aware of the different challenges posed by the job that you will eventually have to deal with yourself.
For example, while you struggle with project deadlines, you may need to juggle conflicting priorities and have to make some tough calls about what to focus on first. You’ll also need to assemble diverse teams of problem-solvers, which means you’ll need to play mediator when it comes to different personalities clashing against one another.
A big part of the job is getting the job done without missing the deadline, going over budget, or sacrificing quality. But that also means you must constantly monitor against “scope creep” that threatens to delay the project.
Finally, you need to make peace with the fact that change is the only constant for a project manager. As technology evolves (especially emerging technology such as AI), the project’s needs and industry trends may shift. Ultimately, your most important skill is your ability to think on your feet and help your team adjust to changes without losing their focus.
Master Your Project Management Skills
Now you know the most important project manager skills. But do you know who can help you develop these skills and help you jumpstart your career?
The University of Massachusetts Amherst Isenberg School of Management offers online certification in project management. This interactive online post graduate program is aligned with the standards of PMI-PMP® and IASSC-Lean Six Sigma and provides essential project manager skills and training and helps you stand out from the competition. To get started, all you have to do is apply today!