Essential Project Manager Skills You Need

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Project Management Skills Required

I knew I wanted to be a project manager but I knew that I didn’t have the required project manager skills and couldn’t quite do the job just then.

After being a project coordinator on a very large project for 2 years then I had built up a lot of knowledge about project management.

But I knew there were gaps in what I knew and could do.

So, to get the role I was after then I worked out what essential project management skills were required and what I needed to do to get a project management job.

Now that I’ve been a project manager for well over 10 years then I wanted to share this with you so that you can see what steps you can take right now to get you closer to a job as a project manager.

Difference Between Skills & Characteristics

I’m going to distinguish between what I am calling the characteristics of a good project manager and what I call the essential project management skills.

Behaviours in both lists are what a good project manager needs to display. The difference is that, apart from the odd tip and bit of advice, the project manager can immediately display the behaviours in the ‘characteristic’ list.

Since the purpose of this article is to show where to focus your efforts then I wanted to have a separate list of the key skills.

Unlike the list of ‘characteristics’ then these skills all require time, effort and education to see an improvement.

project manager skills

Characteristics of a Good Project Manager

Leadership

It is likely that the project manager has little to no formal authority as most organisations complete projects with a matrix org structure.

Despite this fact, nearly everyone is going to look to the project manager whenever they are talking about what happens next. Projects are all about uncertainty, people don’t like uncertainty and everyone is looking for someone that can provide them with some assurance.

A project manager needs to take charge and take action to keep everything moving. Whenever they have a plan then they need to tell everyone.

When they don’t have a plan they need to say that they don’t know and quickly follow up with their plan to make a plan.

Without role modelling leadership then the project manager will quickly lose the support or confidence of their project team and sponsor.

Advocacy

Once a project is given the ok to start then it is let loose into the organisation to compete against all the other organisational initiatives to compete for resources.

A lot of people the project manager will come into contact with will know little to nothing about their project.

To make sure the project gets what it needs then the project manager needs to go out and be the champion for their project. People need to be told, and then reminded, as to why the project is necessary and the priority it has been given by the sponsor.

Expectation Management

The project manager can only be effective if people trust them.

So they need to ensure that they are as good as their word.

Setting the right expectations with project stakeholders and the project team is the key to making that happen.

They also need to check, and then re-check, that those same people have the same expectation.

Empathy

The project manager needs to understand what drives the project stakeholders.

This will be to influence them and to identify any unspoken requirements.

So they need to be able to put themselves in their shoes.

For the project team then the project manager needs to be able to spot any unspoken issues that haven’t been vocalised.

They also need to take care of their team.

Therefore the project manager needs to possess a lot of empathy.

Time Management

More than a using a bunch of techniques. The project manager needs to have an approach focused on time management.

They need to have their own life organised with the right priorities.

They need to be a role model to the project team for good personal time management.

Then they should always have in mind a view of the project activities in terms of when is everything happening, what are the priorities and what are the risks to these time frames.

Project Management Skills Definition

Communication

Defined as the means of exchanging information.

This is the essential project management skill.

The project manager needs to be able to communicate with individuals and groups; in person and across geographic distances; as well as with people of various interest in the project.

Recommended steps to improve in this skill are:

  • Improve public speaking skills by joining an organisation like Toatsmasters
  • Collate and produce the Steering Committee pack. Use the opportunity to observe how the stakeholders react to the material in the pack and the way it is presented.
  • Improve writing ability by taking a Business Writing course.
  • Facilitate Requirement Gathering workshops.
  • Take part in the interview process for new staff.
  • Ask for a junior staff member to be allocated for you to coach.
  • Ask to run some team meetings. You don’t need specific knowledge of the meeting topic, your role is to progress through the agenda and keep the meeting on track.

Persuasion & Negotiation

Agreement from the appropriate stakeholders is required for any project to progress.

Also, as resources are limited, some people or groups will need to be persuaded to assist the project. In some cases, this could be as a compromise to other projects or initiatives.

So the project manager needs to be skilled at persuasion and negotiation.

Recommended steps to improve in this skill are:

  • Practice haggling for some small item each week at the markets.
  • Practice selling some small item each week either at the markets or at an online store i.e. eBay

Project Management Technical

This is the set of techniques that specifically belong to the project management profession.

A project manager is expected to know how to do any of these and gaining a relevant certificate such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) confirms that they have the required knowledge in this area.

Gaining certification in project management is the most comprehensive way to gain the required skills in this area but individual skills can be improved upon.

Recommended steps to improve in this skill are:

  • Gain a project management certification.
  • Master a project management scheduling tool e.g. MS Project.
  • Be responsible for gathering and collating project team estimates. This is extra valuable if the estimates are for Change Requests.
  • Be responsible for updating the Project Cost register with the latest ‘actuals’ so the Project Manager can track the project finances.

project manager skills

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