Project management skills are required in a wide range of different roles and industries. Whether you work as a professional project manager or have been given the responsibility of leading a team to complete a task, certain skills will help you to manage the process calmly and efficiently and will also increase your chances of being asked to lead projects in the future.
The majority of project management skills are also transferable, meaning that they will benefit you in all areas of your personal and professional life. Some may come more naturally to certain people than others, but all of them can be learnt and honed as long as you put in the time and effort.
If you’re looking into the best skills needed to be a project manager, this article highlights some of the most important specific and soft project management skills.
Project management is the practice of applying skills, knowledge and existing techniques or models to a task to ensure that it is completed without wasting time or resources. It often involves choosing an individual to be a project manager, and it is their responsibility to take control of a task and the people involved, create a plan and manage progress through to completion.
Instead of just hoping that a task will get completed, project management provides a lot more structure to a task or series of tasks and helps outline progress, give measures of success and identify the next steps. It’s most commonly used in professional contexts but the principles can also be applied to personal projects.
As a project manager, one of the first things that you will need to do at the beginning of a project is conduct a risk assessment to better prepare yourself and your team for what lies ahead. In some circumstances, this may be an actual health and safety risk assessment for aspects of the project, or it could be more generally highlighting areas where you might get held up.
Risk management is a very important skill for project managers, as it allows you to put plans in place to handle and minimise any issues that may occur during a project. This means that you can avoid making easy mistakes, but also that if something does go wrong, you already have a plan in place to handle it and any disruption or setbacks will be minimal.
This may not be relevant for every situation, but budgeting is often an important skill needed for project management. Even if you are not directly in charge of where a budget is allocated, you will still be responsible for ensuring that your team does not go over budget by meticulously planning and keeping on top of what is being spent where.
Task planning is one of the essential project management skills. At the start of a project, either individually or as part of a team, you’ll need to draw up a roadmap of the entire project and then break this down into all the different tasks that need to be completed. Without this skill of seeing the bigger picture but simultaneously identifying what needs to be done in every stage, you won’t be able to effectively see a project through from beginning to end.
Whilst many professionals are experts in general project management and have studied the approach or gained qualifications in it, it can be very helpful to also have industry expertise and knowledge in whatever sector you are working in. For example, if you’re managing an app development project you will really benefit from knowing about the industry and being able to understand the technical aspects of what your team is working on.
Tracking is an important skill needed for project management, as one of the fundamental responsibilities of the role is keeping a project to its schedule, ensuring that you are meeting goals and overseeing every aspect so that nothing gets forgotten. To successfully track the progress of a project, you’ll need to have a good eye for detail, be very organised and attentive, but also keep your overall plan in mind.
As the leader of a project, you might assume that tasks like research would be given to the other members of the team. But the majority of project managers are in charge of the initial research that is needed in the ideation and planning stage of a project and may need to continue this work throughout if new insight is needed.
Being good at research is a relatively easy project management skill to learn, as you just need to be good at finding reliable sources, condensing and relaying information, and crediting the sources you use.
The technical skills needed for project management will vary slightly between industries and teams, but at the very least, most project managers are expected to be tech-savvy and competent with a range of different digital systems and software. This will be more important if you’re working on a project that requires an understanding of certain concepts or technology, but all managers need to know their way around the tech that their company uses to work efficiently and communicate with their team.
Meeting facilitation is one of the most critical features of a project management skill set, whether you’re leading a team discussion or presenting a progress update to senior members of your company. Facilitating meetings involves creating agendas, preparing resources, speaking confidently to and with other people, and ensuring that next steps are established and followed up.
As well as the above specific skills needed to be a project manager, there are also several soft skills that will really benefit you in the role.
Perhaps one of the most obvious skills of a project manager is leadership. As the head of a project team, you will be responsible for guiding and organising a team of other staff, making decisions and taking responsibility for any problems that arise or setbacks that you encounter.
A good leader also needs to be able to motivate their team members, identify areas of talent and make the most of these, and understand where additional help and support may be needed.
All good leaders need to possess competent communication skills, whether they’re using them for group discussion or during one-on-one conversations. From the start of a project right to the end, you will have to verbally communicate instructions to team members, updates to clients or senior staff, and also be able to use written communication skills in reports and presentations.
Organisation is at the top of most project management skills lists because it’s an essential part of the role. Not only are you responsible for coming up with an overall plan for the entire project, but you will also need to delegate tasks to different team members, set budgets and timelines, chase up any unfinished tasks and ensure that enough details are given in briefs so that everyone knows what they need to get done.
Leading on from organisation, time management is another important project management soft skill. Meeting deadlines and staying on track is the key to successfully completing a project, and you must be able to come up with a realistic project schedule, complete your tasks on time and ensure that every other member of your team is meeting deadlines as well.
Critical thinking is defined as the ability to objectively evaluate and analyse situations or problems, which is an essential project management skill when it comes to brainstorming initial ideas or finding solutions to problems that arise along the way. You will need to be able to take a step back from the details of your project and look at it objectively if you want to work effectively, particularly when assessing what has been done and what needs to be improved.
Similar to critical thinking, problem-solving is a skill that more generally consists of the ability to find solutions to issues or setbacks that arise. Objectivity is important here, but lateral thinking and knowing how to change your perspective on a problem to identify potential solutions that have not previously been visible is also key.
Whilst being a good project manager does require you to be in control of a project and stay focused on the task at hand, adaptability is also a useful skill to have so that you don’t get too thrown off course if something has to change. Things do sometimes go wrong and projects can occasionally have to change direction or account for unexpected additions, and the ability to take this in your stride and work around it will mean that the projects you manage will run much more smoothly.
In contrast to adaptability, being decisive is also an important soft skill for project management. Whilst some decisions will need to be made by clients or more senior managers, a lot of choices will be down to you as the project manager, and you need to be confident in your ability to make the right decisions for the rest of your team, as well as taking responsibility for what happens next.
Coaching is one of the skills of a project manager that links to leadership, but is also a separate talent that will set you apart from other professionals if you can master it.
As a project manager you are responsible for the completion of a task, but you are also responsible for the other staff working on that project under your direction. Being able to coach your team members by sharing your knowledge, giving support or guidance and also offering them opportunities to improve their skills and take on more responsibility will make you a better leader, and also mean that everyone involved gets more out of the projects you lead.
Waterfall project management is a model of project management where each section of the project is broken down into stages that flow from one to the other. It’s one of the most commonly used models when teams are working on a project, where stages are defined and each section of the project has to be completed before the whole team can move onto the next.
‘Deliverables’ is a term that is commonly used in project management to describe the service or product that is the final output or one of several outputs that come from a project being completed. It doesn’t have to be a tangible item, but it has to be something that can be sent, received, taken forward, or advances a project’s progress.
‘Milestone’ is a term used in project management to refer to points along the project process that indicate certain tasks have been completed and progress has been made. This could be a prototype getting created, a test getting completed or an idea getting signed off so that the project can move forward.
Project managers work in all kinds of businesses and industries, managing everything from small teams of a few other members of staff to entire departments in charge of delivering complex services to clients. Strong project management skills are required in all kinds of scenarios to competently manage a team, guide a project through to completion and work through setbacks or problems, and the good news is that most of these abilities are transferable, easy to learn and already a part of many people’s skill set.
If you’d like to find out more about key project management skills and how they can help improve your approach to completing tasks, we offer an ‘Introduction to Project Management’ online course that covers the process of managing a project and what methodology can be applied.