According to a Project Management Institute report, 15.7 million new project management jobs will be added globally between 2010 and 2020. This makes project managers some of the most sought-after candidates of the decade.

However, even if it’s high in demand, a project manager’s job is a difficult balancing act. On any given day, project managers must juggle requirements, deadlines, budgets, plans, resources, and clients.

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What skills does one need in order to do all that successfully?

1. Communication

communication rocks

Another paper from the Project Management Institute shows that project managers spend 90% of their time communicating. This puts good communication at the top of fundamental skills list for project managers.

Good communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is essential for the success of a project. It allows project managers to establish goals, requirements, create plans, negotiate, and implement strategies. Also, clear, open communication builds a bridge between teams, stakeholders, and clients. It puts everyone on the same page and keeps them informed.

Project managers have three directions for communication: clients, stakeholders, and teams. It is a project manager’s responsibility to establish appropriate communication channels and means with each of them. With teams, that is usually emails, meetings and instant messaging. For clients and stakeholders, these might include status reports, presentations and other formal documents.

Frequency is also important. In this respect, project managers need to make sure that information is shared constantly. Additionally, frequent communication with clients can be of help when deciding budgets, next steps, and potential risks.

Effective communication takes constant work, but it is the backbone of any successful project.

2. Leadership

Project managers are, by definition, also leaders. As leaders, they’re responsible for the team and for the success of the project. It’s up to them to put forth a vision and convince team members that it’s one worth pursuing.

Leadership covers a lot of aspects. It sets the direction for the team, inspires and motivates team members to follow. It is also about providing the team with the resources they need to achieve their goals. It’s about enabling others to become better and helping them get there. It’s about being the team’s and the project’s first supporter, yet being the first one to call the team out when things don’t go as planned.

Leadership is about being open, authentic and honest. Honest about who you are and about who your team members are, what they can achieve and what they can not. As leaders, project managers take full responsibility for their team and for delivering within time and budget.

Project managers need to build consensus. It’s also about facing challenges and difficulties head-on. It’s about active listening to get to the real cause of a problem. Leadership is also about openness to change, if necessary, flexibility and adaptability to change.

Leadership is about where you want to go as a team. It’s about creating a compelling vision for the future and inspiring others to follow. That’s why leadership is another fundamental skill for project managers. It might be the hardest to master, but, as the saying goes: “If you can lead, you can deliver.”

3. Negotiation

A lot of a project manager’s job is about negotiating: deadlines, requirements, budgets, resources, project scope. And it’s not just about getting the best deal. Often, project managers run into competing interests and they’re in a competition for resources.

Negotiation here is also about managing any kind of conflicts that can come up. And an essential skill for project managers.

To move things forward, project managers need to reach a compromise that keeps everyone happy. They need to identify and understand stakeholders’ and clients’ interests in order to establish the terms that create a win-win situation for everyone.

Failing to do so can keep thing stuck, running back and forth. It can deteriorate communication and possible failure. Tact is important here, especially in discussions about budgets, resources, and allocations. It also matters to avoid damage to work relationships.

4. Time management

As project management is about delivering on time, good time management skills are a must. Project managers need to be in control of time, their own and their teams’. They need to have a good grip on how much they spend on specific activities in order to increase productivity, efficiency, effectiveness and in order to reduce wasted time.

One of the main tasks for a project manager is creating a project schedule. In order to achieve those goals, tasks need to be broken down a timeline. That’s what project managers do: set up schedules and make sure that everything is delivered on time.

Time management is also about setting priorities, which is important in scheduling and in project management. Project managers need to know how to prioritize tasks, reduce time spent on things that aren’t that important. Time management is crucial to project planning and scheduling. Consequently, time management is a key skill for project managers in 2018.

5. Risk management

Even if everything is neatly planned, project delays and detours can happen. That’s why risk management is another crucial skill for project managers.

Risk can be tricky because nothing appears as urgent at first. However, things can snowball, impacting deadlines and costs. Risk shouldn’t be treated superficially, and project managers should plan against any potential surprises.

Assessing potential risks as accurately as possible is important for staying in control. Once a risk is identified, it is important to assign a probability to it. Project managers also need to think of backup solutions and add them to the original plan. The better they manage risk, the higher the chances of delivering according to plan.

6. Subject matter expertise

While there’s an ongoing debate about this, subject matter expertise is an important skill for project managers in 2018. As they are responsible for delivery, project managers need to know about the project they are leading. They need to be in the know about technologies, platforms, and tools, what can be achieved using these and what cannot.

This knowledge is essential for negotiating project scope, accurate estimates (time, cost) and for setting milestones. It also helps project managers provide assistance if needed. Subject matter expertise is also useful for interacting with and for discussions with clients, stakeholders, and suppliers.

Subject matter knowledge can help project managers get a better grip of the project they are leading. Knowing the basics is essential, even if they don’t drill deep in all the details.

7. Team management

Besides inspiring, project managers also need to lead from an operational point of view. This puts team management on the list of essential skills for project managers.

If team leadership is about inspiring others, team management is about doing things right. It’s about taking action to transform vision into reality. To this end, project managers need to master delegating, goal setting, performance evaluations, and conflict management.

Project managers must also make sure that things run smoothly inside the team. A team is a sum of different personalities, habits, and quirks Project managers need to coordinate team members so work is completed on time and within budget. They are the ones who establish the rules and the processes that move things forward.

8. Tool mastering

Planning, coordinating and communicating can be difficult. Still, project managers have a lot of tools that can make their job easier. Besides soft skills, mastering project management tools is a must. From shared online calendars to visual resource planning software, project managers need to know how to use these tools.

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Now, back to you. Do you know other fundamental skills that project managers should master in 2018? Let us know in the comments below!

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Laura Sima

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