The Ultimate Manual to Project Management Skills

If you’re looking to acquire the right project management skills to accelerate your career growth, this article has the answers for you.

Project management is among the world’s most sought-after professional qualifications. Project managers help organizations improve work efficiency, optimize resources, and get things done within the allocated time and budget.

But what are the necessary skills you need to become a competent project manager? What are the most valuable project management skills? And how do you acquire them?

We’ll answer all these questions in this article.

What Are Project Management Skills Anyway?

Project management skills are the interpersonal, management, and technical traits you need to become a successful project manager in any industry.

They include skills for effectively running and managing projects and refer to the various qualities you need to develop project plans, scope, timelines, resource management plans, and handling multiple project stakeholders.

Unlike other organizational roles, project management requires a blend of technical, administrative, and people management skills. You need to have command over the technical aspects of the project you’re handling and understand how to create a winning team environment where everyone plays their role and collectively moves toward the long-term organizational goals.

To most outsiders, project management is a simple role that works as a bridge between the different project stakeholders.

However, to fully understand the scope of this role, you need to consider its core responsibilities.

Here’s a list of what organizations typically expect from a Project Manager:

  • Conceive projects and prove their need
  • Create a business case for each project
  • Create high-management buy-in for crucial projects by demonstrating its connection with the long-term business goals
  • Develop project plans that outline their timelines, scope, and resource requirements
  • Gather project requirements from external/internal customers
  • Document project scope and develop a case for budget allocation
  • Choose a suitable project management approach that best fits the business needs
  • Create project plans comprised of various phases and milestones in coordination with the technical teams, business users, and other relevant stakeholders
  • Conduct project kick-off meetings, status update meetings, daily scrums, and other necessary meetups for transparent communication
  • Keep upper management in the loop on project progress
  • Facilitate the project team in resource allocation, change management, and overcoming any other operational challenges
  • Take ownership of a project’s success or failure
  • Motivate the team to exceed the management’s expectations and produce better results faster
  • Advocate the project team’s case when there’s a dispute among the stakeholders
  • Comprehensively document every project phase, publish a project close-out report, and share the critical lessons learned with the relevant stakeholders.

Those are just some of the high-level tasks and activities organizations expect their project managers to do.

As you can see, it’s not a simple job.

Project managers cannot sit in a closed office, only worrying about their own tasks. They need to carry the whole team while maintaining the necessary protocols and technical standards in project execution.

It is a multi-dimensional role that requires a blend of various interpersonal, technical, administrative, and leadership skills.

Let’s take a close look at some of those skills in the next section.

How Project Management Skills Work

We can broadly distribute project management skills into two categories: technical skills and soft skills.

Each category has multiple skills you need to become a successful project manager.

Technical Project Management Skills

Project Management Methodologies
Project management is a vast field designed for all kinds of businesses and projects. As a result, it offers various approaches and methodologies for resolving unique business challenges and managing projects in different environments.

A competent project manager needs to be well-versed in the fundamentals. Plus, they should clearly understand the relevant project management methodologies that apply to their business.

Popular project management approaches and methodologies include Waterfall, Agile, Kanban, Scrum, Scrumban, and Lean.

Conventional industries such as engineering and construction mostly use the waterfall methodology. In comparison, modern software development teams and startups often adopt the agile approach to project management.

Functional Expertise
Project managers cannot operate in isolation from their organization’s core business. They don’t always need to be functional experts but should ideally possess intermediate technical expertise.

For example, a project manager leading a PHP development project should have a basic understanding of programming and software development to understand their team’s challenges.

Project Planning
Project planning is among the most crucial jobs of a project manager. Planning includes developing estimates and benchmarks for everything across a project’s lifecycle.

It includes developing a project’s scope and timelines, breaking down projects into phases, developing the major milestones for each phase, and establishing a clear link between a project’s task execution list and its ultimate goals. Similarly, project planning also includes resource allocation, hiring needs, and scheduling.

A project manager needs to be trained in these skills and tasks to perform them confidently when the project planning starts.

Risk Management
Every project has unique risks and challenges that can potentially impact its timelines, scope, and outcomes. A project manager must develop a risk management plan that foresees the potential risks during a project’s lifecycle. Additionally, PMs should offer a risk mitigation plan that counters the potential risks, offers alternate solutions, and ensures that the project team always has a way to reach its desired goals.

Requirement Gathering
Requirement gathering is among the first and most important jobs of a project manager. It is a specialized skill that allows PMs to discover the real needs of their customers.

It is a crucial skill because customers often don’t know what they need from a project. A PM should carefully listen to the customer’s problems, draw inferences, and use their experience to identify the actual needs.

Everything in the project plan depends on the accuracy of the requirement gathering phase. This is why the customer must sign off the requirement gathering document once a PM completes the phase.

Project Documentation
A significant part of a PM’s job is to document every important detail of a project. This ensures transparency, encourages teamwork, and facilitates accountability within the project team.

But project documentation is different from regular office documents or content creation. Project documentation represents a specific set of document templates that every project manager must create for personal and team use.

This includes documents such as a project plan, scope, resource plan, change requests, sprint, scrum plans, phase and project close-outs, lessons learned, etc.

Therefore, a PM must be well-versed in creating and customizing document templates for the project team and have the discipline to ensure that every critical project update is documented.

Budgeting is a part of project planning. But we’re mentioning it separately because of its importance. Budgeting is a specialized skill that elevates project managers above their colleagues.

It’s a crucial skill that helps PMs develop financial plans and assign budgets for various project components like hiring, operations, etc.

The core idea behind budgeting is to ensure that a project starts with a realistic budget and then completes its goals within that budget. It’s a difficult job because most projects go over budget because of scope creep and last-minute changes.

This is why the budgeting phase needs to be flexible and have the necessary buffer to accommodate any changes.

Milestone Tracking and Monitoring
Once a project kicks off, a project manager must ensure that its stays on course and meets its objectives within the assigned timeline and budget.

PMs do this by developing a mechanism for continuous monitoring and tracking of all the important project milestones.

Monitoring and tracking are ongoing activities that a PM should ideally perform using a combination of technology and documentation.

Project Management Software
Project management software helps a project manager automate routine tasks, track and monitor projects more efficiently, build project plans, create various reports, and get a better overall grip on a project.

Until recently, there was a handful of project management software everyone used worldwide. However, today there are dozens of offline and cloud-based project management tools and software with unique strengths and weaknesses.

But all of them follow the fundamentals of project management.

A project manager should be able to use popular project management software and help their organization manage projects more efficiently.

Project Management Soft Skills

Presentation Skills
One of the crucial jobs of a project manager is to regularly update the higher management and other critical stakeholders on the progress of different projects through in-person presentations.

Project managers should bed comfortable with the idea of stepping up the stage and confidently presenting their team’s case to large and small audiences.

Project management is a leadership position that needs to play a guiding and mentoring role while managing projects.

Project managers should possess the will to make difficult decisions, own their team’s mistakes, and lead the project to success.

Interpersonal Communication
A large part of a project manager’s role includes communicating with their team, customers, and various stakeholders. From requirement gathering and project kick-off to daily scrums and project close-out meetings, PMs need to use multiple verbal and written communication channels to ensure smooth project execution.

Plus, other tasks such as dispute resolution and motivating team members are also a key part of a PM’s job. This is why project managers must be excellent communicators who facilitate progress and remove bottlenecks.

Time Management
Completing a project within its allocated time frame is a crucial job of a project manager. But a PM cannot achieve this unless they have excellent time management skills. From managing meetings and tasks to holding daily scrums and routine updates, PMs must ensure every activity follows its defined timeline.

Cross-Functional Collaboration
Project managers need to frequently collaborate with other functions in the organization for approvals, feedback, data, or to remove bottlenecks.

A PM needs to have the necessary communication skills and patience to professionally deal with the various functions of their company while upholding their project as the number one priority.

How to Get Started Developing Your Project Management Skills

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the most crucial project management skills, let’s see how you can develop those skills to improve your chances of succeeding in your project management career.

Step 1: Understand The Fundamentals Of Project Management

The best way to start developing project management skills is by understanding the fundamentals of project management. You can do this by reading top-rated project management books, watching the videos of the best project management practitioners, and following the top project management blogs.

PMBOK, the globally recognized project management book of knowledge, is an excellent source for understanding the core concepts of both waterfall and agile project management.

Step 2: Start With Formal Project Management Education

Once you’re familiar with the basics of project management, you can pursue professional project management certifications for beginners. The best place for project management education is the Project Management Institute (PMI).

It has several certifications for complete beginners, both in conventional and agile project management. Most beginner-level certificates do not have any strict qualification requirements. You can view each certificate and its details on the PMI website. One solid entry-level certification to check out is the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM).

Step 3: Work With An Experienced Project Manager

After gaining the initial project management knowledge, you’re ready to take the next step. Working with an experienced project manager is the most effective way of building your project management skills.

You can do this by joining a company as a project management intern or volunteering to assist a project manager in your organization.

This would allow you to experience the challenges of a project manager and help you build the necessary skills to excel in difficult situations.

Most importantly, working with an experienced PM helps you polish your soft skills as a project manager. You cannot obtain this through certifications and formal education because soft skills are often learned on the job and through experience.

Step 4: Pass The Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification

When you have a few years of project management experience under your belt, you’re ready for the golden standard in project management education – the PMP Certification.

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is globally recognized and tests your project management skills to the core.

A PMP-certified project manager is an expert in handling all kinds of projects and can lead technical teams through complex project lifecycles. This certification can help you go further in your career and set you up to manage larger teams and projects and advance up the corporate ladder.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira