Key Project Management Skills and How to Develop Them
Updated 8 September 2023
A good project manager will have the skills needed to successfully take a project from beginning to end. Project management skills are a combination of hard and soft skills. They directly impact your team's ability to complete a project successfully, on time and on budget.
Are you interested in project management or looking to take your career in project management to the next level? In this article, we share some key project management skills and how you can develop them.
What is a project manager?
The term “project manager” is broad. No two projects are the same and each day brings unique scenarios. So, the exact day-to-day operations of a project manager can be varied. Generally, a project manager is a person who maintains a clear path for a project to keep moving forward until successful completion.
Project managers map out comprehensive work plans. They lead and motivate people, manage stakeholder expectations and communicate project statuses. They also assess budgets, schedules, and scopes. Project management is complex, so it's often filled with ongoing challenges and surprises. Though, the variety it provides is often what draws people to it in the first place.
Key project management skills
Below we explore a few key project management skills that recruiters look upon highly and how you can develop them:
This soft skill is put to the test continuously during project management. The ability to lead a team through all stages of a project is essential. This involves setting reasonable expectations, ensuring team members are motivated, navigating conflicts and taking control of outcomes.
Good leadership consists of a multitude of skills in itself. These include, for example, rapport-building skills and the ability to influence. The ability to lead remote teams has become more relevant than ever in the last year. This is because many companies have moved to a "work from home" model as a result of COVID-19.
How to develop your leadership skills:
A good starting point is to understand your leadership style. Identify what your leadership tendencies are. Doing this can help you determine your strengths and where there is room for improvement. Working on your written and verbal communication can also help develop these skills. Experience is key. So, take on responsibilities wherever you can. It can be helpful to get involved in leadership roles outside of work. These may include sporting clubs and charitable organisations, for example.
One of our finest traits as human beings is our ability to adapt. Fine-tuning your adaptability skills can go a long way in a project management career. It's one of the key project management skills that allow a project manager to lead their (whole) team in the right direction successfully.
Having adaptability skills means you can easily adjust to evolving technology, trends, businesses and demographics.
How to develop your adaptability skills:
It can be helpful to gain a deep understanding of business and work ethics. Focus on being open-minded and embracing learning.
As a project manager, it's essential to have polished communication skills. They are necessary to understand and be understood by those you work with. Great communication skills form the basis of relationships. So, a project manager's ability to communicate affects the client, stakeholders and the project team.
Project management involves a lot of communication, in a variety of forms. A project manager needs to share the right information with the right people through the right channels at the right time.
How to develop your communication skills:
Every verbal or written interaction you have can play a role in developing your communication skills. The more you communicate, the better your ability to communicate effectively can become. Attending events, networking, meeting new people and reading are all ways to develop your communication skills.
Project management can bring together groups of people, often with differing opinions and competing interests. The project team must be on the same page for project goals to be accomplished. A successful project manager needs to be diplomatic and also a sound negotiator. To reach agreements on budgets, timelines and resource allocation, discussions need to be handled with tact. Diplomacy means resolving conflict and negotiating, all while maintaining positive workplace relationships.
How to develop your diplomacy skills:
There are many books on diplomacy that provide theoretical and practical development. Interacting with people from different backgrounds can help you identify strengths, and weaknesses. It can also give you an understanding of the pressures others may face in the workplace. This can help you negotiate and promote collaboration for the successful running of a project.
Time management is one of the key project management skills. This extends beyond managing your own time. It involves determining and communicating how your team spends their time too. No project is without deadlines. And usually, many tasks are needing to be accomplished in a short time. Effective time management is being able to create timelines and maintain them throughout the lifecycle of a project.
How to develop your time management skills:
You need to understand where you spend your time to be able to develop your time management skills. Once you know where you spend your time, identify if those areas are your priorities. Prioritisation is one of the critical project management skills to have. Eisenhower's prioritisation matrix mapping can be useful in helping you develop these skills.
During a project, risks are inevitable, though not always obvious. Having the ability to assess for risks and then put an effective risk mitigation plan in place is important for a project manager. Risk management involves identifying risks early in the project. This is essential to be able to prevent threats to the success of the project. To be efficient in managing risks it's important to know how to use professional risk management tools. They offer a systemised approach to analysing potential risks and developing mitigation strategies.
How to develop your risk management skills:
There are many introductory courses online in risk management. They can help to identify different types of risks and develop risk management plans.
Project management doesn't stop at delivering a project on time. Project managers are also responsible for a project being delivered within the budget. Cost control involves managing budgetary needs throughout all phases of the project. It also creates sound mitigation strategies in place for potential financial risks. Cost control is essential to a project's profitability.
How to develop your cost control skills:
There are resources available online that can provide you with insight into basic finances and cost control. Project cost control can is rarely done manually these days. Tools and software platforms are making the process more streamlined and precise. It can be a good idea to familiarise yourself with some of the features of these tools and platforms.
Critical thinking has been described as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue to form a judgment.”. During a project, you can expect conflicting data, opposing ideas and mismatched facts. Critical thinking is essential. Critical thinking skills allow you to gather information, weigh up the negatives and positives and make an open-minded decision on what is best for the scenario at hand.
How to develop your critical thinking skills:
Developing your critical thinking skills involves relying on logic and reason rather than emotion. It can help to always try to see things from another perspective before deciding on a solution. Exercises exist to help you improve your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.
Visualisation and reporting
These two essential project management skills go hand in hand. They are crucial parts of managing any project. Visualisation skills allow you to translate overwhelming data into visuals that communicate ideas, insights, projections and results. During the lifetime of a project, a project manager gathers a large amount of information. This information needs effective distribution to managers, clients and team members through reporting. Effective reporting should contain actionable data and enhance a project's overall success.
How to develop your visualisation and reporting skills:
A good way to develop your visualisation and reporting skills is by practising. There is a collection of tutorials online that can guide you through a range of practical examples.
Project management methodologies
Project management involves choosing a method to ensure effective management throughout the project. There are many methodologies available. Some have a linear approach whereas others leave space for constant enhancement. It can be a challenge to narrow it down and pick the best match. Some methodologies have raving reviews, while others have stood the test of time. Figuring out the best approach comes down to having insight into a few frameworks and a good understanding of your organisation.
How to develop your project management methodology skills:
Each method has a range of courses and certifications available depending on your needs. Some of the most popular project management methodologies in Australia at current are Agile and Waterfall.
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