Key Skills of Project Managers
Although a broad range of skills is needed to effectively manage the people, process, and technical aspects of any project, it becomes clear there is a set of key skills that each project manager should have. Although these skill categories are not necessarily exclusive of each other, let’s group them into five categories to streamline our review and discussion:
Project Management Fundamentals—The “science” part of project management, covered in this book, including office productivity suite (such as Microsoft Office, email, and so on) and project management software skills.
Business Management Skills—Those skills that would be equally valuable to an operations or line-of-business manager, such as budgeting, finance, procurement, organizational dynamics, team development, performance management, coaching, and motivation.
Technical Knowledge—The knowledge gained from experience and competence in the focal area of the project. With it, you greatly increase your effectiveness as a project manager. You have more credibility, and you can ask better questions, validate the estimates and detail plans of team members, help solve technical issues, develop better solutions, and serve more of a leadership role.
Communication Skills—Because communication is regarded as the most important project management skill by the Project Management Institute (PMI), I feel it is important to separate these out. Skills included in this category include all written communication skills (correspondence, emails, documents), oral communication skills, facilitation skills, presentation skills, and—the most valuable—active listening. Active listening can be defined as “really listening” and the ability to listen with focus, empathy, and the desire to connect with the speaker.
Leadership Skills—This category overlaps with some of the others and focuses on the attitude and mindset required for project management. However, it also includes key skills such as interpersonal and general people relationship-building skills, adaptability, flexibility, people management, degree of customer orientation, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to keep the big picture in mind.
I know, I know...after reading this, you are probably thinking either one or more of the following:
“You must be kidding! I need to be good in all those areas to manage a project?”
“Wait! I’ve been on projects before, and I’ve yet to see a project manager who could do all that.”
“Wait, you must be kidding! If anyone was excellent in all those areas, they’d be a CxO of our company.”
To help answer all these questions, please understand two important observations:
Many projects are not successful.
You do not need to get an “A” in all these categories to be successful as a project manager.
The key is that the project manager has the right mix of skills to meet the needs of the given project. In addition, a self-assessment against these skill categories enables you to leverage your strengths, compensate for your deficiencies, and focus your self-improvement program.