10 Project Management Skills All Project Managers Need to Master

Editorial Team

skills for project manager

So you want to be a Project Management Hero? You’ve probably already got the perfect traits to excel in the role; a clear head, excellent time management skills and bags of mettle. However, there’s more to exceptional project management than a natural ability. You need the right skills.

Whether you’re already a project management perfectionist, or you’ve just started in the game, to stay competitive your skills need to be a cut above the competition. That’s why it’s an absolute must that you’ve mastered these 10 project management skills all project managers need.

1. Leadership

All leaders are project managers. So it makes sense that all project managers need to be excellent leaders.

While some claim leaders are born, history would suggest that plenty are made. So take time to establish your leadership style and understand where it could use some work.

As the Project Manager, you are responsible for the delivery of your project and the motivation of your team. To lead well, you must inspire your team with confidence, know when to take a difficult decision and always be focused on steering your project in the right direction.

Leadership starts at home, so think about exactly what you need to achieve. Where are there obstacles? What sort of person do your team need to drive them to hit every milestone flawlessly? What would you consider to be good leadership if you weren’t the project manager?

Have a look at the professional courses on offer at your company, or even consider asking a leader you admire to be your mentor.

Advice from a leader you respect can help you rethink and importantly refine how you steer a project away from choppy waters, on into the horizon for yourself and your coworkers.

2. Time Management

As project manager, you need to hit your project milestones. More, you are responsible for the project, which often translates to the work of the whole project team. That means as project manager, you’re always under pressure to manage your time effectively.

If you spend too long on a certain aspect of the project, or neglect identifying challenges as they emerge, you won’t be able to manage your project effectively.

Take a step back and consider whether you should be concerned about your own time management skills. Write a list of everything that you are responsible for against your project milestones. This includes a whole range of objectives, whether it’s providing professional guidance to members of your team, reviewing workstreams, or meeting with the client.

Make sure you have time to take a step back and be critical about how you currently use your time. The key to good time management is being strategic.

Also, never devalue yourself. While in the middle of a project it can be easy to become demotivated, remember that your work is hugely valuable and so is your time. If you’re spending time on tasks that you shouldn’t be, discuss them with your team and see whether some of them can be delegated.

Time management isn’t about doing everything. It’s about finding the most effective solutions to deliver the project. The solutions that take up the most of your time are not always the best ways to work, or lead your project team effectively.

3. Cost Control

You’ll know already that you just can’t get away from budget management. Nine times out of ten, the success of a project hinges on whether you are able to deliver it to budget. That’s why it’s so important that you’re a cost control expert.

As a project manager you need to be sure that you can deliver projects on a tight budget. If you can’t, your project will suffer and your reputation as an effective project manager will suffer too. 

So skill up. Start understanding your company’s budget, how accounts work. Make sure you know how to actively monitor your budget.

Improving your mastery of cost control and budget management could be as little as meeting with an accountant to pursuing a professional qualification in accounting. It’s up to you, but remember that any investment in cost control will be beneficial to your career.

4. Risk Management

Every project has risks. It’s unheard of to work on a project that doesn’t. As the project manager, you need to know how to manage risks, either to avoid them, or to overcome them as they emerge.

To really engage with any project’s risks, you need the right tools at your disposal to do so. This could be anything from becoming certified as a Risk Manager to spending time in workshops concerning risk management.

Make learning about how to manage risks more effectively one of your professional objectives over the next year.

While the techniques have generally stayed the same over the years, there’s always new software and hacks that will give you the edge in risk management, so make sure you stay up to date with developments in the professional field.

When you see training that you know would be beneficial for your development, seize the opportunity for improved project management satisfaction.

5. Contract Management

Complex projects always have dependencies. Often, as project manager you will need to rely on other providers to deliver specifics for your project to be successful and meet required milestones. Part of ensuring that your partners deliver what you expect, is ensuring that your contracts with them are managed professionally.

There may be someone in your team who is responsible for reviewing contracts and supplier deliverables. While you may trust them, spending some time learning about contract management will help you understand the risks involved with third party suppliers, and the dependables associated with them.

Contract management will also help you when you are agreeing new contracts with suppliers. It could allow you to add more explicit milestones for payments into a contract, helping pay for the path to delivery, or even help you protect your project with penalty clauses.

Consider getting some extra training on contract management, to help you sign better contracts with clients and have a better grasp of your suppliers and an insurance when projects don’t go to plan.

6. Critical Thinking

As project manager, you make a lot of decisions. That’s because you’re trusted to make good ones. Your decisions will be based on your experience with projects, but they are also based on your capacity to think critically.

When you are making a big decision, get used to weighing out the pros and cons. Make lists and where possible conduct a cost benefit analysis. 

There are simple ways that you can develop your critical thinking without going on a formal course or getting a qualifications.

When making a decision, make sure you never take evidence at face value. Where possible, break down tasks to empower you to see the whole picture. Don’t be afraid to question yourself. Sometimes your team will have suggestions that you think are wrong. You need to have the capacity to evaluate your own assumptions and concede when other people had the right idea from the beginning.

Critical thinking is the difference between making good and disastrous decisions. So make sure you give yourself enough space to make good decisions all the time.

7. Communication

As a project manager, you rely on lots of other people to deliver tasks on your behalf. Hopefully, you’re already confident in your team. However, remember that for them to do their jobs effectively, they need clear instructions from you. More, they often need to have more than just instructions to motivate them to work to the best of their ability.

Work on your communication skills to make sure everyone knows what’s happening on your project, understands the background to decisions, and when project changes are happening.

There are so many tools available that will help you communicate more effectively. It could be through regular team catch-ups, effective emails, newsletters, or through online collaboration tools.

Sometimes better communication can be as simple as brushing up your writing ability, or even working on your presentation skills. Remember, you’re constantly communicating to a wide range of stakeholders in many different settings. That means that you need a range of techniques and options get your message across properly.

Consider taking some evening classes in business communication, or even practice presenting in your free time with someone you trust.

8. Task Management

Good project managers know when and to who they should delegate their work to.

Task Management is the fundamental skill of project managers everywhere. If you can’t do this, and do not focus on keeping your task management skills razor sharp, you will not succeed in project management.

However, task management does not start with delegation. It starts with how effectively you can break down and complete your own tasks. If you aren’t currently breaking down your tasks properly, start by using to do lists. You need to have effective strategies in place that keep you productive. Sometimes creativity can help you achieve this.

If you’re considering a way of completely task management more effectively, find project management tools that work for you and spend time learning how to use them effectively. 

Once you are able to effectively manage and prioritize your own tasks, you can then start coaching your team to manage their own tasks more effectively. This will help them deliver better work, and arguably help you deliver better projects.

9. Subject Expertise

As a project manager, you will bring benefit to almost any project with your project management skills. However, to effectively lead a project in a specific sector, whether you’re working in management consultancy, technology, or even aerospace, you need to understand the technical subject matter.

While it’s easy to think that the experts in your team will deliver specialist knowledge for you, don’t get too comfortable. To understand deadlines, understand why work isn’t being completed, you have to understand the basics of the sector that you’re working in.

When starting a project in a new field, take some time to learn the basics.

Get to know the technical terms, and read some material on the topic. Find a few technical manuals, read some related articles online, or even better, sit down with an expert and get them to give you an idiots guide.

Nothing inspires more confidence when talking to your stakeholders than a project manager that has taken the time to understand the specific area they are working in. More, it can save you from embarrassing moments in the board room, when discussions get technical and you find yourself unable to adequately respond.

Perhaps your a project manager in a software development team that can’t program. It’s a big time commitment, but maybe it would help if you learned one. The effort that you put in now will be rewarded in the future. Whether it’s through better written project scoping documents, or the ability to secure bigger contracts because you were able to have a proper conversation with the client.

10. Resilience

In the world of project management, sometimes the going gets tough.

Picture this: you’ve got multiple deadlines, your team aren’t performing and your short staffed. It’s a huge amount of pressure and as the person in charge, you are often held responsible by management when things go wrong.

Don’t kid yourself. Unfortunately, there will be times when you won’t be able to avoid the pressure.

That’s why it’s so important that you develop coping mechanisms and build your professional resilience. While some will say that they never let pressure get to them, science suggests that instead, we all just have different thresholds.

Part of being resilient is being able to identify when you are under pressure. That can be extremely difficult when you’re focused on other activities.

So, do yourself a favor and get onto a resilience workshop or course. Even if you’ve been on one already, it never hurts to have a refresher. Taking yourself out of an intense working environment will help you develop a different perspective on the situation and may give you new techniques to better manage your stress levels.

Project Management Mastery

Mastering project management skills is your ticket to project success.

While you may already be incredibly well trained, the world of project management changes constantly, and taking time out to train will help you become a better project manager.

Do yourself a favor and evaluate whether you need to work on any of these skills. The best project managers are always honing their skills. Make yourself one of them.