The Soft, the Hard, and the Technical: 15 Project Management Skills You Need to Succeed
In an era where project complexity is on the rise, virtual teams are common, and stakeholders demand agility and efficiency, project managers must equip themselves with the right skills to navigate these ever-evolving challenges.
Whether you’re an aspiring project manager embarking on this rewarding career path or a seasoned professional aiming to enhance your capabilities, our blog provides actionable advice to help you excel in your role. We even spoke to Megan Nelson, a project manager at an LTL transportation provider, to get some insider information for you. Read on as we dive into the skills you need to become a high impact, successful project manager.
5 Soft Skills Essential For Project Managers
Also known as people skills or interpersonal skills, soft skills allow you to facilitate effective collaboration and interaction with others in a professional setting. Here are the top five soft skills you need to be a successful project manager.
Being highly organized is a crucial soft skill for project managers because it enables you to effectively plan, coordinate, and manage various aspects of a project. It enhances your ability to anticipate, execute, monitor, and adapt throughout the project lifecycle, ensuring projects are completed on time, within budget, and with the desired quality.
Creating and maintaining a centralized source of truth for work and team-related information is key. Rather than juggling multiple tools, utilizing a digital organization tool like Trello, Asana, or Microsoft Project as a central hub for team activities can greatly enhance order and efficiency.
By effectively managing your team’s time, you gain a clearer understanding of your individual workload and the time required for upcoming assignments. Prioritizing tasks and focusing on higher-priority ones helps manage time efficiently, preventing important responsibilities from being overlooked or delayed.
“Effective time management is a crucial skill for a project manager. By prioritizing tasks, setting realistic deadlines, and optimizing resource allocation, you’ll maximize productivity, minimize delays, and ensure timely project completion,” noted Megan.
In order for a project to be completed, every team member involved has to contribute their unique strengths and perspectives. And, as a project manager, it’s your job to manage each unique individual. Hold team brainstorms, run one-on-one conversations, and seek feedback from team members to improve teamwork and collaboration among the project team. It’s important to encourage participation from everyone and support new ideas, making sure all team members feel valued and welcomed.
Effective communication is vital in minimizing misunderstandings and promoting smooth and enjoyable project workflows. Consistently check in—whether in person or via email or a virtual platform like Teams or Slack—with team members and stakeholders to keep everyone on the same page throughout the project’s duration. Developing strong communication skills requires being open and honest with coworkers, establishing trust, and encouraging team members to express their thoughts and ideas, even if there are disagreements.
“Managing expectations is an essential ingredient for achieving project success. It’s crucial to consider the expectations of both the decision-makers and the team members involved in executing the project,” said Megan.
Conflict is inevitable in project management, whether it involves stakeholders, budgets, or deadlines. When disputes arise, address all parties involved, ensuring each perspective is heard. Project team members—and even stakeholders—look to the project manager for guidance, support, and direction. By listening attentively and approaching conversations with patience and empathy, you can defuse potentially frustrating situations and work towards finding mutually agreeable solutions.
Deadlines and priorities will likely shift throughout the life of a project. Great project managers exhibit adaptability by pivoting and adjusting their workflow to navigate new situations. Work on cultivating self-awareness, mindfulness, and emotional management skills to effectively handle any uncertainty. If you present yourself as confident and controlled, your team will be better equipped to deal with change.
5 Hard Skills Essential For Project Managers
Unlike soft skills, hard skills are measurable qualities you bring to the table. While the aforementioned soft skills are applicable to a wide variety of work scenarios, these five hard skills are specifically relevant to project management. Developing these skills will make you a more well-rounded and efficient project manager.
Every project needs a blueprint, known as a project plan or project charter, which outlines the key elements necessary for project success. This plan typically includes:
- Goals and objectives of the project
- Metrics for measuring success
- Stakeholders and their roles
- Scope and budget
- Milestones, deliverables, and project dependencies
- Timeline and schedule
- Communication plan
The project plan provides a comprehensive overview of the upcoming work and who will be involved.
A project roadmap provides a high-level overview of the project’s key deliverables and timeline. It’s particularly useful for complex initiatives involving multiple stakeholders, as it aligns the entire project team from the beginning.
Traditionally, project roadmaps are created using Gantt chart-like software, presenting the project’s schedule as a horizontal bar chart. A Gantt chart is a great way to visually display a rough timeline, including essential milestones and dependencies. Understanding the project timeline enables effective tracking of progress and ensures timely delivery of assets.
Project Brief Writing
A project brief outlines the project’s general objectives and the proposed approach to achieve them; it serves as a guide during the planning phase.
Remember the project brief is a living document that can be adapted and updated as the project progresses and stakeholders provide input. It should include a link to the project roadmap (if applicable), a list of stakeholders and their responsibilities, relevant documentation or files, and any other high-level information necessary for the team.
Project Kickoff Meeting Hosting
As a project manager, you’re the face of the project and main point of contact. So, stakeholders will want to get to know you. Hosting a kickoff meeting is essential for aligning with the major players in the project. During this time, you can clarify project goals, scope, and share important documents like the project roadmap, project brief, or supplemental materials. Use the meeting to facilitate brainstorming, launch into Q&A sessions, and confirm variables such as budget, resources, and final deliverables.
Once the project is underway, task management is crucial for keeping every piece of the puzzle in place. Effective managers should have real-time visibility into their team’s tasks, enabling them to prioritize and execute work effectively.
Leverage task management software like Zoho or Teamwork that provides a holistic view of all activities and assignments, going beyond a simple to-do list. Such software empowers your team to work productively and efficiently, with you gaining a holistic view of all of the work happening in the project.
5 Ways To Put Your Hard Skills Into Action
Technical skills refer to your knowledge of specific tools and software used in project management. Here are five technical skills project managers should familiarize themselves with to keep projects running smoothly.
Proficiency In Project Management Software
Project management software has evolved from complex legacy tools to intuitive, all-encompassing platforms like Trello and Monday.com. However, learning and mastering the software you choose still requires time and effort. Most software providers offer written guides and helpful videos for learning the tool’s features. If you’re new to the software, consider going through a few courses per day to get up to speed.
Agile management is a lean project management methodology embraced by product, engineering, and software development teams. It focuses on continuous improvement and incremental evolution, incorporating methodologies like lean portfolio management, Scrum, and Kanban. Project managers in agile environments must coordinate team members, facilitate flexibility, adjust schedules, and maintain effective communication.
Workload management helps you gain clarity on team members’ tasks and ensure balanced work distribution. By monitoring and adjusting team members’ workloads, you can prevent burnout and optimize productivity. Effective workload management involves understanding capacity, competencies, current workloads, and allocating resources accordingly.
As you work through a project, you must consider the financial impact of each task; staying within budget is as important as meeting project deadlines. Good project managers define costs and budgets at the project’s outset, monitor spending during the project, and compare predicted costs to actual costs for future benchmarking.
Project managers often practice change management during major organizational initiatives, like the adoption of new technology. Effective change management facilitates smooth transitions and adaptation through these transitions. Again, those who work under you are looking to you for guidance. Your enthusiasm and full adoption of new processes goes a long way!
Build Your Project Management Toolkit
“In the realm of project management, hard and technical skills can be compared to valuable tools in a project manager’s toolkit,” Megan noted. “While not all aspects of a particular framework or software package will be useful or needed on every project, familiarizing yourself with tools available will provide the necessary foundation to tackle any issues that come up during the project life span.”
If you manage a project, you’re already a project manager and likely possess some of these essential project management skills. The key is to be intentional, listen to your people, and foster collaboration among team members. By doing so, you will naturally develop and refine your skills over time.
If you need help along the way, Contact 1 is on your side. When you work with us, you gain an entire team that deeply understands what it takes to be a successful project manager. And we can’t wait to share that knowledge with you.
Ready to take your project management career to new heights? Send us your resume to get started.
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