6 Top Skills for Project Managers

The skills you need to succeed as a project manager

Smiling businessman arranging adhesive notes on whiteboard
Smiling businessman arranging adhesive notes on whiteboard. Hero Images/Hero Images/Getty Images

So much has changed in the world of work over the past few years. I met someone on a course recently who had taken a few years off until her daughter started school. She told me how different things were after just half a decade away from work.

This got me thinking about how different the world of work is to the one I entered after graduation back in the 1990s.

We have so many working challenges today: disruptive technologies, flexible working, mobile tech, social media, changing expectations of millennials, the list of changes goes on and on.

So we all should ask ourselves: what skills does a project manager need in the modern world to stay relevant?

Here is a list of six skills I feel are vital to ensuring your project is a success against the background of all this fast moving change.

1. Leadership

This has always been an important skill for getting any project over the finish line. But in today’s busy world, having the strength of character to bring a project to completion, with all the people this involves – the stakeholders, your team, external contractors – can be a major test of your character.

You need a deep well of willpower to bring a project to a successful conclusion and you need to bring a lot of people with you. It is a fine balance between being assertive enough to see the job through without being compared to Napoleon.

Leading by example is a great way of doing this, being professional in all you do (however difficult people may be) and making sure everyone involved understands what the aims of the project are, what success looks like and what their role is in achieving this.

That leads us to…

2. Communication

There are so many ways to communicate these days, FaceTime, texts, instant messaging, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and the ever-filling email inbox. There is also face to face conversations and even the old fashioned letter in the mail.

With so many ways of keeping in touch, success in communication should be a piece of cake, right?

In the real world, success in communication actually gets harder with so many alternate channels available to us all.

Whichever method of communication we select, we need to actually get the message right. What is the most appropriate way of expressing our meaning, in the clearest way? When we know exactly what we want to say, in a way which is unambiguous, expressing it through any of these channels should be easy to achieve.

3. Organisation

From strategic planning of your project from end-to-end to picking the least disruptive two weeks to be away from it all in Thailand, organisation is a key skill for running any project successfully.

Recently I encountered a team where almost everyone had a flexible working pattern unique to themselves, with almost no time when the entire team was all at work. The project manager took this in her stride and ensured everyone did their part and strategies were in place to ensure every stage of the project would be achieved.

4. Empathy

Being able to relate to people is vital. The workforce is diverse, with multi-generational teams, as well as a wide range of cultures represented in our workplace. The ability to understand what so many different people contribute to the team is crucial for any project manager.

Understanding your people is another one of those timeless skills which project managers have always needed. The major difference here is in the past most of the teams would have been made up of young to middle aged men, being led by a middle aged to older man. This would have made empathy relatively easy to achieve.

The modern work place is so much more diverse (and the better for it) and you need to know much more about the life stages of so many types of people – which  is entirely achievable. I find the way to gain empathy is to get to know people; an old fashioned skill for a modern challenge.

5. Ability to Adapt

Everything is changing and these changes seem to be happening faster and faster. My parents are of the generation which watched the first man on the moon. I now carry a phone with more processing power than that whole ground breaking project probably used in total.

That is a massive technological and sociological change.

The ability to deal with changes in a fast moving environment is important. Any good project manager should know there are risks inherent in the world outside of our control, Being able to adapt to circumstances as they happen is key, but the ability to be objective and understand how big or small an impact a change is going to have on you and the project is going to be the difference in ensuring you adapt successfully.

6. Ignore the Clutter

There is so much going on these days, so much change, arriving so fast. But, the most important skill a project manager requires against this backdrop – and this cuts through all of the five I list above – is the ability to ignore the clutter.

There is so much vying for your attention, so many changes in the world of work, it is too easy to get lost in the latest social media or the empty office Friday afternoon caused by flexible working patterns.

The most important skill in all of this is to pay attention to the things which really matter. These are almost completely the basics of project management whether you managed the moon landing or the development of the smart phone.

What other skills do you think are essential for managing projects today?