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8 Hard and Soft Skills a Project Manager Should Have
If you are a project manager, or hoping to become one, you may be wondering what skills will be most important to have for you to excel in the job. The truth is that it takes a lot to be a great project manager. The best PMs have a wide range of both hard (technical and measurable) and soft (people and personality) skills.
The good news is that these skills can be learned and developed. With support, coaching, and the opportunity to try, you can become a better project manager.
In this article, we’ll define what a project manager’s role entails, review important skills needed for project management, and explain how you can know if you’re succeeding at having good project management skills.
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In most organizations, big tasks are broken up into different projects with a specific goal, deadline, and staff. A project manager is in charge of coordinating and overseeing all aspects of the project’s completion including communicating with stakeholders, managing team members, setting and adjusting deadlines, prioritizing tasks, motivating staff, planning and monitoring workflow, facilitating communication, and so on.
As you can see, the responsibilities of a project manager are many and varied, spanning a large number of different types of competencies and tasks. That being the case, successful and effective project managers must have many different skills both hard and soft in order to do their job as well as possible. Below, we’ll go over some of the most important project management skills.
- Relevant technical skills
- Prioritization and goal setting
- Project planning
- Budget management
A big part of a project manager’s job is interfacing between a client or stakeholder’s expectations and the reality of what a team can deliver. In order to get everybody on the same page agreeing on the same outcome and final product, a good product manager can negotiate everything from pricing to deadlines to the details of what the deliverable will be.
You’ll know you’re doing a good job at negotiating if you are able to obtain your desired result from each negotiation you enter into - or at least a result you are satisfied with - without creating tension or alienating the person you are negotiating with.
Relevant Technical Skills
While the exact skills we are referring to will vary from project to project, a good PM must have a solid background in the type of work their team is doing. For example, if you are managing a development team making an app, it’s incredibly helpful to have some at least basic development skills and background knowledge of your own.
Ask yourself, “Do I understand what my team is talking about in a technical meeting? Would I be able to take on one of the team’s technical tasks myself?” If so, you can feel at ease that you’re succeeding at this hard skill.
A project manager has to do a lot of communication, much of which happens in writing. Therefore, one of the key project management skills is having the ability to communicate accurately and effectively through the written word.
One of the best ways to determine if your writing skills are up to par is to ask a trusted colleague or superior to assess an example of the writing you do on the job. Is it clear, free of errors, easy to understand, and to-the-point?
In order to keep a project running smoothly, with nothing slipping through the cracks, a good project manager must be highly organized, with everything related to the project easy to find and clearly labeled.
If your team often finds themselves scrambling looking for something, losing important files or documents, or struggling to meet deadlines, it may be a sign that you need to improve your organization skills.
Prioritization and goal setting
There are a seemingly endless number of tasks that go into doing any project, but not all of them can happen at the same time. It’s on the PM to determine what is the highest priority and what can wait until later. THe PM needs to make priorities clear to team members and also connect them into tangible team goals.
Does your team always know what the most important thing to work on at any given juncture is? Are your deliverables ready on time? If not, is it because your team mistakenly spent too much time working on something less urgent? The answers to these questions will help you tell how solid your prioritization skills are.
A project manager starts at any given point A and wants to get to a different point, B, with certain goals met and outcomes achieved. How to get there is a matter of project planning, and a good PM will be able to build out a realistic, logical, effective plan to help get to point B.
If your project planning abilities are up to par, you’ll always be one step ahead, prepared for the future, and with a clear idea of what’s coming up next.
Each large project has milestones along the way, and the matter of when things have to be done by and who will be working on each task at what time all falls under the umbrella of delegating and scheduling, something that is the responsibility of the project manager.
A strong delegator will make sure that each team member always has something to work on, that the right people are working on a task, and that nobody is overworked. At the same time, the project manager has to avoid being overly-prescriptive and make sure everyone has enough information but also freedom to do their best work for the project., and that things are planned out well enough ahead of time that no last-minute adjustments need to be made.
Each project has a budget and it’s the project manager’s job to make sure that the project does not go over budget. That’s why one of the most critical PM skills is budgeting, which requires a solid understanding of math, spreadsheets, and finances.
A successful project manager knows they are doing a good job at budgeting if their projects consistently come in at or even under the projected budget.
- Conflict management
A project manager is the person who serves as the link between everybody involved on a specific project, and their ability to communicate important information to all of the relevant parties is absolutely crucial to the success of the project.
A good communicator will be able to get people on board with their vision, be able to come to a common understanding, and know the best channels for communicating any particular piece of information.
One of the most important parts of a project manager’s job is leading a team, and this is a soft skill that not everybody has. A strong leader can win over people’s trust, motivate workers, get buy-in, make good decisions, and take responsibility for the team’s successes and failures alike.
Motivating a group of people over the course of a long effort is so important a facet of leadership that it deserves its own section. Being able to motivate your team members to do their best work even when deadlines get tight and projects get tricky is a very important ability for a project manager to have.
If your team members believe in the project and do the best they can to help it succeed because they want to rather than fearing repercussions, you’re doing motivation the right way.
Inevitably, people working together will have conflict. It’s natural and not a problem, but it is something that a good PM knows how to deal with.
A successful conflict manager will know how to keep tempers in check and address problems as they arise so that the team can move forward and keep working toward their goals without hurt feelings or big blow-outs. They also know not to shy away from conflict but rather to face them head-on.
No matter how good a planner you are, there will inevitably be things along the way that don’t go to plan. An effective PM is flexible and agile, knowing how to roll with the punches and make the necessary adjustments to move forward even in the face of unexpected issues.
If you and your team can quickly pivot when given a change in deadline, project detail, or something of the sort, you’re doing this one right.
You won’t always be given every tool you need to succeed at a project, but that shouldn’t stop you. Strong project managers know how to get crafty and clever in order to solve problems.
You’ll be able to tell that you’re resourceful if instead of giving up when you come across an issue you’re unprepared to deal with, you become determined to find a solution, even if it takes a little elbow grease to do so.
A good project manager isn’t just a team leader; they’re also a part of the team. That means being cooperative, collaborative, easy to work with and talk to, and fair to others. There’s no room for ego in this job.
This one is relatively easy to tell if you’re doing right. Does your team work well together? Do they trust one another enough to tell the truth, disagree, and ask for help? If they do, it means you’re doing a good job.
One final soft skill a great PM should have is the ability to get a group of people, who you don’t necessarily have any authority over, to work toward a shared goal. Influence requires the ability to build trust, foster cooperation, and encourage people to work together. It begins with listening.
Are you doing it right? Do people respond to your messages, attend your meetings, and provide input? Do they speak up about potential obstacles and offer suggestions throughout the course of the project to the team versus spreading doubt or complaining about the project to others? If people respond when you ask for help and work with you to move forward, you’re doing a good job using influence.
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Beyond just having specific hard and soft skills, there are certain personality traits that some people have that make them well-suited for being a project manager. If this list speaks to you, project management might just be your calling.
Do you take initiative? Do you ask questions instead of waiting around for answers? Do you have a positive, can-do attitude? Do you say “yes” to a challenge? Then you may just be proactive enough to be a great PM.
A project manager is a leader, somebody who people can look to to make decisions when the way forward isn’t entirely clear. A great PM doesn’t hesitate to make a final call, even if it may not be the perfect, best choice. They know that it requires decisiveness to move forward.
Project managers can’t just live in the now. They have to be able to look forward, understand the larger context, and imagine success. Not only that, but they need to be able to get other people to buy into the vision that they have. A PM doesn’t need a huge vision, but it helps to have a clear one in order to provide clarity and direction to others.
Project managers have a certain goal and they know how to achieve it. Through a combination of intuition, wisdom, and experience, successful PMs have the strategic thinking necessary to come up with the right solutions to the problems they face.
For a project manager, giving up is not an option. This project is your responsibility and you have to be able to make it happen no matter what. This takes commitment, tenacity, and grit.
Do you have what it takes to be a great project manager? If not, can you think of ways to upskill and improve in the competencies listed above? The information and resources are out there. It’s up to you to seize them.