According to recent reports, there are currently 2.13 million full-time employees in the UK project management sector, with the profession generating £156.5 billion GVA annually, and there are an estimated 8.7 to 11 million project managers in North America. This means the competition for roles is extremely high across both locations.
Nowadays, despite the widespread use of project management software, project managers are required in all industries, with organizations that undervalue project management found to suffer 50 percent more project failures than those who invest in it. And with the demand for project managers increasing, employers will need nearly 88 million people in project management roles worldwide by 2027.
Unlike other industries, project management skills are transferable, with hard skills like scheduling, risk management, and project planning (using specific project planning tools), and soft skills like adaptability, leadership, and teamwork often gained in non-management roles.
But which skills are the most desirable for employers when they’re looking to recruit a project manager?
We analyzed Indeed job adverts for project manager positions to discover which skills were most sought after by organizations in the UK and US.
The Most Important Project Manager Skills in the US
From analyzing over 750 live job adverts in the US, we found that scheduling is the most desirable skill for project managers to have, being mentioned 719 times (96 percent of job adverts).
Scheduling is the ability to sequence the right people on your project at the right time. Project managers should keep track of who is doing what and when throughout the project timeline—through a calendar, project scheduling software, or other means.
Most Desired Skills in US "Project Manager" Ads
|Number of Ads
|Percentage of Ads
|3Rs (Reading, Writing, Arithmetic)
Communication is the second most sought after skill by employers searching for project managers. This was mentioned 564 times, meaning 75 percent of project manager adverts require candidates to be good communicators.
Having the ability to understand and be understood by people from varying backgrounds is vital, especially when working with lots of stakeholders.
Project managers need to put time and effort into devising an appropriate communication plan that works for different individuals, teams, and projects. Effective communication, or a lack of it, can impact everyone involved, from the project team themselves to the client.
The third most desirable skill is project planning, which has 278 mentions (37 percent of job adverts).
Project planning is a hard skill that requires you to architect a course that meets objectives within any known constraints. From large-scale planning such as creating meeting plans, statements of work, estimates, timelines, resource management plans (often using resource management software), and briefs, to planning out daily tasks.
For success, a project manager needs to effectively plan and be ten steps ahead to not only guarantee success, but to ensure there is time to tackle any unforeseen challenges that may arise.
Completing the top five most desirable skills found in US job adverts for project managers are organization and leadership.
Organization is a soft skill mentioned 275 times and therefore appearing in 37 percent of job ads—it’s considered by some as the defining characteristic of a great project manager. Being organized allows project managers to stay on top of everything, including their space, work, and team.
Leadership has 258 mentions (34 percent of job adverts). This soft and essential skill means candidates should be able to manage people; communicate a vision; and motivate, coach, and inspire the team to keep them in line and get the job done.
Teamwork is the seventh most sought-after skill. This may come as a surprise, but it is important to note that the project manager is overseeing an entire project and all the different teams involved within that, rather than being “on the ground” amongst them. The ability to work well with others is vital, but as this study shows, the ability to lead others is even more so.
The Most Important Project Manager Skills in the UK
From analyzing every live job advert for a project manager position in the UK (750 at the time), we found that communication is the most desirable skill in the UK. It was mentioned 468 times, meaning it appeared in 60 percent of the adverts analyzed.
Being able to adapt your communication style for different situations and people is invaluable when working in project management. This ties into adaptability being the second most desirable skill for this role type. There are 312 mentions of adaptability, with 40 percent of the UK’s project manager adverts requiring candidates to be adaptable.
Adaptability is a trait that lays the foundation for soft skills and how you execute hard skills. By being adaptable, a candidate can problem-solve and be flexible when managing a project even through difficult times.
Most Desired Skills in UK "Project Manager" Ads
|Number of Ads
|Percentage of Ads
The third most sought-after skill employers look for when hiring a project manager is scheduling, a hard skill, with 304 mentions (39 percent of job adverts).
Completing the top five most desirable skills found in UK job adverts for project managers are coaching and documentation development.
Coaching is mentioned 249 times (32 percent of job adverts). It is a skill that requires project managers to simplify complex tasks by explaining them to their team, deftly teaching them the skills that will drive them forward and encourage them to strive for success—this makes each project better than the last.
Documentation development is mentioned 222 times (28 percent of job adverts) and is the skill of recording a process so it can be accessed, checked, and repeated by others without the original team’s involvement. As a project manager, you should know how to document within limitations such as costs, a timeline using time tracking software, and scope to fulfill a contract.
Surprisingly to some, teamwork is the ninth most sought-after skill, only appearing in 24% of UK adverts for project managers. This means that overseeing a team—or several—is the key to performing well as a project manager and getting hands-on may not be the right approach.
Does the US view project management differently to the UK?
Our study highlighted some intriguing differences between how employers in the US and those in the UK recruit project managers, revealing they are looking for different skill sets.
Communication features prominently in both sets of adverts (60% of UK ads and 75% of US), and teamwork is viewed similarly in both too; it is the 7th most desired skill in the US (27% of ads) and 9th most desired in the UK (24%).
But adaptability shows significant discrepancies. This is the 2nd most sought after skill in the UK, but ranks 10th in the US, with 40% and 21% of ads requesting this skill respectively. This could suggest that UK projects are more likely to experience unforeseen issues, so project managers need to be well equipped to handle that.
It’s also interesting that organization does not feature in the top 10 most sought-after skills for UK project managers but ranks 4th in the US. Many would argue this is a key arrow in a project manager’s bow, but the data shows UK employers are prioritizing other skills like risk management.
With more and more companies offering remote working, some candidates are choosing to accept their dream role even if it’s in another country. If this is something you’re considering, make sure to research which skills hold the most value in your destination country; as our study shows, it may not be what you expect.
In October 2022, we used a scraper tool to collect data from job ads on Indeed that included “project manager” in the position name (779 UK ads [all available], and 750 US ads).
We identified the number of occurrences of each keyword within a skill group to find the total mentions for each skill group in the job ads, separated by country and skill type (hard or soft skills).
And what about those skills that tend to go unrecognized, but which play a huge role in a project manager's success? Listen to our podcast episode on this here.