You wanted a list of project management skills, and you’re going to get one.
But beyond that, I’m betting that you actually want to possess the project management skills that will launch you into a successful career.
So, simply knowing what the skills are is not enough.
You need specific examples of project management skills you can develop, a deep understanding of why they matter, and resources to help you develop them.
That’s what you’ll get in this article.
Keep reading for:
- Project Management Skills List
- Project Management Hard Skills & How To Develop Them
- Project Management Hard Skills & How To Develop Them
- Traits of Successful Project Managers
- Traits of Successful Project Managers
Project Management Skills List
Here are the skills you’ll learn about in this article so you can be an (even more) awesome project manager. They are broken down into hard skills, soft skills, and traits.
Click on any item within the project management skills list to understand what the skill is and how to develop it.
- Process Management
- Project Initiation
- Project Planning
- Documentation Development
- Task Management
- Project Control
- Risk Management
- PM Tools
- Technical skills
- Critical Thinking
- Detail orientated
- Team orientated
- Cautiously optimistic
- Strong work ethic
Project Management Hard Skills & How To Develop Them
The hard skills of project management are all about competence.
Project management hard skills speak to your practical technical ability: tools, techniques, and methodologies you can apply.
Hard skills can be equated to expert knowledge on how to operate that machine or make the thing work technically. You can do or make something. There are straightforward steps you follow, and the thing works.
If you’re new to project management, hard skills are probably the easiest things to learn.
If you are not new to PM, make sure you’re training to develop these essential project management skills before moving on to other ones.
Quick, accurate, and clear reading, writing, and arithmetic are incredibly important.
Any good project manager needs to be able to employ and activate advanced reading, writing, and math skills. Can you read a proposal and immediately comprehend the technical or legal issues present in the text? Can you write a solid project brief that any team can understand and run with? Can you verify budget and expense math, catching errors before they become a bigger problem?
The 3Rs are hard skills that are repeatedly taught to us throughout grade school and even post-secondary. However, as we become adults these skills can become dull if you don’t push yourself to use them regularly.
Reading, writing, arithmetic—it’s easy to let these skills stagnate. A formidable PM will take steps to not let this happen.
How To Develop The 3Rs
Read often—you can read anything, just to keep your skill sharp—but I’d recommend any of these books for project managers. Even just 30 minutes of reading per day goes a long way to keeping that part of your brain exercised (and can make you live longer, too).
Hone your writing. Invest in a program like Grammarly (or this Grammarly alternative), which gives you customized feedback based on your writing goals (do you want to be casual or informative?) along with typical corrections for spelling, grammar, and wordiness. You can also check out these 5 tips for better writing.
Practice basic arithmetic with apps like BBC Teach or Khan Academy. Nobody expects you to memorize advanced trigonometry equations but it’s useful to be able to memorize basic addition and subtraction as well as practice the ability to puzzle out harder multiplication and division problems.
2. Process Management
The ability to map vital and control processes within a project ecosystem.
What are your most vital company processes? For many, business processes include the likes of:
- Project launch
- Project delivery
- Reviews, reporting, and evaluations
Process management, then, is a way to catalog all of these processes, get a birds-eye-view of it all, and circulate knowledge about each item as needed.
How To Develop Process Management Skills
If you are struggling to grasp the enormity of “process management,” you are not alone. By its very nature, process management requires the balancing of a lot of spinning plates. Excelling in process management is a surefire way to stand out as a PM, as it can be quite a daunting task.
If you are looking to develop your qualifications in process management, there are plenty of process management training certifications that you can invest in. Consider night courses or a work-at-your-own-pace program so that it doesn’t interfere with your workday.
3. Project Initiation
Starting projects effectively to align on vision and approach.
Before there can be a project, someone has to take the first step—be that a pitch, a formal project initiation document, a plan, a kickoff, a discovery session, or even simply being curious enough to notice an area of the business that could use some improvement.
Why initiate a new project? An AIPM and KPMG Australian Project Management Survey from 2018 suggest that the need to refresh infrastructure, for compliance or regulatory reasons or the development of a new product are just a few of the most cited reasons.
As a project manager, initiating a project will often fall to you. Projects are the domain of the PM and so it is within your benefit to learn how to instigate them, and how to get them started on the right foot.
How To Develop Project Initiation Skills
There are multiple sub-skills involved in initiating projects well. It involves getting buy-in and alignment, setting up the project tools and documents, gathering or assigning the right resources, and communicating a project vision to the right people.
One of the hard skills you will want to focus on here is being able to present your project so that all key players are aligned and bought in.
First, teach yourself how to write a stand-out project proposal. This is a big part in getting your ideas moving. Knowing how to build out an exemplary project proposal is going to teach you the basics of project initiation, namely the ability to identify a problem and then offer a solution that you are best equipped to handle.
Next, learn how to kick off projects—how to plan for, lead, and follow up on a project kickoff meeting—so the project starts with its highest chances for success. There’s an entire workshop on mastering your project kickoffs in DPM Membership.
4. Project Planning
Architecting a course that meets objectives, within constraints.
Additionally, there is the more mundane: planning out your day, who you’re going to talk to first, and how you are going to make time to keep your status documents up to date. The extent to which you’re able to effectively plan will directly impact the project’s ability to be successful. No matter how good you are at executing, without being able to properly plan a project, the project won’t succeed.
The project management planning skill to master is planning to the extent that you’re always ten steps ahead and always know ‘what’s next’. That means not only for success but for the disasters too.
How To Develop Project Planning Skills
The thing about project planning, and “planning” as a broad concept in general, is that there is no one single way to do things. Therefore, in order to develop this skill, you are going to want to diversify your learning by consuming different materials and see what different experts have to say.
You can start with Write A Project Plan That You’re Proud Of.
To accompany the guide, there are templates and filled-in project plan samples available in DPM Membership.
Each of these resources will offer unique insights that can help you decide the best way to plan your projects. And remember: There is always an element of trial-and-error when it comes to planning. Never be afraid to fail and learn.
The ability to sequence the right people on your project at the right time.
Project scheduling means building out a calendar that indicates who is doing what, and when. It could be a work breakdown structure in Excel, a Gantt chart in your project scheduling tool of choice, a dedicated project management calendar, or any other form of project schedule. Project managers will be responsible for determining the project milestones, indicating when things need to be done and what tasks are dependent on others.
The power of good scheduling is that it determines who is representing your team at different hours, on different days, across different tasks. Being a pro-scheduler helps you avoid common scheduling pitfalls, like last-minute adjustments, staff confusion, “clopen” shifts, and out-of-hand overtime/on-call practices.
A PM will need to divide the manpower of their team to accommodate all the roles, tasks, and responsibilities. If people are needed on-site for the weekend, for example, a PM will determine who is attending to each shift.
How To Develop Scheduling Skills
According to the Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession annual global survey, organizations that employ one of the variants of project management methodology are more likely to stay on schedule.
One of the best things you can do to learn the skill of project scheduling is to study your preferred PM methodology and learn what “scheduling” means in that context.
- A Project Manager’s Guide to 42 Agile Methodologies
- 9 Of The Most Popular Project Management Methodologies Made Simple
6. Documentation Development
For costs, timeline, scope, stakeholders, and the contract.
Documentation is the process of recording your process so that it can be accessed, checked, and repeated by others. For a PM, knowing HOW to do proper documentation is only half the battle—you must also know how much is needed, to prevent excessive time and energy output.
The Manifesto for Agile Software Development states a preference for “working software over comprehensive documentation.” What does that mean? Well, documentation is needed…but don’t go overboard. A functional product is always the top priority.
So how do you learn proper documentation…and proper focus and limitations? This is a challenge every project manager must address.
How To Develop Documentation Development Skills
This is a bit of a shortcut, but you can use other people’s project documents to help you save time and use best practice without having to figure everything out the hard way. There are plenty of those templates, charts, agendas, checklists, and the like in DPM Membership.
However, if you’re totally new to project documentation you’ll be better off with training like The DPM School that can help you learn when, why, and how to fill out the most important project documents.
7. Task Management
Scheduling, monitoring, and assessing the progress and quality of tasks so work flows smoothly.
It takes a special sort of skill to navigate task management in a way that informs and guides different types of staff with different types of learning preferences. Making lists, using text editors, Kanban methodologies, spreadsheet building, team-based approaches, and even simple pen-and-paper are all forms of task management.
Excellent task management can boost productivity, reduce errors, and keep everyone up-to-date, so it’s up to the project manager to use the best task management approach for the situation.
How To Develop Task Management Skills
A lot of task management is trial-and-error. Also, having a willingness to scale to a more comprehensive solution if you are finding your current task management systems are becoming inadequate.
Therefore, you won’t want to invest too much money into learning task management. It’s a skill that is nebulous and will change day-to-day as your project needs change. Work on this skill through simple practice and accent that knowledge with free tutorials and guides to give you deeper insights.
There are plenty of free resources that you can rely on to sharpen your tasking skills, for example, Task Management Training – Getting Organized for Success.
8. Project Control
Cost, schedule, scope, and stakeholder monitoring and management.
It’s a project manager’s job to keep their project(s) from going over budget and over schedule. Almost every project will test these imposed limitations. Scope creep, unexpected bumps in the road, and other entanglements will try to push the boundaries of these time, and cost constraints.
Project control involves gleaning data and analytics from your project tracking tools and dashboards in order to predict and influence the financial and time expenditures required for a particular project. Once limitations have been confirmed, it’s a PM’s job to make sure things don’t run out of control on their way to completion.
Any PM knows that no project is ever “100% complete.” There is always more to do, more to build, more to finetune. Proper controls help to establish limitations around a project so that it doesn’t end up in developmental limbo.
How To Develop Project Control Skills
A great resource is the DPM Podcast episode, Control Your Projects Better With These Project Controls, which features Maik Stettner, development director for EA Games, talking about his personal experience with delivering on budget, hitting timelines, and other areas of project control.
9. Risk Management
Identifying, evaluating, and mitigating against project snafus.
The skill for effective risk management is really experience – it’s knowing what could go wrong. And having the humility to ask for your team’s input. You first need to identify risk and the earlier you do that, the better your chances of avoiding the risk occurrence.
Risk identification must be followed by a risk plan for what to do about them. This involves assigning a probability, a cost, an owner and using mitigation strategies that are suitable for the risk and the appetite for the client for things going wrong.
Whether you do these activities in a dedicated risk management tool or in a simple spreadsheet, the project management risk management skill to master is the ability to identify risks well before they become issues and come up with effective mitigation plans so that the risk of them ever becoming issues is nullified.
How To Develop Risk Management Skills
Personal experience aside, how can you develop your risk management skills as a PM? Well, for one thing, you can rely on other people’s experiences and learn from their mistakes (and from their successes). Gleen knowledge from the best-of-the-best and use their mistakes as lessons to fuel your own learning.
There are plenty of books on risk management, which is a safe way to hone your practical skills before testing them out in the workplace. You can start with Fundamentals of Risk Management by Paul Hopkins or Implementing Enterprise Risk Management by James Lam.
10. PM Tools
There is no “one right tool”—you need the skills to learn them all.
A project manager can only do so much with their own two hands. That’s why it’s important for them to have a toolkit of software backing them up. Unfortunately, there is a PM tool for every task, work style, team structure, and department need. And for every need, there are dozens of project management tools ready to satisfy it.
Over a quarter of survey participants from the 2018 Project Success Survey named “the use of project management tools” as a key component to project success. PM tools are not only useful for relieving an administrative workload burden but they are a critical component to success.
How To Develop Your Skills Using PM Tools
There is no one-shoe-fits-all to learn the intricacies of every PM tool in existence. Instead, you are going to want to hone in on:
- What problem you need to solve
- What tool can best do that
- How to best use that tool
And if you want to understand the types of tools at your disposal, check out some of my favorites:
A robust and popular project management platform that can be customized for almost any workflow.
Project management tool with a comprehensive free plan to test features.
Best for flexibility & customizability
Work management platform with 100+ workflow templates to help you start faster.
Project portfolio management and collaboration solution for teams of all sizes.
- Zoho Projects
Low price point pm software with a user friendly interface and mobile version of their tool.
Project management tool with mobile time tracking functionality and capable of processing invoices.
Gantt chart maker software to manage complex projects.
Project management tool with features that will keep your client work on track.
Project planning and workflow platform that helps you assign staff, track time or reschedule projects, quote and invoice your clients.
Or get a deeper look at the many project management tools listed in my overviews.
11. Technical Skills
Basic wireframing, copy, design & coding to manage more effectively.
The number of technical skills a project manager brings to the table can elevate them from average to expert in a heartbeat. Can you wireframe a product using different techniques? Do you have basic design skills? Do you read or develop code at all?
These are some of the most valuable hard skills because they are tangible. If you know C++ or HTML5, you can easily prove it with a practical demonstration. However, these skills can also be incredibly difficult to master.
As a PM, you will most likely be a jack-of-all-trades with a specialty in one or two items. A good practice to have is: make sure you have at least two unique and intersecting skills. That way, you stand out as a niche specialist that people who need your expertise cannot do without.
How To Develop Technical Skills
Bethany Lang wrote a great article focused on showing PMs how to develop technical skills. Start there.
Of course, technical skills can be learned online with myriad free resources (like these free coding resources), casual paid courses (like this Wireframe Overview on Lynda.com, for example), or traditional college/university courses (like the Computer Sciences program at the California Institute of Technology).
It’s up to you to decide how much guidance you need, how much of an expert you want to become, and how many technical skills you want to adopt.
Project Management Soft Skills To Develop
These are personal, professional and transferable skills. They’re soft because you’re not operating a machine. It’s not straightforward the following steps. It requires intellectual engagement and personal interaction. It’s the way you operate the machinery and relate to your coworkers.
These are harder to learn because a lot of you develop through experience. These are also exceedingly valuable because machines/AI cannot recreate much of their interpersonal or creative aspects.
Bringing order to chaos, sorting things out, & staying on top of everything.
Whether you are mapping out resources or turning a messy project proposal into gold, an organization is THE defining characteristic of a great project manager. You simply cannot be without it.
Bad organization wreaks havoc on your team’s motivation, morale, and ability to get things done. A PM with a personal organization strategy will get more done, feel less stressed, and be an admirable leader.
How To Develop Organization Skills
There are whole communities dedicated to different organizational strategies. Just think about how wildly popular Marie Kondo’s “tidying up” self-help became, with a best-selling book and now even a Netflix special. “Organization” has become a bit of religion at this point.
There are two parts of “organization”: organizing your SPACE and organizing your WORK. As Marie Kondo purports, there are psychological benefits to existing in a clean and tidy space. Not to mention that most people’s snap judgments about your organizational prowess will center around what they observe in your physical space.
Then, the hardest part: organizing your task list, team, thoughts, tools, workflow, errands, habits, and all the rest.
The ability to make teams work, reading emotions, and motivations effectively.
Teamwork is something a project manager must learn and teach simultaneously. A PM will have to flexibly and reliably work with their employees, clients, suppliers, external contracts, customers, and anyone else who shows up in their inbox each morning.
The positive impact of teamwork is supported by behaviour science and psychology. John J. Murphy, author of Pulling Together: 10 Rules for High-Performance Teamwork, notes that “When people play off each other’s skills and knowledge, they can create solutions that are practical and useful.”
Working together is proven to spark innovation, foster happiness, foster personal growth, defend from burnout, grow specialized skills, improve productivity, take worthwhile risks, less feelings of stress, and boosted creativity.
How To Develop Teamwork
There are two approaches I suggest to “learning” teamwork skills: 1) theoretical knowledge about what it means to work as a team and the benefits of navigating teamwork successfully, and 2) fun, in-person exercises you can do with your team to promote trust, understanding, and comfortability.
For theoretical knowledge, try seeing what cutting-edge research is being done in the areas of teamwork. My current suggestion is The Science of Teamwork.
The ability to do the right thing, at the right time.
As project managers, a huge part of our job is determining and communicating how other people will spend their time. But it’s equally important to be aware of how we are managing our own time. Steven Covey’s quote, “The enemy of the best is good,” applies really well when it comes to the project manager’s management of time (theirs and their team’s).
The problem is that important tasks usually get trumped by urgent tasks. If needed, do an 80/20 analysis of your current tasks. So if you’ve got a limited amount of time in your day, how can you make sure you set aside time for important tasks?
Successful project managers also respect their teammates’ time, so being able to read the body language of people in the room is also critical to ensuring that you’re staying on course.
How To Develop Prioritization Skills
First, understand where you are putting your time. If you’re not already, use a simple time-tracking tool to help you tag and analyze where you’re spending your time. Is that where your priorities are?
If you’re not sure, remember this quote:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
In order to get better at prioritizing, you will want to check out Eisenhower’s famous prioritization matrix mapping. His work differentiates between what tasks are urgent, what tasks are important, and what tasks are neither.
- Important and Urgent – highest priority
- Important but Not Urgent
- Not Important but Urgent
- Not important and Not Urgent – lowest priority
Using the above-mentioned matrix you will learn the essentials of “sorting” tasks into categories that will determine whether you do them yourself, delegate, or set aside.
The ability to effectively investigate to understand the big picture.
Effective project managers need to know, ‘just enough to be dangerous’ about all the work that their teams execute. You need to know the platforms and systems your teams use, and the possibilities and limitations of those so that you can have intelligent and informed conversations with clients, team, stakeholders, and suppliers.
It’s worth trying to develop expertise across the full project lifecycle: strategy, service design, product design, creative concept, user experience, design, content development, front end development, back end development, QA, hosting, content delivery networks, SEO, analytics, CMS, social media, or media (yes even banner ads).
The key project management subject matter expertise skill to master is just about everything when it comes to digital. If you can be the designated expert on everything from apache Solr and algorithms to Weibo and web hosting, not only will your team and agency love you, but your clients will too.
How To Develop Research Skills
You can always trust libraries, particularly post-secondary libraries, as being a great “how-to” source for best research practices. For example, the 15 Steps to Good Research by the Georgetown University Library.
The ability to see things differently and approach things uniquely.
Creativity is one skill that computers and AI cannot match. Machines and wild animals might be able to build, entertain, and perform but there is nothing that channels “creativity” the way humankind has. This makes it an invaluable skill.
How To Develop Creativity
Your favorite brand of “creativity” is ultimately up to you. Do you want to build, design, write, paint, or meander? There are plenty of ways to boost your creativity, like changing-up a habit, spending time outdoors, indulging in a hobby, experimenting with art supplies, and/or listening to (or creating) music.
I would also highly recommend you check out the TEDxDirigo presentation by John Paul Caponigro called “You’re A Lot More Creative Than You Think You Are.” Caponigro is a renowned fine artist who has worked for Photoshop User, Apple.com, and The Huffington Post.
6. Critical Thinking
Deciding what to do when there’s no obvious choice and tackling problems with confidence.
You’ve most likely heard of the term “critical thinking” but can you describe it? Do you know what it is and how to access the parts of your brain that excel in it? According to Oxford, critical thinking is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.”
Oftentimes, PMs are confronted with conflicting data, mismatched ideas and facts, and flaws in common reasoning. Being able to pick apart what we see, think, hear, and feel and decide “what is best” for the current situation at hand is the linchpin in what it means to be a critical thinker.
There are 7 critical thinking skills, which I’ve broken down into their most basic essence:
- Analysis – What information is present?
- Interpretation – What does the information suggest?
- Inference – What conclusion can be drawn?
- Explanation – An elevator pitch for the above.
- Self-regulation – Could I be wrong about something?
- Open-mindedness – What are other possibilities?
- Problem-solving – What is the next move?
How To Develop Critical Thinking Skills
HBR.org suggests that 3 habits can help you improve your critical thinking: question all assumptions, find reason through logic, and diversify your thought. The basic essence of this advice is to question everything, rely on logic and reason to form a solution proposition, and always try to see things from an opposing point of view. You may also want to try these INC.com exercises for better critical thinking. Udemy also has critical thinking exercises as well as an online course to go with it.
The ability to understand and be understood by people from varying backgrounds.
One of the essential skills for project management is the ability to communicate well – understanding and being understood. Great communication is the crux of any relationship and so the effectiveness of a project manager’s communication has an impact not only on the project team but the client and stakeholders too.
However, effective communication doesn’t just happen. It starts by putting in the time and effort required to get to know your team well and devising an appropriate communication plan and related communications tools that connect with the different personality types. For us, this has meant having to adapt our communications strategy from project to project, for the simple reason that we may have different team members for each project and a particular communication system or structure may not always work for everyone.
The key project management communication skill to master is the ability to listen, to be clear and to ensure you’re understood. When information flows with the right messaging, at the right time, to the right person, through the right channel, almost any hurdle can be overcome.
How To Develop Communication Skills
It’s easy to communicate well under ideal conditions with perfect communicators—but projects rarely benefit from ideal conditions, and no one is a perfect communicator.
I’ve focused on teaching the skills of communication in many contexts, whether it’s in troubleshooting client complaints to solve conflicts (get practice for that in The DPM School) or handling difficult conversations better (a DPM Members webinar).
But beyond these dedicated communication-strengthening activities, I have to say: just put yourself out there. Go to events, meet new people, leave your comfort zone, network enthusiastically. Every conversation you have is going to teach you something about effective communication.
Seeing what could be, the big picture, and leading & inspiring others.
If we’ve learned anything from years of leading projects, it’s that great leadership is an essential skill to being a good project manager. Our leadership role means we lead and manage teams; setting the vision, motivating the team, and making your team’s life better by coaching them and inspiring others.
But being a leader isn’t just about creating a feel-good vibe for our teams – we have to enforce process and keep everyone on the team in line too. We know that we have the final call about what our team works on next, as well as the final responsibility for whether the project fails or succeeds.
The key project management leadership skill to master in leadership is making sure you’re leading, rather than just managing. That means providing a vision and a roadmap for success and serving and empowering your team to get there.
How To Develop Leadership Skills
Leadership is a tough one to just get out there and “learn”, but it’s one of those things that takes time, experience, and consistent effort.
Still, no book or course is going to turn you into a leader overnight. No online course can hand you true leadership qualifications. To get started, I suggest looking for leadership-oriented seminars by speakers that you feel have something worthwhile to say. There are whole conferences dedicated to developing leadership skills, and that’s a good place to start.
The ability to influence, negotiate & collaborate in tricky situations.
“Knowing how to negotiate well so that all parties are satisfied is a key skill for the successful project manager.” – Cesar Abeid
Project management is somewhat like politics; it often brings together a disparate group of people, often with competing interests, and our job is to get these different interests on the same page so that we can accomplish project goals. In other words, a good project manager must be an excellent negotiator.
Discussions about budgets, resource allocation, and timelines can become adversarial and counterproductive if not handled tactfully. Successful project managers know how to find compromises where possible and how to hold a firm line without damaging their workplace relationships.
The key project management negotiation skill to master is finding that middle ground – working out compromises so everyone that matters feel like they’ve won!
How To Develop Diplomacy Skills
There are plenty of books on diplomacy, some more theoretical and others more practical. You can start with a classic, The Power of Tact by Peter Legge. This book goes over how to keep your cool in tough situations, conflict resolution tactics, negotiation strategies, and being a positive influence on those around you.
You should also check out Public Diplomacy by Nicholas J. Cull, which goes over five core areas of public diplomacy: listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, exchanges, and international broadcasting. This book focuses its advice through a lens of international relations, communication studies, psychology, and contemporary practice and highlights what this all means in a time of “Global Engagement in the Digital Age.”
Simplifying complexity, explaining, building the team, driving, and encouraging.
Every PM is a coach in the way that they must bring out the best in their team and their product. Coaching is an inverted form of “teaching” where the goal is to “help the subject learn” rather than “convey information.”
Emma-Louise Elsey, CEO of The Coaching Tools Company, notes that “Simply put, coaching is where you work with someone to connect with yourself, redesign your environment and your life, and then take action to implement it.”
Coaching is meant to focus on a person’s individual needs and talents, drawing out their full potential. This may involve offering positive feedback, establishing positive expectations, identifying room to grow, listening to concerns, and allowing (even encouraging) mistakes.
How To Develop Coaching Skills
How does one become a great coach? One way might be to be coached yourself. Work with a mentor or professional life/career coach and take note of what they do and how they do it. Pay special attention to what works well and what falls flat.
TheCoachingToolsCompany.com, mentioned above, has a series of free tools that you can access, including exercise, common questions, an e-newsletter, and templates for goal setting and the like.
You could also consider looking up career coaches in your city and bringing one of them into your workplace for an all-day coaching session with your staff. You can also follow professional coaches online if they have a blog, videos, or podcasts.
Traits of Successful Project Managers
This is where it gets messy.
The above list of project management skills misses out on a crucial part of being a PM: personal and professional traits.
Traits are hugely important. They’re the foundation for the soft skills and the way you execute the hard skills. They’re part of the ingredients for what makes a good project manager.
In fact, when I’m hiring project managers, what I’m actually primarily trying to establish is the candidate’s character traits.
These are things that are hard—if not impossible—to teach, but in my experience, they really do set good PMs apart from the bad.
How many of these traits do you embody and practice on a daily basis?
- Ordered – your sock drawer, and everyone else’s
- Visionary – see what could be, potential and opportunity
- Detail orientated – spot the gaps and mistakes
- Team orientated – empathetic, love working and communicating with people
- Cautiously optimistic – always careful, but positive about it
- Tenacious – keep going when things don’t go to plan
- Adaptable – love problem solving and can be flexible
- Decisive – ability to assess, anticipate and make difficult decisions
- Responsible – take ownership, look after, and take the weight off the team
- Strong work ethic – hard-working, hustler, who’s self-motivated, and on time
How To Build These Successful Project Manager Traits?
Be honest with yourself.
Ask for feedback from your colleagues and be open and accepting about what they share. Learn how to gently and productively critique yourself and remember that it’s never about fault, it’s about a desire to constantly improve.
Humility is the beginning of wisdom. In order to build your character, you must be open to new ways. No one can ever be “too humble,” though those who are are sure to think so.
Live out your principles and values.
Whether it’s “love others,” or ” do the right thing,” living by your principles will make decision-making easier and your character more steadfast. “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything,” according to Alexander Hamilton.
Integrity does not happen by accident. We are all products of our thoughts and habits. Be intentional about filling your mind with good thoughts. Create a habit of this internalizes principles and breeds high character.
Being of high character takes the ability to do what is right over what is easy. After all, as John Wooden says, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
Surround yourself with people who have high expectations. Be responsible for yourself first. Lose the pride. Open yourself up to accountability. Let others push you to a high character.
Agile Project Management Skills
Agile project management skills require all of the above, as well as a few unique items I wanted to call attention to that, are particularly important to this methodology.
Here are a few additional traits you can count on a good Agile PM to have mastered:
Help people understand common objectives and their part in the “bigger picture.” As a facilitator, you need to be able to make overarching goals feel understandable and achievable.
Learn more on how to do this in our workshop with Annie MacLeod (you'll need to be a member to access this workshop).
The ability to navigate conflict, errors, and unexpected roadblocks with poise and purpose. If something unexpected arises, you keep your cool and set a good example for others.
3. Issue resolution/escalation
Knowing when it is appropriate to internally resolve issues and when intervention is needed. It’s important to grasp what resources are available for when escalation is deemed necessary.
4. Team building
Understanding the social intricacies of managing a team of people that require guidance and encouragement. Make sure your team works well together, trusts one another, and feels satisfied as a unit.
5. Change management
Making natural and inevitable change within a business as easy, inclusive, and transparent as possible. No change, no matter how great, should disrupt your team to the extent they go into disarray.
6. Create the right environment
Know your “workplace culture” and make sure it aligns with your vision for the team and their work. Don’t let it become too strict or too casual and make sure everyone understands their freedoms and limitations.
What do you think?
Knowing the skills of a project manager is not enough.
Yes, we must be knowledgeable; yes, we must have the right tools; but critically, we must know how to apply the right techniques to our projects.
How to improve your project manager skills? Build your personal project management skills list. Include the project manager’s technical skills you’d like to learn, as well as the soft skills of project management where you could develop more. Use your list to guide the development of your project management competencies.
If you’re still not sure where to start, ask around—the vibrant DPM community has answers for you. Or, listen to our podcast: Making Your Value Visible As An Agency Project Manager.