The Top 8 Project Management Skills Every PM Should Have

Updated December 23, 2019

The term “project” is about as vague as you can get. It could refer to constructing a 40-story skyscraper. It could involve organizing a 12-year-old’s science fair entry. Or it could refer to coordinating your charity’s fundraiser.

No matter what kind of task is in question, there are some core project management basics that will help you execute any type of project.

A savvy project manager will have countless skills, but we’ve identified the following eight skills as absolutely essential to a person hoping to manage a successful project.

Here are the top skills all project managers should have:

  1. Leadership
  2. Budget/cost management
  3. Scheduling/planning
  4. Quality control
  5. Communication
  6. Risk management
  7. Client management/negotiation
  8. Mentorship/training

How to showcase your project management skills

The most important thing about being a good project manager is being willing to take the time to master all of the skills.

If you want to showcase your project management chops, enhance them by learning all of the skills listed above as they complement and enhance each other.

For example, a good leader will know how to schedule a project in a way that doesn’t overburden workers, and someone who understands quality control will be better able to communicate to the team what needs to be done.

8 top project management skills to utilize

We chose these as the top project management skills because they represent core abilities that are applicable in any type of project, big or small. Having these eight skills will maximize the likelihood that a project manager will successfully achieve the goals of the project.

1. Leadership

First and foremost in a project manager skill set is to be a leader. Good project management plans involve every aspect of the project life cycle, and the buck stops with the manager of that project.

Therefore, a project manager must exude an understanding of what needs to be done, have expertise in and knowledge of the subject, possess the ability to inspire others to act, and be able to organize others in a way to maximize their efficiency and effectiveness.

Tips for leadership:

  • Lead by example. Set goals and responsibilities for yourself as well as other employees, and make sure you’re meeting them.
  • Communicate. Make sure your entire team has the tools they need to communicate with their colleagues, supervisors, and you.
  • Focus on goals. A good project manager assigns goals to each of his or her charges, empowering them to achieve those goals in whatever way they can. This leads to more effective results than trying to micromanage workers.

2. Budget/cost management

Revenue is all-important no matter what kind of operation you’re running, whether it be that 40-story skyscraper or a fundraising drive.

From the outset, a project manager needs to accurately estimate the costs of the project and then be able to effectively manage those costs throughout the project to prevent back-breaking overruns.

Tips for budgeting and cost management:

  • Prepare a good estimate. Don't just guesstimate; get the whole team together, and write up projected costs down to the last cent.
  • Record costs. You can't just hope for the best after setting the estimate. Use project management software to track the costs of the project along the way.
  • Make adjustments. If costs are starting to get out of control, you need to make some adjustments to get things back on track, such as dialing back overtime or cutting out an unnecessary element of the project.

3. Scheduling/planning

In some ways, this is the most difficult of the management skills. It's tough to stay on track with even the most carefully thought-out project management plans, so you need to approach this task with foresight and attention to detail.

Draw upon your past experience with similar projects — where did things go wrong? What unexpected delays could crop up?

Tips for scheduling and planning:

  • Talk to all key stakeholders. When you plan a project, it's tempting to rely on your own judgement, but ask everyone involved about what to expect over the course of the project. They probably know about some obstacles you didn't even think of.
  • Create milestones. Milestones give your workers concrete goals to shoot for, and they can tell you how well the project is progressing.
  • Use a work breakdown structure (WBS). A WBS breaks down the project into smaller components, making it easier to divide responsibilities.

4. Quality control

You might stay on budget and on schedule, but if the finished product is unsatisfactory, you'll still have an unhappy client.

A good project manager must constantly monitor the project to ensure that the quality is high enough to achieve the goal you want.

Tips for quality control:

  • Make random checks. If a project is too large for you to monitor every aspect, conduct some random checks. Also, assign other supervisors to conduct their own checks and report back to you.
  • Write down standards. Your project should have certain quality standards that every worker should meet. Make sure those are written down so you can refer to them.

5. Communication

A project breaks down when the team isn't communicating effectively, and if that happens, it's all on the project manager.

A good project manager needs to have established communication channels in place before a project begins.

Tips for communication:

  • Settle on a communication channel. Figure out what type of communication method works best for everyone involved, such as a mobile app.
  • Hold meetings. Too many meetings that run for too long can waste everyone's time, but a regular, focused meeting to hear everyone's feedback can be productive.

6. Risk management

With any project, there’s always a risk of things going wrong. Perhaps your workers hit a gas line while building a structure, or maybe a fundraising event runs afoul of a regulation no one knew existed.

Either way, a project manager needs to be prepared for problems via project risk management.

Tips for risk management:

  • Identify risks. Jot down a list of potential risks that could interfere with your project. Ask others on your team to list some as well.
  • Come up with mitigation plans. For each risk you identify, work with the team to come up with a solution. Put them all in one document that you can refer to later.

7. Client management/negotiation

This is where the soft skills of project management come in handy. The project manager is the first point of contact for the client, so you need people skills. Clients want to be kept in the loop, and they expect you to take the lead on that.

You also may need to negotiate with the client on things like adding new elements to the project or even changing the price of the project itself.

Tips for client management and negotiation:

  • Communicate. Clients don't like to be left in the dark, so err on the side of too much communication.
  • Set clear standards beforehand. There's nothing worse than when you deliver on the project, and the client was expecting something else, so agree on specific deliverables before the project even starts.

8. Mentorship/training

To get the most out of your team, they need training. As project manager, it is your responsibility to provide mentorship and training to your subordinates in order to maximize their effectiveness.

It also improves retention if workers feel like they are growing in your organization.

Tips for mentorship and training:

  • Set up a mentorship program. Organize your workforce so that unskilled workers are working directly under more skilled workers, and therefore absorbing knowledge.
  • Set up a training program. Contact a local university or community college to inquire about setting up a program to train your workers.

A good project manager is willing to learn

Chances are, you read through the above and realized there are a few areas where you fall short in project management. But that’s OK. These are skills anyone can acquire if they’re willing to learn.

Make it a goal to grow your weaker skills if you think this is a field in which you want to build your career.

One way to do this is to experiment with the best project management software and create schedules and budgets. Try out different mobile communications tools to see which ones work best for you. PM software can help managers stay organized and utilize the skills they have with maximum efficiency.

These project management tools typically offer features such as scheduling functions, document management, and accounting. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are as a project manager — if you’re relying on pen and paper, things are likely to go awry.

Our three highest-rated project management software solutions are:

However, there are many more software solutions that may fit your organization better, so try out a variety of options before making a decision.

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