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Top 8 Skills for Project Management Jobs


What comes to your mind when you think of someone who is a skilled surgeon or a skilled pilot?  You picture someone with some years on them. Perhaps a touch of grey in their hair that shows they’ve paid their dues through time. You picture someone who has decades of training, experience, and ongoing education. You know this person has passed scores of test, certifications, and exams to make it to the point they are now.

This leaves us with a level of confidence that makes us feel good about entrusting our lives into their hands. It has taken them decades to hone their skills and we know they are laser-sharp.

What comes to your mind when you think of a skilled project manager? Probably a very similar image to what you pictured above. Granted, most of the projects we work on are not a matter of life and death (some may be), but people want to have a level of confidence that makes them feel good about entrusting their projects into your hands. They know that your decades of training, experience and ongoing education mean that you take your project management jobs seriously and want to do the best for those who entrust you with work.

Introducing Your “Must Have” Project Management Skills

What are some of the skills you should hone for any project management jobs you may apply for? The following is a list of 8 skills you will need as a project manager:

1.  You Don’t Need to Win any Popularity Contests

It didn’t take you any time at all when you started in your first project management jobs that the job of the project manager was not to be liked. The job of the project manger was to get things done.

This means that the project manager is not going to be the most popular person at times. This means people’s toes are going to be stepped on from time to time. Or, you may have to escalate or report out on someone who has repeatedly missed a deliverable.

Everyone needs to understand that it’s not personal (really, it isn’t) but rather that your sole purpose is to look after the well-being of the project you’ve been entrusted and steward it to completion.

2.  You are Flexible

Looking for a routine and predictable 8 – 5 job where you clock in the morning, take an hour for lunch, and then punch out at 5 on the dot? Then you’re looking in the wrong place.

Project Management is not about a routine. It’s a roller-coaster ride. You can be driving to work in the morning and think that this is going to be a nice and easy day and then your phone rings 10-minutes from the office. “The VP just lost a gasket because a key requirement was missed on the project…you need to get here right away” says the voice on the other end.

There goes your calm, peaceful day. You never know what to expect and if you’re going to be skilled in your project management jobs you need to roll with this ambiguity.

3.  You are Calm Under Fire

Remember the phone call you just received about the VP above? You know you’re going to get blamed for that miss, right? Now, the blame may not ultimately find its final resting place with you, but you are going to get caught in the cross-fire.

A skill every seasoned project manager has acquired through various project management jobs is the ability to remain calm under fire. Do not over-react. Don’t be too quick to pass the buck. Don’t blow your top and say something you may regret later. Remain objective and calm and when the spotlight moves on and finds it final resting place, you will have lived to see another day without too much damage to your reputation.

4.  You are Not a Loner

Some people like to come into work, find the way through the cubicle maze and then sit in their cube (aka cage) the entire day only coming out for food and bathroom breaks. They put their headsets on, tune out the rest of the world, and then stare at their monitors unblinkingly.

This is not what skilled project managers do. They view their cube or office as a place to come back to and recharge and reorganize in order to get back out and fight the fine fight. They spend 80% of their time with their teams, clients, or in the field and 20% nestled behind their desks.

5.  You are not a Do-er

Let me explain what I mean here…we’re not saying you don’t get things done. Rather, we mean that you don’t get bogged down into working on those things that your team should be working on. This is an especially tough skill to learn for project managers that have come up through the technical ranks and know how to do the work of their teams. Skilled project managers have learned how to make the switch from Do-er to Manage-r and allow their teams to get the work done. You have plenty to do with the other aspects of your project managers jobs that you need to not get caught in this trap.

6.  You are Not the Most Creative Type

Again, this isn’t meant to be an insult. There are two types of people in this world. There are people who can come up with big ideas and then there are the people that can implement these big ideas. Both groups need each other. Typically the big picture thinkers who come up with the revolutionary ideas despise the details. The reverse is true as well; those who love the details sometimes have a tough time thinking outside of the box. A skilled project manager is all about taking the vision that has been set and then getting it done.

7.  You Don’t Mind Following Up

Do you have a hard time grasping the concept that grown adults need to have a babysitter in the form of a project manager at times? I know I’ve struggled with that for years. If someone says they’re going to do something, then they just need to do it when they said they were going to do it. That’s not the way it works in the real world however.

A skill for any project management jobs you may apply for is the ability to follow-up. This is where creativity can come into play as you develop different ways to follow-up with your peers, subordinates, boss, bosses boss, clients, and a host of other people who have too much on their plate already and allow things to fall between the cracks.

8.  You are Hierarchically-Talented

One of the most important skills for a project manager to possess is the ability to understand and respect the hierarchy in which they work. They need to be politically astute as to how things get done, who talks to whom, and who can and can’t be trusted. A skilled project manager knows how to deal with people at all levels from the C-Suite down to the bubbly receptionist who says “I hope you’re having a great day” every time you pass by.

There are plenty more hard skills you need to possess as a project manager such as scheduling, risk analysis, and accurate reporting. However, if you master the 8 skills above you will find yourself getting more done in less time, relying upon your team more, and gaining even more experience along the way.

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