Essential Skills for Project Managers

Whether you’re hiring PMs or looking to find a PM job, there are core competencies that every project manager should strive to have. I found that I was put on the spot the other day by work colleague who was about to advertise for a junior project management vacancy. She asked me for the 10 things that new project managers should know so that she could test candidates during the interview.

I did have to think about it, but not too hard! Here’s my list that I shared with her (you should also check out Jennifer Bridges’ video list of top skills for project managers) – all things I think new project managers should be aware of (in no particular order) even if they don’t have practical experience of these tools just yet.

1. Risk Management

All projects carry risk and being able to identify and manage risk is definitely something that new project managers should work on, even if you don’t have formal risk management processes set up in your organization. Some projects have lots of risks and having a way to write these down and manage them without the detail and history getting lost takes experience (I had to adapt my templates over several projects to get all the information I wanted in a format that worked for me).

Find out what other project managers in your department use as risk tracking software and adapt their templates to suit your needs.
skill sets for project managers

2. Change Management

Just as there will always be risk, there will also always be change! People change their minds and as a project manager you have to learn to go with the flow in a controlled way. New project managers are often really keen to please so they end up saying yes to stakeholders who propose changes.

That’s not always a bad thing – after all, stakeholders know what they need in order to achieve business results, and you can’t say no to everything.

However, changes need to be assessed and introduced into the project in a controlled way. Even if you have never worked on a project yet, it’s best to understand this so that you can act accordingly when your first change comes along.

3. Planning

I bet you wondered when I was going to include this on the list! Project managers are famous for their planning skills. In fact, when you ask people what project managers do most people will reply by saying that they plan.

In reality, planning projects takes practice, so if you are new at the job you can review other project managers’ plans and use templates to help get started.

4. Resource Management

Resource management is the act of planning who is going to be working on which tasks and making sure you have the right skills in the team to do all the required work. Then you have to check that you aren’t overloading one person while someone else sits with nothing to do. There is quite a lot of skill in this!

Resource management also means doing the day-to-day management of people that helps you get the work done, which means planning around their vacations, helping them manage and identify priorities and organizing any training that they might need to improve their skills.

5. Timesheets

Everybody knows that timesheets are boring. But a true skill of a project manager is the ability to get their team to use them in spite of that fact. They are vital for being able to estimate correctly and assess what your team is doing.

Practice the art of timesheet reporting and motivating, young Padawan.

6. Reporting

I am working with some new project managers at the moment and they are constantly surprised at how much reporting they have to do. There is the monthly report for project stakeholders and their sponsors plus ad hoc status updates and financial reports.

The best advice I can give new project managers is to work out a reporting schedule at the beginning of your project. Talk to your stakeholders about what they expect to receive in terms of reporting. Then make sure that you are also planning for whatever your manager and Project Management Office are expecting. Put some time in your diary each week to prepare your reports as this will make it a lot easier and you won’t miss any deadlines.

7. Tracking

Project tracking is another key responsibility for a project manager, and new project managers often spend a lot of time on this (sometimes too much to the point where it becomes micromanagement). Tracking means understanding project status and how much progress has been made. Then you compare this to where you thought you would be to assess whether you are on track, ahead of schedule or behind.

Tracking is obviously essential, but you shouldn’t forget that it is what you do with the tracking information that actually moves the project forward. If you notice something awry when you carry out your tracking, talk to the individuals concerned and make plans together to get back on track.

8. Interoperability

Interopera-what? New project managers sometimes find themselves unstuck when they realize that they have done all their documentation in an application that their stakeholders can’t open or read. Make sure that whatever project management software tools you use they can be read by everyone on the team. Tools that are compatible with Microsoft Office are best because that’s the de facto standard in many businesses. Better yet are storing files online (albeit securely) for collaborative access.

9. Budget Management

New project managers, in my experience, are often fazed by having to manage large sums of money. It isn’t that difficult –expense management software will do most of the work for you, so learn how your tools work and put them to good use!

10. Team Collaboration

Finally, the soft skills involved in managing teams are essential if you want to get projects done successfully. These are transferable skills, meaning that you probably have them already from another job or another aspect of your life. New project managers should have the confidence that they can help their teams collaborate, even if they know very little about the subject of the project! It’s all about creating a good working environment and giving people the tools they need to do their jobs.

And collaboration refers to both online and offline. Robust online project management tools are equipped with all the professional project management features you need to manage projects successfully and to support those top 10 skills for any project managers. Try now to take your project management skills to the next level with the right tool.

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