The 5 Skills Every Successful Project Manager Needs

A woman leads a project at work.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Profile Picture
Marissa Taffer363
How can I help you grow?
May 21, 2024 at 10:27AM UTC

According to the Project Management Institute, over 22 million project-oriented jobs will be created between 2017 and 2027. Project managers are sought after in industries from higher education to construction. Wondering if this career path is worth exploring?

What does a project manager do? 

By definition, a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. A project manager is the person who oversees this endeavor. 

There are five distinct phases to project management:

  • Initiation

  • Planning

  • Execution

  • Monitoring and controlling

  • Closing

Within these phases, there are 10 different knowledge areas and 47 processes that a project manager will lead. 

While this can sound overwhelming, you can think about it in simpler terms. Let’s say you’re planning a birthday party. What would you do? 

First, you might give yourself a budget and pick a restaurant. Then, you might check with that restaurant for a date. Once you have confirmed this date, you’d probably make a guest list and invite your friends. Friends might ask if they can bring anything, so you ask a friend to buy some balloons, another to pick up champagne and a third to order the cake. 

You might preorder and prepay the restaurant so that you don’t go over your budget. On the day of the party, you show up early to make sure everything is going smoothly. Everyone has a great time. At the end of the night, you make sure everything is cleaned up and all of the servers got a good tip. 

You just managed a project! While some projects are much more complicated and involve many more people, it's the same idea as planning a birthday party. You defined the project needs (the restaurant, cake, balloons, champagne and guests), scope ( you preordered the food) and budget, which you controlled by preordering and prepaying. 

In all projects there are three areas a project manager really needs to focus on: 

1. The project scope.

This defines what needs to be done. For example, if your project is to build a website, you want to define the pages for the site that are in scope. That could mean a homepage, blog and about us section. Adding other pages or features would not be part of this project if that's the scope. 

2. The project budget.

This will determine how much money you can spend to complete your project. For the website example above, you will need to estimate the costs to buy the domain, get a design created and hire a developer. You also want to make sure to charge for quality assurance, testing and deployment as well as the project management hours. 

3. The project timeline.

How long do you have to get the project done? Is it a realistic timeline? For this website, you might need 2-4 weeks, so you want to make sure the client understands this and does not expect you to build a website in 2-3 days. Sometimes, if you need to work quickly, you can add extra members to the team to help. Don’t forget that this will impact your project’s budget. 

These three areas are called triple constraints. If you want a project done well and quickly, it won’t be cheap. If you want a project done to be on the cheaper side, it won't happen quickly. Finally, if you want a project done quickly and cheaply, it won't be done well! 

What qualifications do you need to be a project manager?

Officially, anyone can manage a project, but qualifications may vary by industry. To lead a complex IT security project or a construction project, you may need a cybersecurity certification or a degree in engineering. 

If you want to manage projects in marketing or ones that involve teaching people new processes, you may not need a certification or any project management-specific training. A lot of project managers fall into the profession and learn on the job successfully. 

If you're looking for a career change or want to try out project management, there are plenty of training opportunities. If you look at Udemy, LinkedIn Learning or a local university, you'll find plenty of introductory courses. 

If you are looking to grow as a project manager or make your position more formal, you can explore certifications like CAPM, PMP or Prince2. Make sure you understand and have completed any prerequisites before enrolling in a prep course or scheduling an exam. For example, in order to sit for the PMP, you need to have: 

  • A four-year degree

  • 4,500 hours of documented project management experience (7,500 if you don’t have a four-year degree)

  • 35 hours of education with a registered education provider (REP)

The exam itself consists of 200 multiple choice questions, and you need to pass sections on all five phases of project management. Once you earn the PMP, you need to maintain it by completing 60 hours of continuing education every three years. 

While this sounds like a lot of work, PMI says that project managers with a PMP can expect to earn about 20% more than project managers with no certifications. 

Three easy steps to becoming a project manager 

If you want to try your hand at managing a project here are three easy steps to follow: 

1. Find or create a project that you want to manage. 

You might let your manager at work know you’re interested in project management or contact a local nonprofit to ask about helping manage a project for them. If you’re brand new to project management, you could also seek out a mentor to help you manage your project. 

2. Create a project team. 

Once you have created (or found) your project, you’ll need a team to work with you. Choose people who have been on a project team before or are experts in their area of work to help, especially when you’re new. These experts can help you put together your first project plan. 

3. Run your project. 

Start by creating the project charter and work breakdown structure. You'll then work with the team on communication milestones. Next, it’s off to the races — time to start executing! 

At the closing of the project, you’ll want to spend some time debriefing. How did it go? Did you do what you set out to complete? What did you learn, and how will you do it better next time? Ask your team for some feedback, too. They can help you see what you did well and where you need to improve. 

Don’t worry if things didn’t go exactly as you planned. Managing a project is always more complicated than it seems. As long as you were able to solve any issues and deliver the result, you did well. 

All good project managers learn along the way and use these lessons to improve! 

Skills you need to be a project manager

There are many skills a project manager needs to get the job done well. They need to be able to motivate and inspire the project team. They also need to be able to have tough conversations when someone isn’t performing up to par or the project is behind schedule or over budget. The top five skills a project manager should have to get the job done well are: 

1. Organizational skills.

This may seem obvious, but with a complex project, there can be hundreds of documents, people, meetings and other things to stay on top of. The ability to see the bigger picture, break it down into measurable steps and keep track of all of the documents and communication along the way is imperative to the success of the project. There are many great tools project managers can use, including Slack, Asana, Basecamp and Trello to help keep things organized, but the tools are only beneficial if the project manager is organized and keeping them updated consistently. 

2. Time management.

For a project manager, time management goes beyond just getting your work done on time and showing up for meetings. A project manager needs to work with the team to estimate how long tasks will take and when they can be done. Miscalculations on timing can lead to costly project delays. For example, if your project is opening a new restaurant and you forget that it takes two months to order the banquettes for the booths, you might risk not having them in time to open the restaurant. Or, you might have to open the restaurant later than anticipated, leading to a loss in revenue. 

3. Communication.

Keeping people informed is only one of the communication skills a project manager will need. A good project manager knows how to leverage multiple forms of communication and keep everyone appropriately in the loop on progress or any blockers. While having meetings can be very important, too, they can eat up project hours and prevent team members from completing their work on time. The best project managers use a mix of 1:1 meetings, small-team meetings, full-team meetings and written updates to keep everyone informed and get information about issues or challenges. 

4. Interpersonal.

Interpersonal skills are so important to the discipline that the Project Management Institute's Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) has a chapter dedicated to them. Project managers will need superior negotiation skills, active listening skills, cultural awareness and sensitivity. Project teams are often made up of a diverse group of people with different educational experiences, training and cultures. Being able to work in this diverse environment is critical to the project’s success. 

5. Leadership.

While leadership is one of the 11 interpersonal skills outlined in PMBOK, it deserves its own spot on the list. The project manager needs to be an exceptional leader for the project team. This person is generally the face of the project and needs to set the tone and be a role model. In tough project situations, the project manager needs to motivate, inspire and lead the team to deliver results. Finally, a great project manager takes good care of the team. This means keeping an eye on schedules and helping team members push back on unrealistic expectations. For example, if you notice a team member working really long hours, you’ll want to check in to see how they’re doing. Do they need more time to complete their tasks? Do they need an additional resource? You want to make sure you’re not only taking good care of your team but also that they’re taking good care of themselves. 

If you have these skills and an interest in trying out project management, go for it! If nothing else, you'll get to build something new and learn a lot along the way.

Don’t miss out on articles like these. Sign up! 

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always