Project management skills

What are the key skills needed to be successful?


What are the key project management skills needed to be successful? Project managers need both leadership and management skills, with a knack for problem solving.

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Project managers are there to plan and manage the work – NOT to do it!

So what is the set of project management skills that you need to be a successful project manager? Eight key skills needed for project management are explained here (but the list is by no means complete):

  • Be a Leader and a Manager

    Leaders share and communicate a common vision (future state or end goal); they gain agreement and establish the future direction. They motivate others. Managers are results driven and focus on getting work done against agreed requirements. A good project manager will constantly switch from a leader to a manager as situations require.

  • Be a Team Builder and a Team Leader

    Projects are often cross-functional in that they use people who may not have worked together before. It is up to the project manager to set the atmosphere of the team, and to lead them through the various team development phases to the point where they perform as a team.

  • Be an Excellent Communicator

    Being a communicator means recognising that it’s a two-way street. Information comes into the project and information goes out of the project. All communications on your project should be clear and complete.

  • As a project manager you will have to deal with both written and oral communications. Some examples are documents, meetings, reviews, reports, and assessments. A good mental guideline is “who needs this information, who gathers and delivers it, when or how often do they need it, and in what form will I give it to them”.

  • Be a Good Organiser

    Let’s just think of the aspects you will need to organize; project filing including all documentation, contracts, e-mails, memo’s, reviews, meetings, specialist documents, requirements and specifications, reports, changes, issues, risks, etc. It’s almost impossible to stay organized without having Time Management Skills – so add this to your list!

  • Many managers opt for an MBA online to improve their PM skill sets. In addition, the MBA teaches you how to organize business teams and stay on top of your projects.




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  • Be a Competent and Consistent Planner

    The skill of planning can’t be underestimated (and neither can estimating!). There are known and logical steps in creating plans.

    As a project manager you will certainly own the Project Plan, but it must be created with input from the team. Examples are Test Plans, Risk Management Plans, Hand-over Plans, Benefit Realisation Plans, etc. As long as you’re aware that planning should become second nature to you.

  • Be a Problem Solver

    Fortunately, this is one of the project management skills that can be learned.

    Firstly, you need to identify the possible ’causes’ that lead to the problem ’symptom’. Now, causes can come from a variety of sources, some are:

    # interpersonal problems
    # internal sources
    # external sources
    # technical sources
    # management sources
    # communication
    # opinions or perceptions

    Having found the root causes, the next step is to analyze possible options and alternatives, and determine the best course of action to take in order to resolve the problem(s).

  • Be a Negotiator and Influencer

    Negotiation is working together with other people with the intention of coming to a joint agreement. And for all these you need to have some influencing skills as part of your portfolio of project management skills.

    Influencing is getting events to happen by convincing the other person that your way is the better way – even if it’s not what they want. Influencing power is the ability to get people to do things they would not do otherwise.





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  • Set Up and Manage Budgets

    At the heart of this is the skill of estimating – particularly cost estimates. Nearly always the project manager will need certain knowledge of financial techniques and systems along with accounting principles.

    Part of the Project Plan will be something called the Cost Plan. This will show the planned cost against a time-scale. The PM will want to get involved in purchasing, quoting, reconciling invoices, time sheets, etc.

    The project manager then needs to establish what has actually happened as opposed to what was planned and to forecast the expected final costs.




An acknowledgement and a highly recommended resource


I am not a project manager. I have worked with many over the years and have nothing but respect for the skills and focus that project managers and project management skills bring to the business of change management. I gratefully acknowledge the support and assistance of Linky Van Der Merwe, Founder Virtual Project Consulting for material and advice in the preparation of this section on project management

Linky is a former Project Manager at Microsoft Consulting Services and an IT Project Manager with 13 years IT industry experience and 10 years Project Management experience.

She consults with small-medium business owners and service professionals about project management and project processes, best practices and successful delivery through projects. She is most experienced in corporate infrastructure (upgrades, migration, deployment) and process optimisation.

Linky’s site offers a wealth of practical information on all aspects of:
Project management skills




Additional resources

Project management principles - 10 ways to make a project fail

Project management methodologies - 8 ways to succeed

Project management maturity model

Project Smart is the project management resource that helps managers at all levels to improve their performance. It provides an important knowledge base for those involved in managing projects of all kinds. With weekly updates it keeps you in touch with the latest project management thinking.


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