Whether you’re looking to formally transition into a project management (PM) role, or improve your project management skills and ability to keep a team on time and on task, PM is best viewed from a holistic perspective. Project management is much more than staying on top of reminders. Excellence in PM requires practice in a wide range of areas beyond project management skills—including communication, leadership, collaboration, problem-solving, and adaptability, to name just a few.
Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of effective project management skills and acknowledging the large role they play across their organizations. In a recent study commissioned by the tech company Wrike, 94% of respondents said they consistently (though often unofficially) manage projects in their workplace. With such an overwhelmingly large percentage, chances are PM is a significant part of your daily life too. Here’s how AMA can help you excel at it.
Essential Project Management Skills
Project managers are responsible for planning a project’s task list and milestones, and working with stakeholders to ensure timelines adequately reflect both project goals and the amount of time needed to successfully execute a task. However, beyond this, their duties often extend to everything from ensuring stakeholders understand how success is defined for their tasks, to negotiating how work will be balanced against budget, to troubleshooting unexpected roadblocks—large and small. In terms of hard skills, this means being adept at all of the following:
Project managers are charged with fitting tasks into tight timelines while ensuring their company performs well against their financial goals. This means knowing how to efficiently leverage the time aspect of internal resources, when to bring on external support to stay on schedule, and how to allocate funds for resources and negotiate vendor pricing to remain in the black
Project managers don’t just oversee members of the project team—they’re a part of the project team themselves. To that end, they must learn to effectively work with others, soliciting their feedback on vital elements like workflow, task time, check-in cadences, and tools needed to keep everyone on track.
From kickoff meetings to retrospectives, project managers are tasked with clearly communicating the needs of the project every step of the way. This means knowing how to gauge team members’ communication styles, how to structure communications for optimal understanding and buy-in, and—most importantly—how to keep the project flowing smoothly while also ensuring everyone’s needs are being heard.
Forecasting and Risk Management
The familiar saying about best-laid plans going astray is usually top-of-mind for project managers. As part of their role, they are expected to both plan for and forecast expected outcomes; i.e., when a project is likely to be completed, how much internal resource time needs to be allocated, and how much money should be set aside to budget for external support or overtime—as well as predict potential setbacks and roadblocks, and make contingency plans for them.
Knowing how to talk so others will listen is a key part of any leadership position—and PM is no different. Even if you don’t consistently lead a team, spearheading a project requires a lot of the same subskills, and chief among them is being able to inspire others to perform their best work, knowing how to spot and alleviate interpersonal tensions, and effectively problem-solve through unexpected developments.
No longer a “soft skill,” popular PM methodologies have turned time management into a robust, testable field with multiple diverging philosophies, including Agile and Waterfall. Being well-versed in varying PM techniques, knowing which one is best for your industry and project type, and being able to seamlessly adapt your chosen approach’s principles to fit a given project’s specifics are all key parts of being an effective manager of time.
Critical thinking is an essential skill for project managers. The ability to think objectively and challenge assumptions is key to approaching any part of the project cycle with clarity, objectivity and a rational and realistic perspective. In practice, critical thinking must be applied throughout the project cycle to help ensure decisions are made based on sound logic and reasoning. At any point in the life of a project, a lack of critical thinking can lead to erroneous judgments and wrong conclusions, thereby damaging subsequent phases of the project.
Though learning these skills sometimes happens through unofficial channels, with internal mentorship structures and on-the-job apprenticeship opportunities, it is more often developed in the classroom. Expert project managers typically get their start through recognizing PM as a recurring part of their role and seeking out training to ensure they are expertly handling the process.
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Technical Skills of Successful Project Managers
Though Agile philosophies started in the tech industry, helping redefine the methodologies used for successful software design and development, this project management method has now gone mainstream. Agile project management centers on iterative processes that are adjusted and learned throughout the project, promoting adaptability and speed. This is in contrast to traditional project management, which often focuses on a single, linear journey.
Looking to grow your agile project management skills? Check our AMA’s extensive library of courses
A Gantt chart is a visual representation of all the tasks that make up a project. Typically a type of bar graph, a project’s tasks are listed vertically, with the horizontal axis indicating time. The lengths of the task bars represent the duration of the tasks. Because it depicts critical parameters of the project in a visual manner, it is an indispensable tool to project managers.
Technical writing is simply written communication of a technical nature, but it is a specific skill that must be developed. To be effective, technical writing must go beyond technical content to ensure it is conveyed in the clearest, most concise manner possible. As such, it is a critical skill for project managers to develop, as clear, specific communication is vital to keeping a project on track by helping ensure everyone involved (including stakeholders) are aware of all the specifics of the project.
Scrum is a project management framework that aims to facilitate progress toward a goal through accountability and effective teamwork. It is a particularly useful concept for project managers because it begins with what can be known or seen. The three basic aspects applied in scrum are transparency, inspection and adaptation -- critical steps that also fall within the realm of an effectively managed project.
Scheduling is the process of compiling project activities and milestones in the most effective and logical sequence possible at a given point in time. The schedule includes start and finish times for each endeavor. The ability to develop a workable and flexible project schedule is a key skill for a project manager to master, as it is an essential component of project success.
Kanban refers to visual communication and/or representation of the project management process. A typical example would be post-its on a whiteboard or bulletin board to indicate tasks within the project cycle. They can also show progress of a particular task. This is a useful tool that can help the PM quickly recognize if a project is on track throughout the project cycle.
How to Improve Your Project Management Skills
AMA offers an extensive range of project management courses and learning resources to assist you in developing or enhancing your project management skills. Whether you are a novice, an “accidental” project manager or an experienced PM, AMA can help you build and improve the skills you need for success and increase your knowledge of Project Management Institute (PMI) concepts.
For The New Project Manager or Project Leads
Consider AMA’s Improving Your Project Management Skills: The Basics for Success class. Specially designed for people who are new to project management or for those who consider project management a secondary portion of their jobs, this introductory course offers lectures, discussions, and exercises that cover practical applications of Project Management Institute (PMI) concepts.
For The Non-Project Manager
Essentials of Project Management for the Non-Project Manager. This two-day class is perfect for those who are often part of interdepartmental efforts, but not officially in charge of projects – such as subject matter experts, project sponsors, or contributors. Teaching essential project management concepts and associated terminology, this class is essential to helping ensure that everyone on your team is aligned on expectations and that all are using a common language.
PMP Exam Prep Course
When you’re ready to embark on the path to certification, we’ll be there to help. Our fast-paced PMP Certification Exam Prep Coursetakes only four days, but offers you everything you’ll need to feel comfortable starting your career as a certified Project Manager.
Suggested prerequisite: AMA Comprehensive Project Management Workshop.