Excelling at project management requires a complex set of hard and soft skills. And although some of these abilities can come naturally for some people, the greatness of a project manager doesn’t result from his or her “natural” talents. It’s born from the capacity to gain a deeper consciousness of how the skills required to be a successful project leader can be developed, improved, expanded, and used in the context of project development.
Below, we have listed some of the essential skills any successful project manager needs to possess. This doesn’t mean that someone who doesn’t naturally have these talents isn’t suitable for project management. On the contrary, the abilities you need to excel at project management are developed through time and experience and require a combination of hard work, insight, and sometimes a little bit of patience.
Your role as a project manager is guiding your team members throughout a whole project, helping everybody understand their role at each stage, and solving problems quickly and effectively whenever they arise. So a PM with leadership skills is vital for the ultimate success of a project. But maintaining the cohesion of a group of people is not always easy. A good PM is a master of interrelationships. Sometimes, especially when a project involves a diverse group of stakeholders, a PM needs to have the abilities of a talented and experienced diplomat.
But every good leader is first and foremost a good communicator: being able to listen and understand others, share other people's ideas and your own clearly and compellingly - these are the foundations of outstanding leadership. An important part of your role as a PM is to interpret the needs of different team members and explain them to others transparently.
We sometimes tend to think of communication exclusively verbally, with a particular focus on oral language. But the communication skills that a PM needs to have gone much further than that. Excellent reading comprehension and writing skills are vital to interpreting technical documents on subjects you are not an expert in and can clearly and effectively carry information from one department to another. Last but not least, the various aspects of non-verbal communication are a key ingredient when dealing with the needs of a diverse group of people.
Every PM knows the challenges of creating a roadmap. The roadmap is the foundation of a project and will be the guide that will help all the stakeholders understand and fulfill their roles. To create a roadmap with clear, reasonable, and measurable goals, a PM needs to incline order and organization: a clear picture of how the resources available can come to terms with deadlines and expectations. There are handy tools for roadmap creation, such as Gantt charts, that can offer all the stakeholders a visual representation of timelines and milestones, allowing them to organize their work and anticipate the dates on which they will be more highly demanded.
Flexibility and Adaptability
Leading a project is hardly ever an easy, straightforward path. As every experienced PM knows, as much as you can plan every step, assign every task, and make sure all the resources needed are available, you are very likely to run into unexpected challenges. Your ability to be flexible and adapt to new conditions will be critical to solving problems effectively.
But, of course, adapting doesn’t only mean adapting to circumstances - it is also about learning to use new tools, implement new processes, or just being open to new ideas. Tools and methods for project management are constantly evolving, allowing more efficient teamwork and communication. And since in every project there will be people depending on you, it is not just about learning new tools or new processes - you will need to convey enthusiasm and motivate the other members of your team to learn and adapt as well.
It is probably the most complex and abstract of the soft skills a PM needs to possess. Of course, some people have an innate talent for information analysis and problem-solving, but even for them, experience, practice, and training are crucial to develop and improve their abilities. Since managing a project is not just following processes, acquiring and enhancing your capacity to think in critical terms will determine your chances of success.
Critical thinking is involved at different stages of a project. In the planning stage, a project manager makes decisions based on the analysis of information that will later determine the following steps. Later, you will need to make daily and quick decisions to tackle unexpected problems and align the team when things don’t go as expected. Mainly, critical thinking allows you to understand and anticipate the implications of a particular decision in the future. In other words, if you excel at critical thinking, then you will be able to make better decisions.