You'll want to have a basic understanding of project management principles to be a good project manager, but soft skills are just as important.
Project management requires a combination of the technical know-how of managing a team and project, plus several indispensable soft skills. They’re good skills to have, as the demand for project managers is high, and expected to grow. A report by the Project Management Institute found that there will be demand for 25 million project management professionals by 2030 globally. That translates to roughly 2.3 million new project management positions a year .
That’s good news for people who are looking for jobs that allow them to interact with people, solve problems, and put their organizational talents to use. Here are 11 technical and soft skills you’ll want to have as a project manager.
Different project management approaches are suitable for different situations. Being familiar with those basic differences can help you pick the best one for a project. Though some companies might want you to stick with one approach, knowing about others can give you better context for what you’re doing, and why.
Some common approaches to project management include Waterfall, a traditional, sequential approach, and Agile, which prioritizes adaptability. Within these approaches, there are several methodologies. For example, Scrum is the most commonly used Agile methodology. Others include Lean, Kanban, and XP (Extreme Programming).
The start of a project—when much of the project is planned—is often critical to its success. And though it might sound simple, there are many moving pieces to think about in the initial phase of a project. Initiating a project includes setting achievable and specific goals, picking a team, determining resources, and holding a kickoff meeting.
Most every project will have budget constraints. Knowing where costs might pile up, and how to prioritize tasks and delegate resources is often an important part of making sure a project doesn’t go over budget.
If you’re working on a large project or for a large company, you might not be the primary person responsible for managing the budget. But it’ll still be good to know what elements can add to a budget, how to decrease costs, and when you need to increase it.
No project comes without potential risks. As a project manager, you’ll want to be able to identify when and how unexpected events that could derail your project might happen, how to decrease the chances of them happening, and how to respond if they do. How much of a time buffer should you add to unpredictable projects or tasks? If something goes awry, how would you adjust your scope or resources? Having an eye for potential risks and how to mitigate them can ensure smoother project delivery.
Technology has made sharing findings, schedules, and communications across teams and stakeholders convenient. As a project manager, you’ll often be expected not just to know how to use collaboration and communication software, but to take the lead in managing them.
Some tools you might be expected to use include:
Collaboration tools like Google Sheets, Google Drive, and Dropbox
Work management tools like Asana, Trello, Jira, and Smartsheet
Scheduling tools like digital calendars and Gantt charts
Communication tools like email, chat, and video conferencing software
Project managers can work in many different fields, including IT, healthcare, and construction. Sometimes hiring managers will strongly prefer candidates who have academic or professional experience in the field. If you’re looking to switch careers to become a project manager, it can be worth looking for opportunities within an industry you have knowledge in.
Communication is key to good project management. In fact, insufficient communication is often cited as a reason why projects miss deadlines, go over budget, or otherwise get derailed.
Good communication doesn’t just mean being able to speak well in front of people—though that’s important too. Project managers should know who to communicate with, when, and how often. This might mean setting up expectations in the beginning of a project about how often communications will happen.
Learn how to develop trust, apologize, be persuasive, and choose the best medium for your message through the Improving Communication Skills course from the University of Pennsylvania.
Organization is crucial for project managers. Coordinating timelines, meetings, and efforts with different teams, contractors, or even other companies means having the discipline to stay on top of communications and tasks.
Even with a perfectly planned project, problems arise. Deadlines might be missed, bad weather can derail construction, people get sick or change jobs. If you’re a person that can deal with unexpected change, your job as a project manager will go more smoothly.
Leadership can help make all the disparate parts of a project team come together and work as a unit to get things done. Leadership includes influencing decisions without being overtly authoritative, knowing how to motivate team members, and balancing the needs of your team with the needs of the project.
Strengthen your leadership skills
Like most other skills, leadership is a skill you can learn and sharpen. Learn the psychology and human behavior in leadership through the Leading People and Teams Specialization from the University of Michigan.
Your role as a project manager is to complete projects successfully. And while sometimes that means staying organized and communicating with the right people, it can also mean motivating your team, fostering a culture of collaboration and openness, and resolving potential conflicts. Understanding that different people have different work styles, motivations, strengths, and growth areas will allow for more effective teams, and more successful projects.
Rachel, a project manager at Google, switched careers from bartending to project management—and her people skills were what helped her make the switch. Listen to her story below.
Sometimes there’s no better teacher than hands-on experience. You can build project management skills by taking on more managerial tasks in your workplace. You can also look for volunteer opportunities in your community that will allow you to help plan and execute projects.
You might already have project management skills: If you’ve helped to organize any new initiatives professionally or personally, you probably already have some project management skills, even if you didn’t call it that at the time. Be sure to highlight these experiences when you apply for project management jobs.
As you put together your resume, highlight your project management skills by describing the scale of your project, the size of your team, and the positive results of your efforts. For example you might say: “Led team of 4 developers to redesign a payment platform with a budget of $2M to complete project on time.”
You can also call out project management skills by including them in a “skills” section in your resume. If you haven’t led a project before, list your experiences where you had a hand in planning or implementing a new effort.
Project management skills are in-demand. If you’re ready to get started, consider enrolling in the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate. You can learn the job-ready essentials of project management, like initiating projects, risk management, and change management, in six months or less.
1. Project Management Institute. "PMI Talent Gap Report Highlights Persistent Disparity Between Available Talent and the Growing Demand for Project Management Skills, https://www.pmi.org/about/press-media/press-releases/pmi-talent-gap-report-highlights-persistent-disparity." Accessed July 20, 2021.