11 Key Project Management Skills

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

You'll want to have a basic understanding of project management principles to be a good project manager, but workplace skills are just as important. Learn what the key project management skills are and how you can achieve them.

[Featured Image] A project manager is standing at a board and holding documents with graphs and tables, discussing the latest project strategy with his team member.

Experts predict that by 2027, almost all work will be project-based. A Project Management Institute (PMI) report found that there will be a demand for 25 million project management professionals globally by 2030. That translates to roughly 2.3 million new project management positions a year [2]. 

Project management skills enable you to effectively interact with people, solve problems, and put your organizational talents to use. Project management requires a combination of technical and workplace skills to coordinate both projects and teams. Here are 11 technical and workplace skills you’ll want to have as a project manager.

Technical project management skills

1. Project management approaches and methodologies

Project management methodologies are the specific rules and procedures that determine how a project is managed. Different methodologies are suitable for different situations. Familiarity with the fundamental differences can help you pick the best one for a project. Although some companies might want you to stick with one approach, knowing about other methods may provide a 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).

2. Project initiation

The start of a project—when much of the project gets planned—is often critical to its success. And though it might sound simple, you have to think about many moving pieces 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. 

3. Budgeting

Many projects will have budget constraints. Knowing where costs might pile up and how to prioritize tasks and delegate resources is essential for ensuring a project remains within the 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’s still good to know what elements can add to a budget, how to decrease costs, and when to increase them.

4. Risk management

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.

5. Project management tools and software

Technology has made sharing findings, schedules, and communications across teams and stakeholders convenient. As a project manager, you’ll often need to know how to use collaboration and communication software and take the lead in managing them.

Some tools you might 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

6. Industry knowledge

Project management professionals can work in many fields, including IT, health care, and construction. Sometimes, hiring managers will prefer candidates who have academic or professional experience in that particular area. 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.

Workplace skills

7. Communication

Communication is a crucial skill for project management professionals to have. In fact, insufficient communication often gets 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 whom to communicate with, when, and how often. This might mean setting up expectations at the beginning of a project about how often communications will happen.

8. Organization

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. 

9. Flexibility

Even with a perfectly planned project, problems arise. Missed deadlines can occur, bad weather can derail construction, and people get sick or change jobs. If you’re a person who can deal with unexpected changes, your job as a project manager will go more smoothly.

10. Leadership

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, motivating team members, and balancing the needs of your team with the needs of the project.

11. People skills

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—her people skills were what helped her make the switch. Listen to her story below.

How to build project management skills

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.

How to include project management skills in your resume

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 a team of four developers to redesign a payment platform with a budget of C$2M to complete the project on time.”

You can also emphasize project management skills by including them in your resume’s “skills” section. If you haven’t led a project before, list your experiences where you had a hand in planning or implementing a new effort. 

Start advancing your project management skills today

Taking online courses can be a great way to build project management skills that are in demand. Consider one of Coursera's top-rated courses:

For an introductory course, start with the University of Virginia's Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management course. This program takes about nine hours to complete and covers how to initiate a project, manage risks, sequence tasks, monitor progress, and more.

To practice the basics of the Agile methodology, take Atlassian University's Agile With Atlassian Jira course. Inside, you'll learn how to configure the Jira software, create Agile boards, and keep up with project changes. This course is free and takes about twelve hours to complete.

Explore project management more broadly in the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate. In this program, you'll learn the job-ready essentials of project management, like change management, communicating with stakeholders, documenting project developments, and more in about six months.

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