Best Practices

25 Key Project Management Skills & Competencies

Jonathan Friedman
March 31, 2021
25 Key Project Management Skills & Competencies

Project success depends on many factors, chief among them is what the project manager brings to the table. If project managers have key project management skills and competencies, their strengths can significantly impact the undertaking.

Granted, characteristics differ from one project to another, as do the business environments in which they operate. So, the manager's combination of skills needs to adapt to the precise nature of each project. The core elements of what good project management takes, though, do not change much.

This article examines the abilities required to ensure successful project outcomes.

Key project management skills and competencies for 2021

Much of the project manager skillset applies to more than one area of any project. We will discuss 25 key skills and competencies a project manager needs. Arguably, the five skills and competencies that need more weighted attention are the following and can be thought of as hubs from which other keys skills radiate:

The complexity of managing a project means that the skills and competencies that fall into these main categories are interrelated for the most part. This implies that deficiencies in one area will influence performance in others. So, one essential quality that a project manager needs is a finely attuned sense of balance.

Subject matter expertise

Subject matter expertise is our first category of key project management skills and competencies. There is no substitute for in-depth knowledge of your industry. You have to know how things work and know your nuts from your bolts. Expertise comes from a combination of theoretical knowledge and experience.

1. Expertise

Sources of learning and clues about how you become a project management expert are everywhere. Everywhere. Experts are always alert for an opportunity to enhance their expertise.

They are generally willing to share what they learn too.

2. Knowledge

No one can know everything, but it's worth having a thorough knowledge of the company you work for and what they specialize in. It gives a project manager a significant advantage over someone who has little understanding of these things.

Project Management has evolved in recent decades. It is no longer the preserve of engineers, architects, or professionals in the construction business. As the world has become digitally transformed, so too has the definition and scope of project management broadened.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) in the USA (and around the world) offers project management certifications at various levels, subject to your passing the appropriate examinations. If your experience and educational background suggest that it would be viable, you can opt to take the exams without studying the certification courses. 

Project management has now become a complex and competitive field of knowledge in its own right. Having a project management qualification commensurate with your position and applicable to your industry has almost become a necessity to stay ahead in your career. Certification lends credibility to any experience you already have as a project manager.

3. Experience

Because project management certification courses are self-paced, many project managers study for these in their spare time while working in project management positions. Most project managers already have at least one project management qualification. They seek extra certifications as part of their CPD (continued professional development).

While such courses have a vital practical component, on-the-job experience provides unique learning curves. If you make a point of learning from your project management experience, you cannot help but hone your craft. 

Even if you don't work in web development, experience, in general, will have taught you that it pays to be tech-savvy.

4. Being tech savvy

How are you going to communicate? Have you created a robust timeline for your project? How are you organizing your teams?

What information are you going to include in your project status reports, and where are you going to get the data from? The answer to all these questions is that your project management software will provide you with all the cross-functional collaboration you need.

It will also present you with the information that allows you to see where the roadblocks are and discuss them with the person or team assigned the task. You can then clear that roadblock by reassigning the task to someone else or bringing extra help onboard to complete that task before the due date.

Navigating through its project management software illustrates at a glance how productive project work can be if everyone involved organizes their work, teams, timeline, and reporting in the same way.

Through its Teams, Members, and Guests structure, the software allows you to assign access as required to any individual within the organization. You can also grant access to consultants and people external to the company.

As a project manager, you need to develop your supervisory and follow-up skills to ensure everyone completes the assigned tasks to satisfaction and on time. Project management software makes this aspect of your work much less demanding. You can put the time saved to good use to up your game when preparing project status reports.

5. Report writing

The ability to write an effective project status report is key to your role as a project manager. Key stakeholders are keen for the news on how the project is developing! Your reports need to be both accurate and comprehensive and cultivate the engagement of your audience.

The key to the success of project status reports is producing them at agreed intervals. Key stakeholders, investors, and the company's board of directors might prefer a monthly or quarterly report. Departmental teams do better with a weekly compilation of data combined with a feedback discussion on progress.

The critical thing to remember as a project manager is that the format should be consistent. Tailor the report content to the intended audience. Automated analytics in TrueNxus software means that you can design project status reports for specific purposes.

For instance, key stakeholders likely will have no interest in the details of problems you might have had with suppliers. Instead, they will want to know that the goods will arrive and will not impact the final cost of the project despite supplier problems. They will also want reassurance that the project will not extend beyond its completion deadline.

If the project has a team dedicated to procurement, that team will have to examine the supplier problem. They will have to identify what went wrong and how you resolved the issue. The facts of the supplier problem are the same; the emphasis and response required are different.

Financial management skills

Financial management is our second category of key project management skills and competencies. The art of good management is said to be the art of delegation. As part of your project team, you need to establish a reasonable cost management accountant. Such an individual will advise you whether the project is on track and keeping expenditure within the budget.

6. Cost management and cost control

Among other things, project management about keeping a tight control on costs. The two things least tolerated by key stakeholders are overruns on project expenses and delays in completing phases of the project and its final deadline. Extraordinary items aside, spending the whole budget without completing the project you allocated the budget would count as poor financial management.

7. Key project management skills 

The first step to successful financial management is to ensure that the project budget is prepared correctly. The second is to ensure measures are in place to control expenditure within the given constraints. Such measures would include a system of approvals for all purchases, as well as a red-flag notification system if any budgeted cost unit were in danger of exceeding its budgeted limit.

Competent project managers are well-versed in reading and analyzing cash flow forecasts and financial statements. They should also relay budget-related information to all teams who are spending money allocated to the project. Communicating the need to keep costs down to all project employees positively is another skill project managers should strive to master.

8. Project costing and budgets

High on the key project management skills list can persuade key stakeholders that contingency provisions in the proposed project budget are realistic and ensure that the stakeholders approve them. Of course, no one has a crystal ball, but achieving a reasonable balance here will avoid asking stakeholders for special approval should any unexpected cost arise during project execution.

Suddenly, your more technical project management skills pay dividends. As a project manager, the mere fact that you know there is some wiggle room in the cash flow will make achieving the project's aims less stressful.

9. Visualization skills

Project managers should possess visualization skills that help them to quantify:

Ideally, these three elements should be in balance. It's worth pointing out that if you purchased most materials at the start of the project, then the allocation for capital expenditure might be as much as 80% exhausted when the project is only 20% complete, with 80% of the project duration remaining. Project managers need to develop a gut feel for the project's state of progress from a financial perspective.

Having a good feel for how well the project is doing does not preclude a hard, cold analysis of how the project's teams measure up to achieving their task-based goals. As already alluded to, reliable, accurate data is paramount. It means that a project manager with good visualization skills can transmit optimism to employees about how things are going, thus ensuring employee motivation.

If a team member can visualize or imagine what the finished project will look like or how completing it will make them feel, they will be more productive. 

Strategic and analytical skills

Strategic analysis is our third category of key project management skills and competencies. Managing strategy and analyses used to be a time-heavy activity. You can achieve enhanced productivity and efficiency by choosing TrueNxus management software that provides automated reporting, allowing historical reports and predictive views.

10. Analyzing results and adjusting strategic actions

Scheduling periodic discussion groups focused on strategy and any necessary adjustments will help keep project operations on track. Doing this with those responsible for different aspects of the project in a collaborative manner will tighten up the actions that feed into the overall strategic plan and project goals.

11. Risk management

Risk management is all about scenario building. You ask the question, "What would we do if...?" where what follows "if" is an unexpected occurrence of something that will negatively affect the project result. It is widely acknowledged that any project undertaking is a financial risk because it relies on a host of variables (e.g., employee performance, adequate raw material supply, and a stable national economy) to execute the project as initially envisioned.

The key to minimizing risk is good project planning. Nevertheless, there is a risk management process that project managers should establish as part of the project management portfolio:

Risk management should be an ongoing exercise throughout the whole project. Project managers need to adapt to changes throughout the project.

Once the initial risk analysis has been carried out, adjustments to the project's insurances may be warranted.

12. Critical thinking and problem solving

Unexpected, solvable problems consistently arise in any project. A project manager often cannot solve the problem on their own. It takes a team.

A good project manager will guide the team through an examination of the problem and possible ways to solve it. The collective brain is always better at arriving at a solution when the planned course of action needs modifying. An essential skill in a good project manager is identifying when the team needs to act in concert to solve a problem.

The ability to anticipate such situations is invaluable to the smooth running of any project. A project manager should also be open to team members raising the alert that a problem might be on the horizon. This is one of the hallmarks of good leadership, discussed below.

13. Ability to formulate a project recovery strategy and manage change

Formulating a project recovery strategy is closely aligned to risk management. It is essential to have developed a set of worst-case scenarios at the outset of the project and have a documented plan of action should any of these scenarios begin to play out. It could mean the difference between project success and project failure.

14. Research skills and industry trends

Research skills to determine market trends in the project's industry mean that a project manager can incorporate project implementation findings. This aspect of project management is linked to knowledge and expertise. A good project manager will inculcate a discipline for this activity in team leaders of the various teams involved in the project.

Having above-average research skills and the ability to spot market trends and innovative ideas from following developments in the industry closely will give your organization an edge over the completion. This, in turn, might be an additional determiner of the project's eventual success.

Leadership

Leadership is our fourth and final category of key project management skills and competencies. According to an article in Forbes, leadership uses your influence to get others to maximize their efforts to achieve a predefined goal. Behind that social influence that you use — as opposed to the big stick that comes with your title or position in the company — is the ability to make decisions. Good leaders engender employee engagement yet are prepared to shoulder responsibility.

15. Deft decision-making abilities

Leaders do not have to be managers, but it's better for all concerned if managers are good leaders. Decision-making comes from understanding situations and applying discernment in an unbiased fashion. The ability to do this derives from insights gained by considering the perspectives and opinions of others.

A significant part of exercising leadership involves effective communication. Many people forget that communication has a two-way dynamic.

It is not only a question of issuing instructions. It is also about soliciting feedback and reaching an agreement on the way forward.

16. Communication

Communication in any project involves internal and external communication on a wide range of issues. It is essential for any project manager to get their point across in a clearly understood way. It is equally crucial that a project manager cultivates upfront, honest and transparent communication among all members of the wider project team.

Forging and maintaining good relationships relies on sound, timely, and respectful communication. So, what are you communicating? In broad strokes, a project manager needs to share the project's vision and goals and discuss its progress and status with the relevant teams involved.

Communication is ongoing. It never stops. Communication is necessary because, no matter what the project, the competent project manager knows that they are dealing with people.

17. Internal communication

Project management software will give you overviews of everything you need to know about your project and progress. Yet, it is still only an information base with a communicative function.

In TrueNxus software, you can attach comments to individual tasks. This is great for documenting reasons for decisions, delays, or simply keeping colleagues informed. It does not replace in-person verbal exchanges (or their Zoom equivalent) or the kinds of group sessions designed for building teams and discussing ideas and issues.

Brainstorming remotely is more than the digital face-to-face. Digital solutions to the kinds of project planning and monitoring sessions that once took place in a conference room are a valuable adjunct to project management software. They also point to the need for project managers and their teams to be adaptable and tech-savvy, as mentioned elsewhere in this article. 

18. External communication

External communication could involve negotiation with subcontractors, suppliers, and even stakeholders, depending on the project type. Exchanges that the project manager has with companies and consultants external to the project organization can involve collaboration similar to internal communications. Depending on the project, though, some on-site meetings are inevitable.

External communication also involves the preparation of press releases on behalf of the company. Visibility of the project, how it will benefit the local population, say, or showcases which latest technologies are essential to the organization's corporate brand implementing the project.

Outward-facing communications like these need additional preparation and internal collaboration. They might require the approval of key stakeholders or the board of directors before release. They might also be time-sensitive and embargoed until a specific date.

If the company is multinational, external communications might need translation into another language before the release date, so you should consider additional preparation time. Well-organized task management would come into play here.

19. Competent collaboration

Project managers need to communicate collaboratively. This involves the skill of active listening. Networking with business partners — to get better deals with project suppliers — has to be a collaborative effort. The project manager has to engender third parties' cooperation to obtain maximum benefit for the project itself.

By becoming a better listener, project managers can improve their productivity. It also enhances their ability to influence, persuade and negotiate more effectively. 

You can learn negotiation skills. This is the path to the always desired win-win situation and one way to avoid misunderstandings. It's worth thinking of the collaborative approach as a kind of insurance against conflicts arising since it keeps everyone on the same page.

20. Conflict management and resolution

Clear communication involving active listening and a collaborative approach helps people cooperate to achieve a common goal. If the project's procedural groundwork follows this pattern consistently, then conflicts are less likely to arise.

When conflicts occur, a project manager needs to be skilled in managing the conflict and facilitating its resolution. Calm impartiality at such times can be an invaluable asset. Resolving the misunderstandings that lead to conflict as they occur can ensure the smooth running of a project.

Skills in this area also garner your colleagues and teams' added trust in your ability to steer the project to a successful conclusion.

21. Personal qualities

Your personality will govern many of your approaches to the smallest moments of your day-to-day, overarching strategies, and everything else in between. Because you have devoted time to personal development in your career, you will have tempered your essential character traits through management training and experience. The demands of corporate culture will also have had an influence.

Aspects of your personality that should be obvious to all team members are your sense of ethics and integrity. If you come across as authentic, you will quickly gain all participants' trust in the project. That alone will help you to get off to a good start as a project manager.

Adaptability is another essential quality that a project manager should possess. Things change. Nothing goes precisely according to plan.

Recognizing these simple truths will help you improve your adaptability. Good leadership and project management demand cognitive, emotional, and dispositional flexibility.

Other qualities which rank high on the list for project managers include a good sense of humor, combined with a sense of fairness and a certain degree of empathy and openness. These have long been considered project management soft skills. That opinion was based on the notion that if you were high enough on the company ladder, it was okay to be cantankerous and inconsiderate.

Well, the world has changed, and it's not okay. The workplace is much more diverse than it was in the previous century. Now, sincere cultural sensitivity towards all colleagues is a desirable quality for a project manager to have and one that you should strive to cultivate.

Organization

You need to be organized, if only to lead by example. The level of organization demonstrated by a project manager has a domino effect. If you are stressed out because you are poorly organized, your teams will be too.

22. Ensuring team members are organized

Organization involves converting managed project strategies into tasks. Project management software organizes tasks per individual, due date, and progress status:

Each task is assigned to a subproject within your overall project and can be monitored in various views on the Dashboard. While the software provides an excellent framework for organizing tasks, it is up to the project manager to ensure all team members and their team leaders follow methods that optimize the way they organize their work.

Your project will run smoothly if everyone realizes organization is a team effort and a team responsibility. The individual contribution to the team effort counts.

23. Time management

Tasks for each team and team member are included on the Timeline. They show "dependencies," i.e., what contributions are needed from other team members before the individual responsible for the task can complete it.

As a project manager, you need to have a good sense of the duration of each task and remind team members that tasks are almost due or are past due. Of course, the software gives these individuals notification, but most people respond better to human encouragement.

Aside from the intuitive Timeline GUI, the Notification section displays a list of all tasks nearing due date. The project manager needs to monitor his team's progress like a hawk and encourage them to make the deadline where it looks like they might not.

Any project has multiple levels of time management. The most obvious is the overall project timeline with clear milestones at the end of each stage. Interim targets have to be achieved before progressing to the next stage.

All tasks have to feed into a specific goal. Skilled project managers have a knack for accurate estimates of the time taken for individual tasks. Accurate estimates mean that they avoid significant discrepancies on the timeline for individual and global project goals.

24. Engaging human resources and training

Delegating software training, time management training, and team building activities to a human resources facilitator is a good idea. As a project manager, you can take part, but teams do flourish with the input of more than one individual.

Human Resources can also organize workshops and training involving Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). As a good project manager, your methodology will include either one of these approaches or a customized version combining the two.

25. Coaching and reviews

An essential part of your project management responsibilities is to coach your team members in the skills they may only have begun to learn for the first time on this project. Your team will appreciate the benefit of your knowledge and expertise and the opportunity to interact with you.

Team management for day-to-day activities is assigned to a team leader, who can conduct weekly reviews of achievements, goals reached, what was good and what now needs improvement.

Team management occurs at the team leader level and the project manager level. This has the advantage of creating more than one level of feedback and discussion. It makes for a more robust safety net.

It has the effect of making all employees aware of their performance continually. It also motivates them since the corrective actions required are usually slight with frequent reviews and contextual coaching. 

Ensure project success with key project management skills and competencies

Your overarching strategy supported by clear plans of action will materialize if you work on your key project management skills and competencies. Additionally, the act of using project management software will improve your project management skills. Since all team members use the same software, they, too, will begin to focus on their tasks using a project management perspective.

Of course, team members are not the designated project manager; you are. And deep down, you know that it takes more than seamless software to manage a project well. It takes a blend of key project management skills and competencies that are either intrinsic or acquired with effort over time – or both.

By constantly developing your project manager skillset relating to every aspect of project management, you can be confident that what you bring to the table is precisely what the concerned project needs—a skilled, competent project manager.

TrueNxus offers everything you need for planning and delivering successful projects completed on budget and on time. Why don't you sign up for a free trial (no credit card required) today and put the software through its paces?