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How to Become a Project Manager

What Skills Do Project Managers Need?

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Given the complexity of their position, Project Managers need a diverse array of both soft and hard, technical skills to perform their jobs effectively.

What Are Project Management Skills?

Project management skills combine hard skills like risk management, budgeting, scheduling, and performance tracking with soft skills such as communication, leadership, and time management.

Given that a Project Manager has to devise the program plan and provide a realistic idea of budgeting and deadlines, a Project Manager has to have a strong overall business sense and solid understanding of how to source a variety of resources – including people. After all, human resources is a big part of a Project Manager’s job, and hiring or choosing the right people for the right job is a skill they really need to harness.

Project Managers also need technical skills relating to finding and using platforms like Microsoft Project, Basecamp, and Evernote to track project progress and communicate with their teams. Tools like these can be the difference between a smoothly run project and one mired in miscommunication.

As far as soft skills, it goes without saying that a Project Manager needs to have keen time management and organizational skills. They have to keep themselves and the team on track, monitor progress, and tweak as the project unfolds. When things go awry – and they almost always do – Project Managers need to act quickly and creatively to solve problems to avoid derailing the entire project. They need to exhibit leadership skills by setting goals for the team, keeping them motivated, and removing any obstacles that get in their way or threaten the project.

A Project Manager needs to be diplomatic. They should feel comfortable negotiating with executives, stakeholders, and members of the project team. Anything from added constraints to personality clashes fall within their jurisdiction. Finally, communication is paramount. Stakeholders expect to be updated on project status clearly and in a timely fashion.

What Are the Top Skills Every Project Manager Should Have?

The top skills every Project Manager should have include a mix of technical and soft skills.

Technical Skills for Project Management

Project Planning

Crafting a proper project plan takes a lot of skill and, usually, experience with creating things like meeting plans, statements of work, estimates, timelines, resource plans, and briefs. You’ll know when you’ve developed this skill because by and large, you’ll feel five steps ahead and rarely caught by surprise.

Reading, Writing, and Math

We often overlook these basic things as being technical skills, but to be a Project Manager, you need to operate at a high level in all three areas. You’ll need to be able to write project briefs that are persuasive and concise. You’ll need to be able to catch errors in budget and expense math and verify that numbers are correct. If you’re very weak in any of those areas, it could pose a problem. Especially if you think your written skills aren’t up to a high enough standard, a program like Grammarly could be worth looking into.

Process Management

When we talk about process management, we mean taking a closer look at things like budgeting, project delivery, project launch, invoicing, and resourcing. Process management is a juggling act and many Project Managers struggle with it. But when you excel at this skill in particular, it’s a surefire way to stand out. There are lots of process management training certifications if you’re interested in building this skill.

Scheduling

Conducting human resources tasks consumes a huge part of a Project Manager’s day. Project scheduling refers to the ability to seamlessly schedule the people you need on your project when you need them on your project. This is essential to avoiding issues like huge overtime bills, last-minute staffing scrambles or having an important employee taking a vacation at a crucial juncture in the project. You could use a Gantt chart in your project scheduling tool, or Excel would do fine also.

Risk Management

The ability to see potential problems looming on the horizon and to proactively deal with them to mitigate the harm is a skill every great Project Manager needs. You simply can’t be caught blind-sided with an unexpected crisis while you’re deep into executing your project. After you identify risks, you also must become adept at figuring out how you plan to handle them. Get good at making risk plans that weigh probability and cost. There are dedicated risk management tools out there to help you with this.

Project Management Tools

Behind every great Project Manager is a toolbelt of software. It’s honestly worth learning as many as you possibly can, since you’ll find that each offers different features that will empower you and your team and have you working as efficiently as possible. Popular tools include Basecamp, Evernote, Paymo, Hive, Smartshet, ClickUp, and Microsoft Project.

Soft Skills for Project Management

Organization

Badly organized projects simply don’t work. It’s a Project Manager’s job to sit in the eye of a hurricane and somehow calmly make sense of it all. To do that, it’s imperative that you have all your ducks in a row. To develop this skill, get a bit nerdy about it – there are whole communities dedicated to discussing the merits of various organizational schemes and strategies.

Communication

To be an effective Project Manager, you must be able to communicate immaculately. You should be able to talk to anyone in an organization from the people lowest on the organization’s ladder to senior management in a confident and clear way. Not only that, your communication abilities will be of the utmost importance when dealing with clients and stakeholders too. And it is possible to work on your communication skills. One way is to try attending networking events. Talk to people about their job and really try to get a sense of what their day-to-day work life is like. That’s something that will come in handy when you’re a Project Manager holding a team meeting with a diverse group of employees.

Leadership

Good Project Managers know how to motivate and lead by example. Your leadership skills are important because you are steering this project and you need the people working behind you to have faith in your ability and a will to work hard for you and give you their best possible effort. You will at times also have to have hard conversations with team members who are not performing up to their potential or lagging on deadlines, and when you have those conversations, it’s important to know how to approach them so that the employee feels inspired to work harder, rather than defeated. That’s leadership.

Time Management

When you’re a Project Manager, every minute matters. You must have impeccable time management skills to even just accurately designate how long each task will take, let alone complete the work you have in front of you. Project Managers know the value of efficiency and you must be the most efficient and deadline-conscious of anyone on your team, since it’s your job to monitor your progress and make sure you’re on schedule.

Relationship Management

Over the course of a long project, you can expect to deal with at least one stakeholder or client who is nervous about your ability to hit your deadlines on your important deliverables. Managing those relationships – and managing expectations – is a huge part of your job as a Project Manager. You must be honest and realistic while also making sure that any impatient parties understand the reasons why the project is unfolding the way it is.

Does Project Management Require Math?

No, project management doesn’t require math, just diligence. As long as you are thorough and careful when working with budgets and other numerical figures, you do not need advanced math skills to be a Project Manager.

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