What does it mean to be a great project manager?
It’s not about qualifications or degrees (but those are good too, of course).
It’s not even about simply delivering on the classic duties and responsibilities of a project manager (although obviously that’s a pretty big part of it).
Those things are important. But being a really great project manager isn’t just about tasks, timings, and technical prowess.
In fact, some of the most important project manager skills — the ones that will help your project team to feel valued, motivated, and trusted — are the soft skills.
The soft skills of project management are what allow you to get the best out of people, create harmonious relationships across departments, and keep things running smoothly throughout the process.
They’re the skills you rely on when things start to get scary, when the project subtly begins to change direction, or when you need to give tough feedback to your team.
Here’s my rundown of the 6 most important project management skills — and how to develop them into your project management strengths:
As a project manager, you need to work with a lot of different people: team members, other departments, leadership, clients. Most projects have a long list of stakeholders that you need to keep aligned, up-to-date, and ideally, happy.
When you have so many people to manage, communication is key. For work to flow, you need to make sure that everyone is on the same page, working towards the same goals, and all kept in the loop about any changes or issues.
Organization is a broad term that covers a lot of associated subskills, from the big picture stuff like planning out the project in detail, to the everyday things like personal time management that allow you to get your day-to-day work done and be in the right place at the right time.
And as a project manager, you’re not just responsible for keeping yourself organized and managing your own work — everyone else is relying on you, too.
So you know that beautiful, detailed, well thought-out plan that you made with all your sharply-honed organizational skills? Yeah, that’s almost definitely going to change.
The best project managers aren’t afraid to go off-piste, and flexibly respond to change in the moment, without sacrificing their whole project plan and having to start from scratch all over again.
As a project manager, empathy empowers you to engage with everyone you work with more compassionately and productively.
In turn, that helps you to be a more insightful leader and create a more motivational, rewarding business environment for your team. Because you’re better positioned to understand what drives each individual, you’re also better equipped to help them develop their skills and reach their goals.
The ability to stay cool under pressure is important, because as a project manager, you’ll find yourself in a lot of high-pressure situations.
Deadlines closing in, difficult client conversations, things not going to plan — project managers don’t just need to survive the chaos, they need to be able to thrive in it.
Particularly in an agency environment, where things are fast-paced and constantly changing, project managers need to be able to keep a level head and make good judgement calls under pressure.
The thing is, great leadership will look different to different people. What it means to be a good leader can vary depending on industry, team, and individual team members.
And it’s not just one individual trait. To be a good leader, you need to incorporate many of the other project management skills on this list.
but you also need that extra spark of something that can ignite inspiration in the rest of the team.
Being a good leader means being able to understand what’s needed to motivate and drive your team, in your own way, using your own unique project manager skills and competencies.
Project management is a job that demands a varied and vast skill set. Start by honing your practices in each skill set, and keep adding and incorporating them into your work.
As with most things, once you know the areas you want to improve, you can seek out opportunities to develop them.