10 Essential Project Management Skills: Helping Project Managers Succeed

In the search for the most essential skills needed by project managers today the best place to begin is with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). PMBOK recognizes nine knowledge areas essential for project managers to master. While there are many basic project management skills that fall within each of the knowledge areas, this article identifies the quintessential skill in each area that project managers should focus to lead successful projects and team.

One additional skill that touches each of knowledge areas is also included to round out the list of top ten project management skills. As you will see from perusing the list, there are an equal number of hard and soft skills listed to keep projects on task and external and internal stakeholders satisfied with the results.

1. Scope Management: Writing a Well-Defined Scope Statement

Without doubt, one of the most common reasons why a project fails is because of poor scope definition. Defining the scope of the project represents the beginning of every project and the ability to write a clearly defined scope statement provides the project manager with the backbone to say no to overly demanding clients.

In order to write a good scope statement the project manager needs to have a clear understanding of the breadth of the project. One of the greatest disservices to the client is to allow scope creep to take over a project. Having a well-written scope statement understood and agreed upon by all stakeholders is the first step for controlling scope creep.

2. Communication: Speaking With Authority While Empowering

When you become a project manager, you will notice that your communication style changes. For example, your vocabulary expands and you begin to speak in acronyms (Gantt charts, PERT, WBS, RBS). While it may be easy to become self-absorbed with this new sophisticated language, don't forget to speak the native tongue understood and spoken by your team.

As a general rule, keep communications simple, clear, directive and motivational. Using words well-understood by the team that motivates and empowers them will enable you to communicate objectives and priorities clearly while allowing team members to focus on the details of accomplishing those tasks.

3. Human Resources: Selecting the Right People

Under the true team concept, a project manager is only as good as the members of his or her team. Therefore, one of the essential project management skills is the commitment to hiring or selecting the best people to perform each task in accordance with their natural talents and ability to learn.

Matching talents with job requirements is not an easy task itself. Quite often the project manager may have a pool of candidates, some overqualified and some underqualified, to perform a particular job. Choosing an overqualified candidate may ensure that the job is done properly but also may lead to job dissatisfaction and a quick exit by the employee seeking better opportunities. Choosing an underqualified candidate can lead to disastrous results in the form of project delays, lower quality outputs, and increased costs.

4. Time Management: Delegation of Tasks

Time Management Skills

Traditionally time management focuses on developing project schedules, constructing network diagrams, and determining the critical path. Ironically, the greatest time saver for the project manager is not found in any chart, but in the ability of the project manager to successfully delegate tasks.

If you value your time then you must learn to delegate effectively. Once you have the right people on board your team, the next step is to assign tasks to individual members of the team that are meaningful. For many project managers, the art of delegation is one of the hardest project management skills to learn for many reasons. However, equally pernicious is a project manager who over delegates or only delegates the most menial tasks.

5. Risk Management: Proactive Approach to Risks

The expression hindsight is 20/20 is apropos for a project leader who never saw a speeding train carrying the risks that derailed the project. Risk management is a critical aspect of project management and an integral part of project planning. While the whole process of identifying, assessing, and controlling and evaluating risks is important, the ability to mitigate risks is a critical project management skill for the project manager to master. Since you cannot eliminate risks completely, particularly the unknown ones, the project manager needs to know how to mitigate risks so that the situation does not escalate into a full-blown crisis.

6. Cost Management: Monitoring the Budget

Cost Management

The project manager's financial stake in a project is controlling costs to adhere to the proposed or baseline budget. Cost management is an important knowledge area of the PMBOK for the obvious reason that money is the lifeblood of any project.

The three core processes of cost management are cost estimation, cost budgeting, and cost control. Of the many technical and financial skills needed for budgeting, the relentless monitoring of the project's performance to see where actual costs have varied from estimated costs will generate the true savings. Without proper monitoring small overruns can quickly balloon into serious budget problems.

7. Procurement Management: Selection of the Best Vendors

A natural extension of cost management is procurement management that extends to planning purchases and negotiating contracts. In order to fulfill both knowledge areas, the project manager must be proficient in the choosing the best vendor based upon price, features, time and ease. This is another great example where the project manager's needs to have a thorough understanding of the resources required to move the project forward.

8. Quality Management: Quality Control

Meeting the expectations of stakeholders is the starting point of every project and quality management is how you get there. Quality management consists of three main aspects: quality planning, quality assurance and quality control. There is a saying that you can only change what you can control and this is certainly true with quality management. For a project manager this means having the skills to use quality control tools and techniques to ensure total quality management.

9. Project Integration: Maintaining Balance

Juggling: Essential Project Management Skill

As a project manager, you may feel a little like a "joggler" with a lot of balls in play—managing the schedule, budget, and meeting stakeholders' expectation—while running as fast as you can to put out potential fires. The ability to balance these many responsibilities is one of the most desired skills among project managers. There are no shortcuts in project management and each PMBOK knowledge area needs its well-deserved attention for the project manager to run the project successfully from the planning phase to the execution phase.

10. Project Management and Technology

Technology permeates each of PMBOK knowledge areas and the project manager needs to have more than a perfunctory understanding of new technologies in order to use them effectively in managing projects. Knowing where to find and how to use the latest software for project management is a valuable skill for increasing personal and team productivity in many different ways.

References and Image Credits

Newell, Michael W. Preparing for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam, third edition. 3rd ed. New York: American Management Association, 2005.

Image credits:

Alarm Clock: Wikimedia Commons

Currency: Wikimedia Commons

Joggler: Wikimedia Commons