If you’re a project manager, it can be difficult to step back and see where to improve as you’re often at the mercy of ever-changing work and project requirements.
Unlike a singular focus, your job requires you to be everywhere, all the time. Besides cloning yourself, what else is there to do?
Of course, there are tried and true skill sets every project manager should have - time management skills, good communication, strong leadership. However, to future-proof your career, we wanted to focus on a few unique skills that may help you improve your work and quality of life.
Here are eight essential project management skills to keep developing through the years:
Make project decisions even when there are conflicting opinions within the team
Being a project manager means you‘re constantly evaluating and re-evaluating priorities. You have to juggle the endless amounts of requests from product and marketing teams, executive leadership, external stakeholders, and so on. Though having a keen eye for prioritization is critical to the business, being able to simply put a stake in the ground and move forward is equally important.
You can often feel pressure to simply say “yes” to someone who is pushing for something to get done. However, if you say yes to everyone - you’ll likely fail.
When there are conflicting opinions, hold your own and make sure to communicate the big picture to people. Explain the trade-offs and make sure they understand the consequences. Decisiveness isn’t about being right, it’s about holding the courage to tell the truth - and sometimes that can be the toughest part of the job.
Be aware of different communication styles and adapt to individuals working on the project
Have you ever watched two people who have completely different communication styles try to solve a problem together?
It’s a complete trainwreck. It’s almost as if they’re speaking two different languages, and a part of your job is to not only translate but to push the conversation forward. Everyone has a unique communication style. As a project manager, it’s important you understand each one. This isn’t only critical to relaying information but also for your own sanity. It’s the key to quickly deciphering what messages are coming in and what to do with them.
Be prepared, though. Gaps in communication styles can be insidious and to the untrained eye, it can be incredibly overwhelming to manage.
If you’re dealing with a project that has multiple personalities and communication styles involved, the best way to approach it is to be incredibly clear about expectations upfront and document those expectations. Make sure people are communicating what they want to get out of the project, when they expect things, and double-check this in writing to avoid conflicts.
Use motivation as a soft skill for project management that works with people, not against them
Now that you have a decisive attitude and awareness around different communication styles, it’s time to put that to work with another soft skill of project management. Understanding how people are motivated is a key part of being a project manager. The reality is that you’re not only managing projects - you’re managing people. Though you may have zero direct reports, the amount of people who rely on your direction is endless.
One way to motivate people is to get extremely clear on what people ultimately want:
Are they cranky because they want validation and aren’t getting it?
Are they rushing this project out the door because the CEO is putting on the pressure?
What’s with their lack of updates - are they nervous they did a bad job?
Get to the heart of why people are behaving in certain ways and you’ll have a much better result in getting them to the finish line. Take time to have discussions with people about what they’re working on. Pay attention to their body language in meetings. Get a sense of what their personal goals are in order to find some common ground on what the project needs from them.
Adapt to frequent project changes and trends
Another one of the essential project management skills is being able to adapt when an unexpected project change is needed. Project managers who naturally have this skill love solving problems and find their own motivation and getting to the root of a problem.
But it’s not just project changes that require you to stay adaptable. New market trends and up-and-coming technologies are just two of the factors affecting daily project development. So staying flexible also means you’ll be able to help your own team adapt to these changes and suggest improved tools and work methods to make their work easier too.
This project manager skill will help you maintain a prosperous career too. For instance, a new trend affecting the project management career is specializing in a specific field. Marketing, software, or healthcare project managers are three examples of such directions you should be prepared to take in the future.
Manage project risks and stay on top of potential threats
Behold one of the top project management skills you simply can’t do work without. Risks affecting most projects at some point. But a great project manager is able to identify these threats ahead of time and create detailed plans of tackling them.
The good news is that you can develop your risk management skills in time. After all, rather than being an innate trait, this skill is based on your own experience and willingness to dig into the nooks and crannies of a project. Other characteristics that come in handy at this point include prioritization, quick decision-making, and, specifically, risk mitigation.
Want to speed up the process? Use a project reporting tool to get an overview of your project’s live data, identify potential risks, and remove bottlenecks.
Practice active listening, so you can better understand your team’s needs
Closely tied with the previous project manager skill, being a good active listener makes communication more effective for both sides of a conversation.
On your end, you’ll be able to fully grasp team concerns and needs so no mistakes will be made later on. As a result, you’ll be able to adapt a project to every individual and show you’ve completely understood their concerns. Similarly, your team members will feel respected and can receive the right information and amount of details during task distribution.
The same benefits apply when talking to stakeholders or clients and getting their project requirements. Active listening proves even more valuable as it helps you prevent conflicts and help fix issues quickly.
Bring the best out of every individual on your projects
Beyond being a good motivator and active listener, project leaders need to learn to make every individual in their team shine. Once every person is doing their best (and staying happy in the meantime), teamwork as a whole will also prosper.
Such project management soft skills support the empathic leadership goal that has been of top importance for many companies in the past months. Individual employee wellbeing and performance can also be affected by factors that stay hidden unless a manager can take the first step to sport and help with handling these. You can use one-on-one meetings, regular team check-ins, and even anonymous feedback surveys to spot potentially dangerous threats to a team’s cohesion.
Stop being a people-pleasing perfectionist to really nail team communication
A big part of your day is likely reacting to everyone else’s needs. So it can be difficult to find time to strategize and think things through without pleasing the needs of everyone on your team. Being able to objectively assess tasks and prioritization is key to keeping things moving forward, but so is grasping the idea that “perfect” can be the enemy of “good”.
As projects become more complex, it can easily spin you in circles if you’re gripping too tightly to original ideas or peoples’ opinions. A part of being a great project manager is understanding when good is good enough.
One way to do this is to be incredibly clear to your team about trade-offs. Overcommunicate what it means to work on a project for even just a few hours more. Find a system that will allow your team to quickly make decisions on what deserves priority and if it isn’t working - don’t be afraid to make the decision yourself.
No matter which skills of a project manager you want to improve next, give yourself some time to step back and explore what’s worked so far. Fine-tune areas where you can improve communication and clarity. Leverage these tips to not only be better at your job but also make your life a lot easier.
Keep in mind that different industries or teams will require abilities specific to the day-to-day tasks required. The project management skills above all prove essential when managing a software team. To read more on how you can maintain focused teams that are able to respond to change rapidly, download our free ebook.