Top Skills for Project Managers: Building the Future of PM

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One of the most profound challenges facing organizations today is the need to up-skill your workforce to meet the demands of the future. Add that to supply chain issues, vaccine mandates, rising attrition, and cyber security concerns and you have the hotbed of activity that is 2022.

I originally wrote this article on the key project management skills required back in 2019. This is an update and reflection on how the required project management skills have changed, as our world has changed over the past few years.

There has never been a better time to be in the field of project management. There are no shortages of projects to be completed. Organizations are racing to meet rising customer demand, digitize their operations, address the critical issues highlighted above, and generally compete in this rather crowded market. 

The future is indeed looking bright for Project Managers; provided we can fill the gap between needed skills and our ability.

graphic with 8 organizational pm skills and pm in middle

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The Growing Need

Back in 2018, PMI released their Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap Report // 2017-2027, forecasting a growth in project-oriented roles by 33% through 2027

As all strategy is delivered through projects, it made sense for this sudden spike in demand.  But along with this tremendous growth as a result of digitization and other forces, there is also a widening gap between the need and availability of skilled resources. 

In 2018, 50% of executives surveyed for the aforementioned PMI Job Growth and Talent Report, expected that the largest impact of disruptive technologies would be the upskilling and training of current employees. A focus on digital transformation, customer needs, and a greater reliance on partnerships, introduced the need for different skills within the workforce.

50% of executives agree that the largest impact of disruptive technologies is the upskilling and training of current employees.

PMI Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap Report // 2017-2027

2020 then brought us the pandemic, heightening the need for stronger empathy, crisis management, and of course adaptability skills. In 2022 in the midst of the “Great Resignation” it is now imperative that our entire workforce demonstrates empathy, problem solving skills, and the ability to adapt to this near-constant change.

Even prior to the pandemic, for the previous few years, I felt barely on the edge of control. As a leader, one assigned to multiple projects, my attention was constantly pulled in different directions. Tools introduced to the market for enhanced project management and collaboration seemed to offer neither. And then, the way we delivered projects, our ways of working significantly transformed in the name of Agile. 

I personally needed to do something different and I needed to grow my skills. Not only my soft skills but technical skills as well in order to respond to this new world. So I did what any good project manager would do. I googled “successful project manager traits”.

Rising Expectations for Project Managers

Surprisingly there was no shortage of opinions on the key skills of a great project manager. Nor did I disagree with half of them. Today’s project manager is no longer responsible for simply getting the job done, but also for achieving business results and inspiring and motivating the team.

Today’s project manager is no longer responsible for simply getting the job done, but also for achieving business results and inspiring and motivating the team.

However, with the rising expectations for tomorrow’s project managers, I could not honestly set out a plan for development with 50+ skills that I, or my team, for that matter needed to master. The secret was going to be on starting from a baseline of core project management skills and building upon what was different today. 

If you are reading this and are just getting into the profession, my honest recommendation would be to start with establishing sound project management fundamentals. 

Do you understand the basics of task management, time management, and risk management? Can you build a project schedule? Have you built a stakeholder management plan?  Do you know how to set up a PMO? Start there.

For the rest of you, here are the critical skills I would prioritize.

List of 10 key project management skills
Building the Future of Project Management: Top Skills for Project Managers

Key Project Management Skills

1. Collaborative Leadership

Teams-based organization models, the rise of the gig economy, and now rising attrition require a move from pure leadership skills to more of a coach. A collaborative leadership style requires a partnership between the employee and the lead.  

It’s not servant leadership. PMs will identify what the role will contribute to the growth of the organization or project as a whole. The employee on the other hand needs to take an active role in crafting their job and role to fit their career goals. While this is a skill you can grow, don’t underestimate the need for the organizational culture or environment to change as well in order for this to be successful.

2. Human-Centered Design

The traditional operating model of a strategy focused on a return on investment has been realigned to a customer-focused business model. This requires an ability to design solutions with the end-user in mind, including any social and environmental factors. Thought leadership about how to apply Design Thinking in Project Management and methods around Behavioral Project Management will continue to develop as we move forward.

3. Data Science / Visualization

Accurate performance measurement to facilitate effective decision making, combined with an overwhelming barrage of information necessitates new thinking on both the art and science of data for consumption. A project manager now needs to think about who will consume the information, what key insights can we make, what decisions need to be made, and is the data here to support that decision making.

4. Benefits Realization

We hear all the time about strategic value and outcomes. However, according to PMI, only one-third of organizations report a high maturity in benefits realization. This requires a shift in focus to what value is actually being delivered to the customer. 

The rise of more Agile ways of working has complicated our ability to articulate benefits across a value stream.  However, effective project managers of the future will need to build this skill set.  Without this ability, you will likely not receive the critical resources you need to deliver on time and with quality.

Photo by Tezos on Unsplash

5. Persuasive Communication

The need for strong communication skills has only risen in the last few years, however, the style of communication still needs to evolve. One first must secure the attention and then you can begin to communicate something of value, personalized to each recipient or audience group. 

To add a layer of complexity, project managers need to be able to communicate across cultures, across languages, and across channels – both internal and external. They also need to recognize when the message is being received or not, course-correcting to ensure their message gets across.

6. Change Management

Not only an agent for change but an agent for constant and fast change. Today’s challenge is on overcoming the resistance, whether due to fear, fatigue, or burnout, to deliver immediate value before our team moves on to the next big crisis, or worse the next organization. Building not only your change management skills, but building on the previous point around communications – i.e. your storytelling skills – will be critical.

7. Innovator Mindset

The constant release of new project management software and other tech requires an ability to learn, keep up and fail fast with technology. More importantly, one needs to understand how to connect and apply disparate project management tools to build more valuable solutions. 

Strong project managers will understand how to leverage low code solutions and automation technology to drive efficiencies, saving time and effort not only in their work but in their team’s work as well.

8. Method Mixologist

Where how the project is managed could differ from projects across the portfolio, one must have a strong understanding of the entire spectrum of project management methodologies today. 

This is where the future is going – it’s not Agile or Waterfall – it’s a dial of how agile this project is. Project managers need to be able to define what the culture of the organization is and intelligently mix what methods would work best whether predictive, iterative, hybrid or whatever comes next, in order to achieve success.

9. Synthesis / Critical Thinking Skills

With the pace of new technology introductions and new corporate ventures, one must have an extreme hunger for knowledge. It’s not enough to consume information today though.  One needs to be able to quickly “Borg-like” assimilate information or come up to speed. Yes, I’m a fan.  

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s course Leading Like a CEO recently resonated with me. In it, he stated that “the most effective leaders are ones who are good at connecting dots and making decisions, i.e. able to synthesize and decide on a way forward.” 

Whatever word you decide – assimilation, synthesis – the key is going to be focusing on building your critical thinking skills. This will allow you to question your biases, or your myriad of information sources, to then decide on the best plan forward.

10. Empathy

Originally back in 2019, I had a sense of humor as a required skill. Personally, I still think it is a good skill to have – and generally, you are a bit more fun to work with. But more importantly, with all there is to do in a given day with competing demands, one needs some way to relieve stress. 

However, if I had one wish as we move forward it would be to improve our Empathy skills.  The ability to see things from another’s point of view, to understand what they are thinking and feeling, will not only make us not only better project managers but better humans.

Photo by Tezos on Unsplash

Building the Future of Project Management

So now that you made it to the end of my top project management skills for building the future of project management you are probably thinking “Now what?”.

I recommend that you assess your competency and how critical that particular skill is to further your career.  You can then use that information to build a personalized development plan. 

Assess your Project Management Skills

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The survey will guide you through a series of 11 questions to assess yourself against. Strong project management skills are the foundation of your career as a project manager, so I added one question for Core PM Skills to the 10 outlined above.  

Upon completion of the survey, you will receive our Top Skills for Project Managers Infographic. The infographic includes helpful links to training courses designed to get you on your way.

As a “𝐁𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐂𝐮𝐥𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠” LinkedIn Talent Awards winner, we have been recognized for our investment in the learning and development of our employees. At M|P our employees benefit from the 15,000+ courses at their fingertips via LinkedIn Learning.

So what’s stopping you?  Take our survey, build your roadmap for development, and see yourself succeed as a project manager of the future. 

Better yet, let’s build your PM skills together – apply to MI-GSO | PCUBED today.

Jami Anderson

Jami Anderson

Global Marketing Manager
@ MI-GSO | PCUBED

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