The Key Project Management Skills You Need

In today’s fast-paced business world, project management has become an essential factor of success for companies of all sizes.

With projects growing more complex and demanding, what worked 10 years ago doesn’t work anymore. Project managers must keep up with the times and be able to deliver quality results on time and within budget.

To be a successful project manager, you must possess a range of skills that enable you to manage projects from start to finish. We’re talking about both hard and soft skills, as there are some skills you won’t be able to learn in a PM certification. They’re personality traits.

In this article, we’ll explore key project management skills that every project manager needs to master to deliver projects within budget, on time, and to the expected quality.

What are key project management skills?

Project management skills are the set of competencies, traits, and characteristics that enable a project manager to lead a project in its lifecycle.

These competencies include project planning, budgeting, and risk assessment — what we call hard skills. To bo a good project manager you also need communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills — the soft skills.

Hard skills refer to the technical and analytical abilities that help project managers to manage budgets, timelines, and resources.

On the other hand, soft skills refer to the interpersonal and leadership qualities that enable project managers to manage teams and stakeholders.

Successful project managers need a combination of both soft and hard skills to be effective.

So, what does it take to be a project manager? What are the skills you need to have, and how much do they matter? How can you develop those skills and master project management?

We’ll address all these questions in this article, so keep reading!

Read our guide to know what project management skills are.

Why do project management skills matter?

The success of a project is largely dependent on the project manager’s ability to manage the project effectively.

Recent data showed that 70% of projects fail. However, that same research has demonstrated that the intervention of a qualified project manager can decrease that failure rate to 20% or lower. 

Project management skills help project managers identify and mitigate risks, manage resources, communicate effectively with stakeholders, and ensure the project is delivered on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of stakeholders.

Without effective project management skills, projects can quickly spiral out of control, resulting in delays, overspending, and poor quality results.

That’s why it’s essential for those who intend to invest in a career in project management to bet on PM certifications, as well as seek to develop other soft skills that certifications do not address. Let’s dive in!

Hard skills that any project manager need

1. Project management methodologies

The first skill we decided to include in this list is mandatory.

Although some PMs can manage projects without in-depth knowledge of project management techniques and methodologies like Agile or Waterfall.

The most experienced and successful professionals have received formal education to be able to follow and complete projects from A to Z.

From Scrum to Kanban, passing through the ones we mentioned above, there are many approaches and methodologies you can use to manage your projects.

And there’s no better way to master them and determine which ones are best for your teams and projects than to study and put them into practice. You can acquire these skills in PM online courses or project management books, for example.

2. Subject matter expertise

Project managers work across a broad range of industries, spanning from construction and software development to marketing. Although not mandatory, possessing a fundamental understanding of the industry and the specific projects being overseen can benefit project managers.

This knowledge and expertise can enable them to make more informed and quick decisions and precise projections regarding potential risks, expenses, schedules, and resource necessities.

Also, individuals who can comprehend and utilize the jargon and terminology commonly used by subject matter experts within their organization are likely to communicate more efficiently with their teams.

Read also: Types of project reports

project budget sheet on smartphone

3. Budgeting and cost management 

Before the project even starts, it’s up to the project manager to estimate the project time, and the budget needed to complete the project within the ideal timeframe. Therefore, a good professional must know all the variants involved in planning a project, especially money.

One of the most common reasons for a project to skid is overspending, which can be caused by poor budget management or even a poor initial budget forecast. 

Great project budget management is a vital skill that project managers must possess. This involves tracking project expenses, monitoring cash flow, and recognizing opportunities for cost reduction.

On top of this, they may have to make difficult decisions when the budget is exceeded, giving up certain features, phases, or even resources.

Get to know all the different roles and responsibilities of a project manager.

4. Risk Management 

Each project has some degree of risk. You must try to avoid it and prepare for when a setback comes.

Situations such as the unavailability of required resources or approval delays from a client that may result in schedule delays. Project managers are responsible for navigating and anticipating such risks to avoid potential delays or cost overruns.

To achieve this, project managers should possess the ability to identify, evaluate, and mitigate risks. They need to develop comprehensive risk management plans, monitor potential risks, and undertake corrective actions where necessary, ensuring the project is completed without any delay or cost overrun. 

This skill is one of the most difficult to attain but the experience is a good companion and as the years go by it becomes easier and easier to make this risk assessment.

5. Project management software

The best project managers know better than to try to coordinate all of the elements of a project with jumbled spreadsheets and random task lists.

Instead, they become experts at using the best project management software to centralize communication, streamline collaboration, manage budgets/ resources, and iron out project plans. 

A practical understanding of popular project management software can have a positive impact on a project manager’s work.

So we recommend you research which one works best for you and your team and become an expert at it. Then, educate and encourage other project stakeholders to use the software too. 

In today’s world, this means project managers must also constantly evolve, learning how to leverage the newest technologies available to lead a project to completion successfully. 

Read also: What is and why tracking project management is important.

Soft skills that any project manager need

Soft skills are non-technical, interpersonal skills that are critical for project managers to lead and collaborate with their teams successfully.

They are crucial in building and maintaining positive relationships among project team members, stakeholders, and clients.

Good soft skills enable project managers to motivate, influence, and inspire their teams, leading to higher job satisfaction and better project outcomes.

6. Communication 

The truth is that it’s hard to find a job where communication is not an essential skill. For a project manager, communicating effectively with stakeholders to ensure they are informed about the progress of the project is crucial. 

In addition, PMs must be able to communicate clearly and be excellent listeners — listening to all parties involved in developing a project is half the battle in anticipating unforeseen events and adapting the plan to circumvent them. 

Finally, a good project manager must be able to adapt his communication style to different audiences.

It’s possible that in a single day, he or she will have to talk about the project to his/her management, clients, and team. For each of these audiences, you should be able to adapt your attitude, trying to communicate positively and efficiently.

Learn how to create a project management communication plan.

7. Time Management 

As the primary contact for various departments and team members, project managers face multiple demands on their time. It’s, therefore crucial for them to manage their time efficiently, along with the capacity of all key project players.

Effective time management is essential for project managers to ensure the timely completion of the project.

They should be able to prioritize tasks, handle competing priorities, and set achievable deadlines. By doing so, project managers can optimize their team’s performance and mitigate the risk of delays or cost overruns. 

Did you know that Tracking time contributes to better personal and project time management? By using time-tracking software you’ll probably be better able to analyze how to use your time more effectively.

TIP: Read our blog and find out why time management is crucial.

ending a meeting

8. Negotiation 

Project managers often have to work with various stakeholders, including team members, clients, suppliers, and vendors.

Negotiation skills are essential for project managers because they help them to communicate effectively, persuade, and identify win-win solutions.

When dealing with other project stakeholders, negotiation skills enable project managers to negotiate effectively and manage everybody’s expectations by addressing concerns, clarifying requirements, and managing any conflicts.

Additionally, PMs often need to negotiate with other teams or departments within the organization to secure necessary resources for their project, such as budgets, staff, equipment, or software.

By mastering negotiation skills, project managers can ensure project success and build a positive reputation within their organization.

9. Critical thinking and problem-solving 

When you’re responsible for managing projects from start to finish, you’ll often encounter various problems and obstacles. This is why having both solid critical thinking and problem-solving skills is critical for a good project manager. 

Firstly, problem-solving skills enable project managers to assess problems and develop effective solutions. You’ll need to understand the root cause of the problem and use critical thinking skills to identify possible solutions. 

Secondly, problem-solving skills help project managers to manage risks effectively. They need to anticipate potential problems and develop contingency plans in case things do not go as planned.

By proactively identifying and addressing problems using critical thinking and logic, project managers can minimize the impact of risks and ensure the project stays on track.

10. Quality management

Project managers are responsible for managing quality to guarantee the desired outcomes of a project. This includes creating quality management plans, monitoring and running audits, and taking corrective actions.

Quality management ensures that the project outcomes meet the desired standards and expectations of the stakeholders, and nobody ends up feeling disappointed.

The ability to develop quality management plans and implement them effectively can also help prevent issues that may arise during project execution.

Finally, having good quality management practices can also improve team morale and motivation. This happens because team members are more likely to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work when the project delivers high-quality results.

high performing team of 5 celebrating

11. People management 

In any position that requires teamwork, people management is one of the key project management skills a leader must have.

People are complicated, especially when egos get into the discussion. Project managers must have strong leadership skills to manage teams effectively. They must motivate team members, delegate tasks, resolve conflicts, and provide feedback.

Strong people management skills also help project managers build positive relationships with stakeholders, including clients and vendors, and manage any external factors that may impact the project.

In short, people management is a vital component of project management, and without effective management of people, projects are likely to encounter obstacles and fail to meet their objectives.

12. Conflict management

No matter how good your team is, a universal truth applies: where there are people, there’s conflict.

When you work with professionals who have pride in their work, with tight deadlines and high expectations, it’s normal for conflicts to arise.

Frustration and finger-pointing can easily escalate on a project team without a skilled project manager to help work through inevitable conflicts.

So, when problems and disagreements arise, project managers rely on their conflict resolution skills to stay cool, calm, and collected and help the feuding teams or people talk about their issues and reach a mutually beneficial solution. 

How to improve key project management skills

You can take several steps to develop essential project management skills. We’ll talk about three different possibilities. But, if you want to go further, read our article and learn how to improve your project management skills.

Practice makes perfect

One of the best ways to develop key project management skills is by practicing them in your current role. Identify the areas you want to improve on and actively work to develop those skills.

Seek feedback from colleagues and mentors to understand areas where you need improvement.

Additionally, you can seek out opportunities for hands-on learning by volunteering for projects or taking on additional responsibilities.

This can help you gain practical experience and develop your skills in a real-world setting.

Stay up-to-date with the latest trends

Attending industry events and workshops is a great way to learn best practices, gain new insights, and stay up-to-date with the latest trends in project management.

You can participate in local or online events, such as webinars or conferences, to network with other professionals and learn from their experiences.

Professional associations, such as the Project Management Institute (PMI), offer regular events and workshops to help you stay connected to the latest industry practices.

Did you know that project management podcasts might be a good way to improve your pm skills?

laptop and a notebook on a table with project management material

Consider taking a project management certification

Earning a certificate in project management can help you develop your skills and provide you with the practical knowledge and technical expertise needed to lead complex projects to completion.

These project management courses provide opportunities for experiential learning, where you can apply your skills in real-world situations. Additionally, returning to school can connect you with industry experts who can offer insights into the latest trends and practices in project management.


Developing hard and soft project management skills is essential for success in today’s business environment.

Effective project management skills can help you lead teams, manage resources, and deliver successful projects on time and within budget.

Whether you are new to project management or an experienced professional, there are many ways to improve your skills.

Remember, learning and developing any skill is a continuous process; with dedication and effort, anyone can become a skilled project manager.

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