Moira Alexander
Contributing writer

8 essential skills of elite project managers

Jan 07, 2022
IT SkillsProject Management

Project managers are sought after due to their well-developed technical skills, but these essential skills can make you stand out as an elite contender.

woman multi tasking project management juggling work
Credit: Thinkstock

While you will always need your technical, leadership, and communication skills, they’re not necessarily what will make you stand out from other project managers. Over the past few years, a lot has changed about how projects are managed and led, requiring many project managers to retool and reach what previously brought them — and their organizations — success.

Today, most teams are working either remotely or as part of a hybrid workforce strategy that relies heavily on technology. Companies are emphasizing diversity and inclusion initiatives of late, seeking to reap the benefits of more diverse teams. Changes such as these are jumpstarting an evolution of the project manager role, which must also contend with supply chain shortages and other disruptions that threaten to upend project plans and deliverables.

As such, being considered an elite project manager these days means supplementing your technical, leadership, and communication chops with the following essential skills.

Adaptability and resilience  

Both adaptability and resilience have become highly essential since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, not only for project managers to keep projects within scope but also to help team members get through changing times. While most project managers have long proved adaptive in dealing with changes in shepherding projects toward completion, the pandemic has pushed this to the limit, challenging the resolve of project managers and teams in the face of lengthy or ongoing crisis, as well as fatigue and burnout. Without both adaptability and resilience, leaders risk allowing productivity and morale to wane. It takes great strength and determination to maintain both simultaneously throughout projects plagued with setbacks.

Behavioral project management 

It’s estimated that 70% of project work is rooted in human factors, so it makes sense that behavioral methods and neuroscience play a vital role in helping to predict and deliver projects more successfully. This evolving discipline of behavioral project management (BPM), which integrates the findings of behavioral science with traditional project management, is said to enhance “existing technical-only project management methods by recognizing the inherently irrational behavior of human beings and mitigating those behaviors throughout all processes and phases of the project lifecycle.”

Change leadership

Change management specialists have historically played the leading role in organizational changes. But project managers can become leaders of change as well, and they should. Leaders, such as project managers, sponsors, and other executives, should be the driving force behind enabling large-scale change. Project managers as leaders should be focused on setting and communicating the strategic project plan and its goals as it applies to change.

Exceptional resource management

Most companies struggled with resource management before the pandemic, which is only getting worse. Project managers who can resource projects innovatively stand a greater chance of meeting project schedules and deadlines. They recognize that the workforce has changed and adapt their strategies quickly to address resourcing shortages.

Inclusive mindset and behavior

Remote and hybrid project teams are here to stay, which means hiring, retention, training, and advancement must change to keep pace. Developing a positive and supportive remote culture rests on establishing an inclusive workplace for everyone. Project managers play a pivotal role in sourcing qualified, diverse skill sets to deliver the expected project outcomes. It’s not about simply having the right mindset. Studies show that when team members feel valued, respected, and accepted, companies and their projects see higher levels of participation. Project managers have to model inclusiveness to build trust and foster higher levels of engagement and performance.

Rapid and effective problem-solving

As we near the third year of the COVID pandemic, many companies are still grappling with problems with no clear solutions to address them. That’s where project managers who can find effective solutions quickly have an edge. With supply chain and logistics issues worldwide, for example, these skills are of paramount importance for project managers. Expert problem-solving requires clearly identifying the key issues that pose barriers to success, developing, documenting, and communicating the proposed solutions, and implementing them in a methodical way. It also means monitoring and measuring the results and making changes as needed.

Requisite agility

Requisite agility is a skill that helps manage change and uncertainty — the largest factors in determining the outcome of projects today and likely well into the future. It is the ability to make fast, flexible changes based on current or future internal and external situations. Project managers who can anticipate and adapt in relation to changing circumstances quickly are more likely to be successful at reducing uncertainty and risks or helping companies seize opportunities.

Servant leadership

The best project managers understand the need to be servant leaders that serve the greater good. They need to put their views and opinions second to the needs of stakeholders. They focus solely on the project and find ways to best meet the objectives and deliverables without compromising their teams. It’s estimated that employees in a servant leadership environment are more likely to feel their voices are heard, making them almost five times more likely to perform at their best.

If you’re a project manager who’s fortunate enough to possess many or even some of these essential skills, count yourself among an elite group of professionals.