Project management is a hard, demanding job -- and not for the faint of heart. A project manager is responsible for taking a project from ideation to close, and leading the team through every milestone and dilemma in between.
Many project managers are faced with new challenges in today’s world. So many of our conversations and planning sessions occurred naturally and spontaneously before, and project managers are now trying to lead their teams and projects through a completely remote, work-from-home environment. How can they still achieve the same level or success in a distributed workforce?
And it turns out this may not just be a temporary problem: 74% of professionals expect remote work to become standard, with 97% not wanting to return to the office full-time. Fortunately, many of the skills are still the same as before the pandemic, though a few need to be turned up a notch to accommodate new modes of communication. As always, project managers need a strong balance between soft and hard skills, and a mix of left-brained analytical rigor combined with right-brained emotional intelligence.
In this post, discover the top 14 project management skills every project manager should develop to be successful in the remote work-from-home era.
Project Management Skills
So what types of skills should a project manager have? As the coordinator for a highly complex show, project managers need an arsenal of people skills and technical skills to keep the many moving pieces in line. Here are the project management skills to develop to lead your project team remotely:
The first and invariably most important skill on this list is leadership. As a project manager, you’re in charge of an entire team of people who will need to work well together and produce high-quality results. And because effective leadership is so essential to achieving these results, 79% of organizations are prioritizing the development of project management leadership skills throughout their teams. An amazing project manager knows when to make hard decisions, how to build relationships, when to listen, how to coach, and when the team needs a good old fashioned motivational speech. And just because you can’t swing by a team member’s desk doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check in with them in the same cadence. In fact, one-on-one meetings have increased 500% since the pandemic, which shows the clear need for leaders to prioritize their team on their calendars in lieu of those spontaneous in-person check-ins.
Communication is an essential skill for a project manager, especially in the remote work era, and in some way, supports every single skill in this list. But unfortunately, 57% of projects fail due to a breakdown in communications. On any given day, you probably speak to at least a dozen different people associated with the project, including your own team, customers, stakeholders, and vendors. As project manager, you’re responsible for communicating the many different moving parts, and ensuring your team has the information they need to do their work. And since communication isn’t just composed of in-person meetings anymore, asynchronous communication methods help streamline these conversations on a schedule that works for everyone. That means leveraging a variety of mediums for communication: email, chat platforms like Slack and Zoom, project management tools or calendars, and even written status reports on what the team accomplished for a given week.
3. Time Management & Scheduling
Among the hardest project management skills to continue developing is time management and scheduling. On average, managers only get to spend 1.83 hours/day on productive task work, and waste 1.82 hours/day on unproductive tasks like checking email, Slack, or sifting through their task lists.
All projects have deadlines that need to be met, and it’s up to the project manager to build the schedule and milestones to reach to make effective progress throughout the project. You also need to consider the schedule of every person on the project, and ensure they have the time they need to accomplish their key priorities. A project manager with excellent time management skills will be able to develop a plan and timeline based on each individual's workload and time needed to accomplish it. They’ll also be aware of major time wasters too like unnecessary meetings that are driving the average professional to spend 21.5 hours in meetings a week, and help their team minimize distractions and context switching through methods like time blocking so they can focus on their important work.
4. Task Management
Another highly important technical skill that every project manager must have is task management. Projects are made up of dozens of tasks, if not hundreds or thousands, each with their own level of difficulty and time requirements. It’s up to you as the project manager to create, assign and manage these tasks for your entire team. And unsurprisingly, most project tasks depend on other tasks being completed before they can begin, which means you are literally the ring-leader to a highly complex show with many moving parts. So to be successful in project management, it’s not just a matter of throwing together a list: you have to understand the project in its entirety so you can determine which tasks to prioritize to unblock others, and how to orchestrate a plan in the most efficient order. There’s also always the opportunity to optimize - 54% of workers spend 5 or more hours a week on tedious tasks - what can you do to automate these tasks for them?
What business decisions are made these days without analytics? Not many. And as a project manager, you’re responsible for making a lot of decisions with and for your team. Projects are created to address complex problems or opportunities, and require thorough research and analysis to develop the best approach to solve a need. This means diving into performance data, gathering customer insights, researching market trends - whatever type of business intelligence your project needs so you can make productive, informed decisions. Data-driven project management skills are absolutely necessary to improving the ROI outcome of your project. Make sure to distribute the analytics to your remote team so they can leverage the same insights in their work!
6. Tech Savvy
77% of high-performing projects use project management software, yet only 22% of organizations actually make the investment - and this is as of 2021, a year after the pandemic started! As the person responsible for the success of these projects, it’s up to you to advocate for the tech resources you need to optimize the process across your remote team. These tools are even more important now that you can’t rely on a whiteboard in the corner of the office to be central station for a project.
Project management apps like Asana, JIRA, ClickUp, and Monday.com are comprehensive tools with deep feature sets to help you optimize every step of a project, or you could use a simpler tool like Trello or Todoist to organize and manage your projects. This is where your tech-savvy smarts come in - a rockstar project manager will not only quickly pick up and adopt the tool, they’ll also help educate the team on how to get the most out of the platform. You should also be on the lookout for AI - 85% of CEOs expect AI to have a significant impact on their business in the next 5 years. Smart calendar tools like Reclaim.ai are already helping managers create up to 40% more time in their week.
Similar to task management and time management, organization is another hard skill you need to ensure your projects truly stay on track. With so many moving parts and managing a remote team schedule across multiple time zones, it is very impossible to coordinate without strong organizational skills. And while every project manager will have their own method, some abilities you’ll want to have include documenting notes, updating files, prioritizing lists, staying up to date on progress, and so on. Office workers waste up to 40% of their day because they simply don’t know how to stay organized! So make organization a priority so you can show by example just how impactful proper organization can be for productivity.
Who hasn’t started the day with a well-laid plan, and gotten interrupted an hour in with an urgent priority that completely changes your focus? Maybe it’s a new bug you encountered that needs to be addressed before the project can proceed, or another project entirely that has escalated to a top priority for your team. Things happen, and you need to be able to flex with them, not against. That’s why all the best project managers know how to stay flexible around an ever-changing schedule. But don’t let bad planning be the reason you need to flex! 80% of employees spend half their workweek on rework due to poor communication, so if you’re reprioritizing often due to avoidable issues, focus on improvement in your earlier-stage project development.
While negotiation surely could fall under communication, it's such a major skill and project management requirement that it easily warrants its own seat on the list. Project managers are basically in a constant state of negotiation on behalf of their projects. On the external side, you’re responsible for negotiating with partners, contractors and vendors, and not just bargaining on pricing. You have to negotiate all of the details of the relationship and their contributions - milestones, timeline, deliverables, responsibilities, approach, anything relevant to the project. Business travel is starting to pick back up, but you probably have a couple more years of Zoom call negotiations before corporate travel budgets increase again. Your persuasive skills are also needed internally too: project managers are also regularly negotiating with their team around what to prioritize, how to tackle a task, resource allocation, even mediating and resolving conflicts between remote team members or groups. Without a doubt, negotiation skills are a must for successful project managers.
10. Risk Management
As preferable as it is to focus on the good, risks are around and need to be managed. Depending on your project and company, you may be facing operational risk, cyber risk, regulatory compliance risk, data privacy risk, infrastructure risk, even health risk. Any every risk you weigh has multiple outcomes, and the good and the bad both fall on you. Do you go with the less expensive cloud partner to recoup those resources, does the app really need 2FA sign-in, do you add the new feature to risk missing the deadline, do you allow the team to work in-office without masks? In order to manage risk, you need to really know your way around risk analysis to both identify and estimate the consequences of these scenarios.
11. Cost Management
Every project has costs, and you’re the lucky person who gets to estimate, budget and manage them. And regardless of how big or small your budget is, you have to find the best way to distribute them across the entire project. Fortunately, companies with project management practices save 28 times more money than those who don’t! And while the perfect budget may be assembled the week before the project, needs are likely to change as the project progresses. Make sure to leave your projects some wiggle room so you’re not stuck asking for more money that could have been forecasted before the project started. This is where you want to leverage the project management expertise you’ve already developed - consider past projects and the unforeseen costs that crept into those budgets in your planning. Don’t forget to budget for remote communication and management tools too!
Every project presents its own challenges and opportunities, and the solution may not always end up being the obvious choice. Project managers are definitely known to get creative when needed, and usually find their way into the awesome project management position from their ability to see all the different sides of the project. This allows you to really come up with the best approach to the problem, as you understand so many tiny details you can create a unique solution that might not be obvious to the rest of the team. In fact, recruiters rank creative problem solving as the second most difficult skill to find, so if you have a knack for it, put it to good use on your projects!
13. Critical Thinking
Creativity so often bleeds into critical thinking, but this project management skill really requires some left-brain power. In fact, critical thinking is another skill that really leverages a lot of the others on this list. Project managers are responsible for solving and managing complex problems that require deep logic-driven thinking to evaluate these challenges from identification to conclusion. Unito describes critical thinking as questioning processes, projects, and even core business practices that are widely accepted as given to improve them for the company or team. So don’t be afraid to be the devil's advocate, or to question the norm. The project itself is also probably impacted by the global remote work shift, so take into account how that will affect your plan!
As with any good manager, patience is definitely a trait you’ll need to be an effective project management leader. Projects are often long, even if you meet your deadlines. 15% of project managers are looking at only one project at a time, which can feel like a seemingly never-ending year. It’s easy to feel impatient and want to rush, but remember you put together your milestones and timeline for a reason, so don’t push faster than you can unless there’s a strong reason to. And most importantly, always have patience with your team. They are facing the same challenges and frustrations as you navigating a new working environment, so if you feel wound up after a mistake, relax and remember patience before kicking off a hard conversation. It will make you a better listener and leader for your team.
How to Become a Better Project Manager
Now that you know the top project management skills you need for success, what can you do to continue to develop and cultivate these qualities?
- Join project management social communities: Join a LinkedIn or Facebook project management group! This is a great way to hear about other people's experiences in the same role, and how they addressed their scenarios.
- Participate in project management forums: Find some project management discussions on Reddit and Quora to ask your own questions!
- Get certified: If you learn best in a course setting, there are plenty of certification options available through organizations like the Project Management Institute (PMI) that currently has 17 different certifications available. As a bonus, 61% of organizations are now providing some type of project management training - these are a great booster to a project manager's resume!
- Educate yourself: There’s no shortage of great project management resources out there to educate yourself! Find books, articles, data reports, case studies and more all online.
- Start using a project management app: If you haven’t already, get started with a project management platform. 54% of organizations lack the ability to track KPIs in real-time, giving yourself the tools and knowledge you need can have an amazing impact on your own performance as a project manager.
- Ask for feedback: Feedback as a manager should never be a one-way street. Ask your team: what can I do to better support you in your role?
The completion of almost any project requires a project manager who can help team members meet goals and adhere to a strict schedule. And the demand for project managers is growing fast - according to PMI, the project management labor force is expected to grow by 33%, adding 22 million new jobs, up to 88 million total jobs by 2027. So whether you’re working on becoming a better project manager, or aspiring for the future, investing in your project management skill set is a smart bet towards a successful career.
Have another project management skill you’d like to share? Tweet us at @reclaimai!