Leading a team is no easy task.

A project manager’s job is to find ways to synthesize team efforts to achieve a certain goal by a specified end time. During the lifetime of the project, they may need to deal with clashing personalities, differences in opinion, and more.

There are undoubtedly challenges that come with being a project manager. What separates the good from the mediocre is their skill set. Project manager skills sound easy in theory, but take years to practice. 

Some people are natural leaders, but that shouldn’t discourage you from being the best project manager you can be.

Below, we take a look at essential project manager skills, what they are, and how you can improve them for your own work.

Essential project manager skills

1. Organization

Any team will thrive when there is a unified understanding of the project and the workflow.

Organization is one of the most crucial project manager skills, because it forms the bedrock of your team’s efforts.

It includes everything from structuring a team to identifying the various resources at your disposal. Teams thrive off of a unified, organized structure to achieve their goals.

Without this project manager skill, you may find your team losing morale, motivation, and timeliness.

Luckily, there are a number of ways you can hone your organizational skills. You may find it helpful to be a proactive manager. It’s ok to leave your work life at work, but to prepare your team for success, being proactive rather than reactive smooths out kinks in your workflow.

Additionally, establishing a daily to-do list with your team keeps you organized and on the same page.

It could be as simple as a brief meeting, like a ‘scrum’ from the Agile project management methodology, or an email to establish the priorities of the day.

Coventry University Courses

Project Management and its Role in Effective Business

Become an effective project manager and learn how to deliver strategic change and transformation in an organisation in this ExpertTrack course from Coventry University

Project Management and its Role in Effective Business

Become an effective project manager and learn how to deliver strategic change and transformation in an organisation in this ExpertTrack course from Coventry University

Short Course
Intermediate
10 weeks

2. Teamwork

While it may seem like an obvious project manager soft skill, the importance of teamwork cannot be understated. Teamwork is a collaborative effort to achieve a certain goal or task.

Without it, project managers may have trouble rallying their teams together.

It is a skill that project managers must both teach and learn. How you work with a team depends on the type of people you work with. Personalities may naturally clash, but learning to play to team members’ strengths is a teachable moment for both project managers and team members.

There are a couple of ways project managers may improve this skill. First, you may want to train your brain to think critically about what teamwork is. Ask yourself questions about how teamwork positively impacts your work and consider the important role it plays. 

If theory isn’t your thing, you may try fun, team-based exercises with your team. Exercises promote trust, understanding and comfort amongst your team.

More importantly, exercises allow the project manager to identify their team’s strengths. 

3. Research

While often delegated, research is one of the more important project manager skills to have. It’s not just about understanding people, but also the tools, processes, and systems your teams use day-to-day.

Researching and developing your expertise across the full spectrum greatly increases your understanding of what the team does. Thus, you are much better able to manage your team and provide hands-on feedback and assistance.

On the surface, research seems to be pretty easy and straightforward. One way you can improve this project management skill is by using libraries or scholastic search engines. There are plenty of “how-to” resources out there for project managers.

4. Creativity

I know what you’re thinking, “Well I’m just not that creative.”

Don’t count yourself out just yet! While it is true some people wield more creative energy than others, creativity is a project management soft skill that’s essential for a productive team effort.

Being creative in the workspace means that you take a unique, refreshing approach to things. With a creative perspective, you can guide your team to a truly memorable project that others will love.

Creativity is one of the most invaluable project manager skills. What seems like innate talent is actually a learnable soft skill. Take time to invest in your creative side – you could try painting, writing, learning a new instrument or even flower arranging!

Change up your old habits, and you’ll begin to see and approach the world in front of you differently.

5. Critical Thinking

Thinking is one thing, and most humans do it very well. However, critical thinking is a different skill altogether. 

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze a set of facts, figures, and information to form logical conclusions. It involves taking information, asking bigger questions, and drawing conclusions  rather than taking that information at face value.

Truthfully, critical thinking may be a difficult skill to develop. Critical thinking involves changing your typical way of thinking. There are some recommendations for those who want to sharpen their thinking skills.

First, question absolutely everything. Ask those big, uncomfortable questions about the information you’re given. Next, use questions and information to form reasonable conclusions. Take yourself out of the equation and see it from an opposing perspective.

Critical thinking involves a lot of brain training. There are multiple online resources and classes available to train your mind to think critically.

6. Communication

As social beings, communication may not seem like all that big of a deal. Everyone talks, right? We all exchange and share ideas on a daily basis, so is communication really one of the important project manager skills?

The short answer is yes, of course, it is. Communication is the ability to clearly and concisely convey instructions and information to others. Being able to clearly identify what you want from your team is one thing, but humans have two ears and one mouth for good reason.

Equally as important as a project manager’s ability to listen. Being an active listener is essential for good communication. People tend to have a good read on whether or not they are actually being listened to. 

The best way to learn is to have conversations with strangers. Go to events, parties, and network with enthusiasm.  

You’ll find “excellent communication skills” in any job description for a project manager. Put yourself out there, be an active listener, and you will become an effective communicator.

7. Leadership

It’s quite impossible to be an effective project manager without effective leadership. There’s a major distinction between being a manager and a leader. Although the job title says “manager,” you’ll want to practice being a leader.

Leadership is the ability to see the big picture and envision an ideal goal for the team. All the while, leadership is building up those around you, encouraging and inspiring people to use their skills to achieve a common goal.

As one of the more indispensable project manager skills, leadership requires a lot of effort to effectively lead a team. Unfortunately, there is no one answer on how to become a great leader. You can read all the books in the world, but leadership is a skill that takes time to develop.

It might be worthwhile to seek out online seminars where renowned leaders speak. The best way to learn is from each other, so take notes on their strategies, ideas, and insights.

Alternatively, you could one of a number of online leadership courses.

Futurelearn courses

Management and Leadership: Leading a Team

Be the manager who is a valued team-leader with the help of this CMI level 5 course. Receive the expertise to build your team around your business plan and become a top motivator.

Management and Leadership: Leading a Team

Be the manager who is a valued team-leader with the help of this CMI level 5 course. Receive the expertise to build your team around your business plan and become a top motivator.

Short Course
Intermediate
4 weeks

8. Diplomacy

Our next project manager skill goes hand in hand with communication. When working in teams, it would be nice if it was all sunshine-and-rainbows. But this is not the case, and expecting harmony is a one-way ticket to team breakdown.

Diplomacy is the practice of mediating, navigating, and influencing tricky or difficult situations. Whether there’s a disagreement amongst team members or conflicting personal interests, diplomacy is an effective project management skill to maintain teamwork.

There are many practical and theoretical books about diplomacy and conflict management. Many books help you understand the importance of keeping a level head, and include strategies to deal with difficult situations.

Ultimately, one of the best tools you have at your disposal is to listen. Hear out your team members, find a common understanding, and work towards a solution. 

9. Coaching

While it’d be fun to lead your work team with a whistle, coaching in the workplace is a little different than the kinds we were used to in high school sports.

Coaching is the ability to make the comple simple, breaking down tough processes and concepts. At the same time, coaching involves explaining, showing, and encouraging team members on how to do or achieve a task.

Like leadership, coaching is a project management skill that may take quite some time to develop. A valuable way to learn is to be coached yourself. You could find and work with a mentor to help you develop your professional careers.

Take notes and pay attention to things you feel work and don’t work. In what ways does your coach guide you to a solution? What are their methods? These are some of the questions you might ask yourself in such a situation.

Luckily, there are plenty of online project management courses on how to be an effective coach and/or leader for your team, and develop your project manager skills.