Business Administration

What Skills Does a Project Manager Need?

What Skills Does a Project Manager Need?
The world needs more project managers, and this is a great time to explore a new recession-resistant career. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry March 23, 2020

Demand for project managers is high and poised to grow. Fortunately, the skills required for this high-pressure job aren't that sophisticated. If you are exceptionally organized and have strong people skills, you can succeed in this role.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

Article continues here

There are a lot of reasons to consider becoming a project manager:

  • Project managers, program managers, and other project leaders are in demand
  • The employment outlook for project management professionals is also good
  • The highest level of education you’ll need to launch a career in this field isn’t all that high
  • The pay is great once you make it through your entry-level years

So, why aren’t more people rushing out to get project management degrees and project management certifications? It may be because most people have no idea what project managers (also known as PMs) actually do or what skills it takes to be successful in this career. They may assume that project managers working in various industries are industry experts or have master’s degrees related to those industries.

The reality is that the most common and most useful project management skills are not discipline-specific. Construction project managers need the same baseline skills as digital project managers, who need the same skills as manufacturing project managers, marketing project managers, and energy-industry project managers.

The world needs more project managers, and this is a great time to explore a new recession-resistant career. In this article about project management skills, we cover:

  • What do project managers do?
  • What skills do you need to become a project manager?
  • Do project managers in different settings need different skills?
  • What are the best degrees for project managers?
  • Are there certificate programs that teach project management skills?
  • Do project managers need specific technical skills?
  • Are there skills that will increase a project manager’s earning potential?
  • What are the most fundamental project management skills?

What do project managers do?

Project managers are like orchestra conductors who keep everyone working on a project in tune and in time. A project manager’s specific responsibilities may vary depending on the industry in which they work, but all project management professionals exist to keep projects on track. This involves a lot more than just writing up a list of timelines and to-dos. Project managers:

  • Help create project plans
  • Collaborate on the scope of work
  • Create a work breakdown structure
  • Perform critical path analysis
  • Onboard people and teams onto projects
  • Coordinate the flow of information among teams
  • Track the status of deliverables
  • Create and track project budgets
  • Track manpower hours
  • Adjust project parameters, as necessary
  • Gather status updates from people and teams
  • Identify and respond to creep
  • Oversee negotiations when teams butt heads with stakeholders
  • Review completed tasks in the context of planned benchmarks

Project planners have to work with everyone on a project, from the executives who set the goals to the floor workers, programmers, or builders who actually do the work.

As you may have already guessed, a PM’s project can take any size, shape, or form. Project managers oversee the creation of marketing campaigns for clients at advertising agencies. They manage the personnel who make software migrations happen. They lead construction projects and software development projects. Some PMs stay in one industry for their entire careers, but many others jump from industry to industry, since the skills necessary to lead projects are largely the same regardless of what a project looks like.


“Should I Get A MBA?”

University and Program Name Learn More

What skills do you need to become a project manager?

Outstanding project managers typically have the following skills.

Budgeting skills

A big part of project management involves making sure that projects don’t go over budget. PMs have to understand a project’s budgetary limitations, track expenses, find ways to economize, and set priorities when it comes to spending. They may also be responsible for maintaining financial records related to the project and paying out invoices.

Communication skills

This is one of those soft skills that’s absolutely critical in project management. PMs not only have to be comfortable communicating with everyone on a project; they also have to facilitate communication among individuals and teams. A project manager may have to serve as a mediator when stakeholder management is necessary or tell a team that they’re not meeting upper management’s expectations.

Interpersonal skills

PMs must be comfortable having awkward conversations. That takes people skills. Project managers routinely have to do things like deliver bad news and tell people no, or let them know that they’re wrong about something. Being able to do this gently—in a way that makes people feel validated and heard—is essential because angry, disgruntled people don’t work efficiently or effectively.

Critical-thinking skills and decision-making skills

The best project managers are logical and decisive. They look at all the relevant data and make decisions about how the project will proceed without second-guessing themselves. They don’t get bogged down in nitty-gritty details or let their biases get in the way.

Problem-solving skills

When projects go off the rails, it’s the PM’s job to get everything back on track. One of the reasons people say project management is stressful is that the project manager is, to some degree, responsible for resolving every problem that arises. They don’t need to be able to solve every problem personally, but they need to be able to identify the people who can.

Team-building skills

The best project managers are capable of building teams and then leading those teams, regardless of how different the people on those teams are. They create goals that get everyone on the same page and motivate them to work together.

Time-management skills

PMs have to establish reasonable project deadlines and then make sure that everyone on the project adheres to those deadlines. Project managers have to be mindful of deliverables, benchmarks, quarterly goals, and more.

Negotiation skills

Conflict management and resolution is a part of every PM’s list of responsibilities. Issues among people and teams can interfere with project-management processes and lead to stalled workflows. When you become a project manager, you’ll have to address interpersonal conflicts.

Do project managers in different settings need different skills?

Generally, project managers in different settings don’t need different skills. A marketing project manager uses the same skills as a PM working in a business setting. But some PMs do need specialized industry skills, and these specialists are sometimes paid more than generalists.

For example, a project manager in the aerospace industry might need to have a specific security clearance level; they can earn an average salary of $115,000. In the pharmaceutical industry, PMs may need health industry and ISO quality management systems knowledge; they can earn $125,000. Energy industry PMs may need to be aware of the strict safety requirements that govern the generation and delivery of gas or electricity and can earn $110,000. And project managers who work in the mining industry have to have specific safety credentials and a thorough knowledge of mining operations. They can earn more than $120,000.

What are the best degrees for project managers?

There are very few degree pathways designed to teach project management skills. You can find a few Bachelor of Science in Project Management programs at schools like Northeastern University and Embry – Riddle Aeronautical University – Daytona Beach, but most PMs study subjects like business administration, management, computer science, construction, and finance.

The situation is similar at the master’s degree level. You can earn a:

However, you don’t need to pursue a master’s degree to pick up essential project management skills. In fact, only 28 percent of project managers have master’s degrees and most PMs don’t learn their trade in school. Having an advanced degree can certainly be an asset when you’re job hunting and negotiating salaries. Still, you’ll probably learn more about project management processes when studying for certifications or on the job.

Are there certificate programs that teach project management skills?

There are; quite a few, in fact. Among them:

Do project managers need specific technical skills?

You usually don’t need to be a domain expert to be a successful project manager. What you do need is a basic understanding of the technology involved in the projects you oversee. Non-developers can be effective project managers at software firms. Project managers can manage architects, engineers, and construction workers without having studied architecture, engineering, or construction.

You just need to know enough about the field you’re working in to understand the goals of a given project and the processes involved in completing it. Your job, after all, isn’t to judge the value of those projects or processes, but to keep everything moving forward. You don’t need to understand every technical detail to do that.

You also need to be relatively computer-savvy. The specific technical skills project managers need are related to project management tools and frameworks. PMs have to know how to use a variety of project management software applications (e.g., Microsoft Project, Trello, and Asana) and be able to learn quickly to use new ones when an employer or industry favors specific tools over others. They also need to know which software tools pair best with specific project management methodologies like Agile or SCRUM.

Are there skills that will increase a project manager’s earning potential?

PayScale is one of the few sites that track how a project manager’s skill set affects their salary. According to the site’s data, you can increase your earning potential by showing employers that you have demonstrable experience in three critical areas of project management:

  • Process improvement
  • Strategic project management
  • Budget management

However, none of those skills will increase your salary as much as simply working hard over time and earning additional certifications. Multiple Project Management Institute surveys have shown that project manager salaries tend to increase steadily with experience. And certified project managers across industries, according to one Project Management Institute survey of almost 9,000 project managers, earn about $123,000—which is actually more than what uncertified PMs with 20+ experience earn.

What are the most fundamental project management skills?

It’s hard to say whether there’s an ideal mix of project management skills. There are, however, certain essential project management skills that can, according to the Project Management Institute, boost project success rates by 40 percent or more. Good project managers are comfortable with technology, but tech skills need to be paired with optimism, leadership skills, and business management expertise.

The most important thing you need to know is that all of these essential project management skills can be learned. There are degree programs, certifications, courses, and plenty of online resources that can teach you the key skills you’ll need to become a project manager. That’s good news, because employers worldwide will be looking to fill 90 million jobs for project managers and project management professionals by 2027. If you want to earn good money and enjoy a level of career security most people can only dream of, you can start learning the requisite skills today.

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


You May Also Like To Read

Categorized as: Business AdministrationOperations ManagementBusiness & Management