Tempo logotype
7 min read

Essential project management skills for successful team leading

Read up on essential project management skills and become a more successful planner and leader. Find out why soft and hard skills are equally important.
From Team '23

Tempo Team

Projects are multifaceted, so project managers’ skills must be as well. 

A project manager must have expert-level knowledge of technical tasks, like creating timelines or assigning work, and also possess top-notch people skills to interact well with stakeholders. Managers must also aim to optimize resources as today’s businesses are running leaner than ever. And while the work is challenging, it’s worthwhile: When a project manager does their job well, the team and organization thrive.

While on-the-job experiences have much to teach, project managers can also prepare for the role's challenges by bolstering critical skills.

Learn which hard and soft skills to add to your toolbelt and succeed at leading your team and endeavors to success.

What are project management skills?

Project management skills encompass hard (technical) and soft (interpersonal) skills that ensure the smooth execution of work. 

On the technical end, these skills include everything from risk management to stakeholder analysis. And interpersonal abilities range from clear communication to problem-solving.

Having this combination of skills helps project managers inspire respect and trust in stakeholders and sponsors, as well as handily control an initiative’s time and resources. 

Project management soft skills

In project management, interpersonal and psychological abilities are just as important as technical expertise. These skills allow managers to forge relationships with team members and sponsors, establish functional lines of communication, and tackle obstacles. Build the following soft skills to create productive relationships and keep projects on track.

Effective communication

Project managers spend most of their time communicating and negotiating. They must effectively communicate project details to all stakeholders, clearly state constraints, and unflinchingly address blockers. 

Strong project management communication includes written and verbal skills, as professionals must generate presentations and reports, navigate (potentially tense) meetings, and efficiently address written questions or feedback.

And solid communication skills do more than transmit information. They build trust with stakeholders. Managers who listen attentively show they value others’ input, and those who speak directly but empathetically establish themselves as approachable leaders.

Capable leadership

Just because a manager leads a group doesn’t mean they possess the skills necessary for a strong team head. Becoming a great leader is a choice that takes work.

Excellent leaders are empathetic, work with integrity, and have a clear vision. Their resilience through conflicts and ability to hold themselves accountable set an example for everyone around them. 

Delegation is another essential leadership aspect. Projects require the harmonious work of various contributors — often spread across an organization’s departments. Project managers must maintain this balance, assigning work to people with the time and skills to adequately perform it, holding teammates accountable for errors, and helping fill knowledge gaps for efficient work.

Tactical problem-solving

Project managers must be able to problem solve — and quickly. Team members can hit blockers that hold an entire job back, and leaders must remove or navigate these obstacles. Plus, every project experiences a certain amount of changes, errors, and unexpected turns that managers must resolve to keep work on track and deliver high-quality outputs. 

By being proactive problem solvers, managers can get ahead of issues before they start. These professionals should carefully assess project variables and potential problems in advance.

Strong critical thinking

Critical thinking is often associated with problem-solving, but this skill implies even more for project managers. 

Managers should be experts at assessing whether a project aligns with an organization’s vision and strategy. They should also be proficient at setting well-defined goals and tasks to ensure the work fulfills company needs. 

As such, project managers must focus on results and ensure teams are on track to meet them. They must monitor goals, review performance, and implement changes so future iterations run more smoothly. This work requires leaders to analyze project data and team feedback critically. 

Solid team management

Team dynamics thrive when members cooperate, communicate, and resolve conflict well. And project managers are often responsible for helping dynamics stay healthy. 

Managers must be versed in conflict resolution, promoting teamwork, and helping individuals recognize their strengths. These leaders should also have a keen eye for determining whether teammates have adequate tools and skills to perform work correctly so workers don’t get frustrated or cause setbacks for all. 

Project management hard skills

Team leads work with countless calendars, planning tools, and software to perform their work efficiently. They should be technical experts in project methodologies (like agile) and risk management. Cultivate the following hard skills for smoother day-to-day operations.

Organized project planning

Contemporary project planning goes beyond setting goals and milestones and a calendar to meet them. Project managers must keep plans flexible enough to respond quickly to external stakeholder changes or team needs, which puts a new spin on traditional time management.

Team leaders must be willing to forgo the plan when it’s not working, focusing on outcomes and deliverables instead of preserving a dysfunctional timeline.

Careful risk management

Projects inevitably imply risks — from financial losses to reputation damage — and leaders should be comfortable navigating uncertainty.

Managers can help their teams avoid disaster by predicting issues and drafting solutions for them ahead of time. Should challenges arise, the project manager already has a course of action to implement and doesn’t need to scramble to keep work on track. 

Thoughtful stakeholder analysis

Project managers must identify the “who’s who” of an initiative and communicate key stakeholder needs and roles to their teams. 

Before project launch, the manager should determine how important each stakeholder is, what their participation entails, and how or when to communicate with them. Stakeholders often provide input or approval, so establishing functional communication routes is essential.

Project management software expertise

Project management software, like Tempo, Asana, and Trello, streamlines work by housing information all team members can access, opening communication channels, and encouraging collaboration.These tools also allow leaders to set goals and tasks, plot them on calendars, and assign work to team members — all in flexible interfaces managers can shift as needed. 

There are dozens of popular tools, and managers must learn the ins and outs of specific solutions depending on their industry or company. But essential features don’t vary much from software to software, and new project managers should learn basic functions like creating virtual Kanban boards, making Gantt charts, and assigning tasks. 

Methodical project management

There’s no one-size-fits-all project management approach, so a skilled, versatile professional should be familiar with several methodologies. 

Agile, scrum, Kanban, Six Sigma, and Lean are popular methodologies worth learning about. The agile and scrum methods come in handy when working on development projects. Kanban and Lean help with manufacturing jobs. And Six Sigma allows managers to reduce process errors no matter the leading project management methodology they use. The more well-rounded the project manager, the more opportunities they can take on. 

How to develop your project management skills

You can become a better project manager by proactively honing the required skills. Here are a few ways you can bolster your on-the-job experience:

  • Solicit feedback: Invite your team’s input on decisions by asking questions like “What do you think about this plan?” or “What would you do in this situation?” Not only may your team members have brilliant ideas for improving a project, but you could also garner feedback about your management style through these conversations. 

  • Use project management techniques at home: Implement project management in your daily life, using planning tools to organize personal tasks. This helps you familiarize yourself with the software you use at work and bolster planning skills in a lower-stakes environment. 

  • Take a training course: Sign up for a virtual class on a project planning methodology you don’t yet know. If you traditionally use waterfall planning, for example, learn Agile. If you use Agile, learn Six Sigma. Expand your toolbox and boost your resume. 

  • Read up on management methods: If you don’t have time to take a class, pick up a book on the agile method or Scrum. Popular titles include Strategic Project Management Made Simple (Terry Schmidt) and Doing Agile Right: Transformation without Chaos (Daryl Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez).

Become a better project planner with Tempo

Maximize your project management skills with Tempo’s Strategic Roadmaps to make boardroom-ready project roadmaps, Portfolio Manager for projecting risk, and Custom Charts for Jira projects. 

Plus, tap into Tempo’s learning resources, created with project managers in mind. Become a better problem solver by learning bottom-up and top-down methods or a sharper forecaster by discovering how to improve your projections.