The Top 10 Project Management Skills You Need in Your Toolbelt5 Oct 2022
“The shelf life of people’s skills for a lot of decent-paying jobs has been shortening.”
This quote – from Harvard Business School professor Joseph Fuller – has made the headlines. Fuller is describing a reality that many workers attempting to change jobs encounter – i.e., that the business world is changing so rapidly that the skills we so confidently showcase on our resumes may no longer be as relevant as we think.
What really interests me is how we can learn and develop skills that last longer (the life skills), and obviously how we can specifically help project professionals acquire them. Of all the skills that project professionals need to master, which ones are most relevant? What skills should we prioritize in an increasingly complex, fast-paced, and agile world that has been radically reshaped by COVID-19, ESG considerations, and a groundswell of demands for social justice?
I’m always up for an interesting challenge, so here’s my list of the top 10 skills, both hard skills and power skills, also known as soft skills, that project professionals probably need to cultivate in the third decade of the 21st century. Caveat: The perennial “iron triangle” – budgeting, scoping, and scheduling – are a given, so they’re not on this list. But here’s what else to look for:
Project professionals today are answerable to a wider range of internal and external stakeholders than ever before. This is particularly true on ESG initiatives or on projects where ESG considerations are a factor. Project leaders need strong written and verbal communication skills to effectively engage stakeholders and the political acumen to navigate a wide range of disparate and often conflicting interests.
The old saying that “leaders are born, not made” simply isn’t true. It’s now clear that leadership skills can be learned and are essential for successful project management. And leadership is more than the ability to run meetings and give orders. As Brantlee Underhill noted in a recent blog post, authentic leadership requires self-awareness, humility, empathy, and the ability to rally your team around a vision and a purpose. If you’re new to management, you might want to check out CCL Boost™ for New Leaders, PMI’s self-paced, online leadership course based on research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership.
Like everything else these days, risk management is changing. It’s no longer just about weighing immediate project-related risks but assessing potential hazards in the broader enterprise and in society as a whole (think COVID-19). A lot has been said about how we live in a VUCA world – full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. That’s why we’ve created the PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP®) certification – to give project leaders new tools for not only identifying and evaluating risks, but for mitigating and managing them.
Did you know that 80 percent of our brain is dedicated to visualization? It’s hardly surprising then that visualization is such a powerful tool for problem-solving. In fact, visualization is at the heart of the Wicked Problem Solving (WPS) methodology. In a world of growing complexity, visualization makes it easier to express and clarify ideas, organize information, and collaborate and communicate.
Data powers business these days. It underpins nearly all major decisions and is increasingly our most important asset. Project professionals must have at least a basic understanding of how to access and manipulate data. Even more important, they must be able to extract meaningful insights from data and communicate those insights confidently.
This may be a more surprising one because we do not always think about it as a skill that can be learned. But in a world as fast-paced as ours, intellectual curiosity is a must-have. We not only need the ability to adapt, but the desire to understand how the world around us is changing. Millennials and Gen Zers understand this intuitively. They’ve grown up in a world of rapid and constant technological change and exemplify what it means to be lifelong learners.
I think of stress management as a two-tier skill: we need to practice it in our own lives and project leaders need to foster it amongst their teams – especially in the wake of COVID-19, which added significantly to worker stress levels. The key is to learn how to de-stress, whether that’s through a physical workout, meditation, or just downtime with family. As Brantlee (again) likes to say, “It’s not how fast you can go from 0 to 60 but how fast you can go from 60 to 0.”
To see the world as others see it is perhaps the most difficult skill of all to master. Project leaders must be open and receptive to feedback and especially diligent in gathering and understanding different points of view. Only then can we begin to form a more objective view of our work and how it will affect a diverse set of project stakeholders.
We knew its importance before, and COVID-19 reinforced it. We need to maintain this same nimbleness of mind and ability to pivot in our day-to-day world. A willingness to embrace new technologies, new methodologies and new ways of working will always separate the winners from the also-rans.
I’ll end on a very specific skill, but one that I think is emblematic of the kind of change we’ll see and skills we’ll need in the future. The citizen development movement – the ability of non-IT-professionals to use low-code/no-code tools to develop apps and software to solve everyday problems – is a democratizing force in our world. It’s empowering not just project professionals, but workers of all kinds to accelerate change, drive business results and make their lives just a little bit easier. It does create challenges, of course, and the companies and organizations that are adopting this form of “hyper-agility” need to be ready for an enterprise-wide cultural transformation.
At PMI, we hope to harness this same democratizing force to bring project management practices to changemakers everywhere – so they too can effect change, drive societal progress and make their lives and those of their community just a little better.
That’s a noble ambition and it’s one of the reasons I’ve joined PMI. Our goal is to help both project leaders and changemakers cultivate the skills that are most in need – not only for their personal and professional development, but for the ultimate betterment of our world. In the end, project professionals are the ones that get things done.