Project managers are key to any organization’s broader strategy. Without project managers, any project would quickly descend into chaos. Effective project manager skills allow initiatives to meet deadlines and budgets. But which skills matter, and how can you learn them?
First, let’s explore the most popular project manager skills before taking a look at the certifications and training you might need to succeed in a project manager role.
According to Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, the following project manager skills pop up most often in job postings:
All of those seem logical. After all, if you can’t budget, schedule, and plan, chances are pretty good that any project you’re supposed to be running will crash and burn. However, these are also “general” skills; if you’re applying for a project manager position in a technology context, you’ll also need to master some key technical concepts.
Those concepts depend on the job, of course. For example, if you’re overseeing a company’s mobile-app projects, you’ll need to know the nuances and intricacies of iOS and Android, along with the languages, frameworks, and tools that allow those platforms to function (such as Swift, Objective-C, and Kotlin).
Whatever the technical requirements, an aptitude for problem-solving is key. Projects rarely go smoothly, and an effective project manager knows how to improvise and adjust to changing circumstances. “Project management, supplier involvement, and team conflict resolution are all continuous negotiations. A good project manager can keep all stakeholders pleased and working toward a single goal,” James Angel, co-founder and CEO of DYL, recently told Dice.
PayScale data shows that tech-centric project managers make nearly $90,000 per year on average, climbing to roughly $129,000 annually. That aligns well with the average technologist salary, which rose 6.9 percent between 2020 and 2021 to hit $104,566, according to the most recent Dice Tech Salary Report.
As with other professions, experience can boost your salary still higher—as can highly specialized skills. Project managers with an extensive background in complex artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning projects, for example, have more leverage to command higher compensation.
“Soft skills” such as empathy, leadership, and communication are absolutely vital for project managers, as so much of the job involves conveying updates to various stakeholders. Project managers must also secure buy-in from folks both inside and outside their organization, so the ability to listen, communicate, and negotiate (both verbally and in writing) is absolutely critical.
Developing effective project manager skills is ultimately a matter of practice and starting small. If project management potentially interests you as a career path, seek out the project managers within your organization and see if they’ll serve as an informal mentor. Pay attention as they walk you through the particulars of their job, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If you’re ready for more formal training, there are several institutions that offer it. The Project Management Institute (PMI), for instance, offers lots of learning resources, certifications, and events. (Those who’re totally new to project management will want to check out a free PMI resource called Kickoff, which takes around 45 minutes to complete and teaches the basics of project management.) Coursera, Udemy, and other online learning portals also have virtual classes.
As you gain experience in the project management field, you’ll become gradually more adept at larger and more complex projects. It’s important to always keep your skills up-to-date, especially if you’re working in a fast-evolving field; you’ll gain a more realistic sense of what your team can do and the deadlines it can hit.
Many organizations’ hiring managers and recruiters put certifications as a requirement on job postings. Some popular certifications include:
Project Management Professional (PMP): This popular certification is offered by the Project Management Institute. Requirements include a four-year degree, 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM certification (see below), and three years of leading projects.
Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM): New to project management? CAPM (also managed by the Project Management Institute) is a way for project-management newbies to validate skills ahead of earning the PMP.
Certified Project Director: This certification focuses on the more complicated aspects of project management, including budgeting for large projects. It is conducted by the Global Association for Quality Management.
Certified Project Management Practitioner (CPMP): This certification, overseen by the EC-Council, indexes management skills, including technical abilities.
Certified ScrumMaster (CSM): Overseen by The Scrum Alliance, this certification covers project managers’ knowledge of Agile, Scrum, and so on.
CompTIA Project+: CompTIA Project+ is a comprehensive certification, covering management skills from product lifecycle to team communication. As the name suggests, it is overseen by CompTIA.
Professional Scrum Master (PSM): Overseen by Scrum.org, this certification covers the skills and knowledge of Agile, Scrum, and the role of the Scrum Master. There are three levels of certifications for PSM.
Always keep in mind that many of these certifications (especially the more advanced ones) require a couple years of experience in project management to earn. You don’t necessarily need certifications to land a project manager job, but if you don’t have any, you’ll need to convince your interviewers that you have the skills and experience to do the job; a portfolio of past projects, as well as a resume that details how you’ve used your skills to successfully complete projects, is key.
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