5 Skills of Successful Project Managers

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

Whether you chose project management early on or fell into the role later in your career, organization, time management, and planning likely come naturally to you. It’s why you’re a project manager, after all. But shepherding projects across the finish line in today’s ever-evolving business landscape requires more than just traditional competencies. To take your effectiveness to the next level, make sure you’ve honed these 5 skills of successful project managers.

5. Listening Before Diving In

For many project managers, a kickoff meeting is the official starting point for a project – a time to gather the team, discuss deliverables and timelines, delegate tasks, and hit the ground running.

However, the most successful project managers precede each kickoff meeting with a period of active listening. First, check in with your stakeholders to see what their project goals are and ask questions about expected deliverables. Then speak to your team to solicit feedback on whether the goals are achievable and discuss any potential hurdles, such as competing priorities, lack of resources, or timing conflicts.

With this critical information in hand, you can head into the kickoff meeting with a clear (and workable) vision of the project’s requirements, timeline, deliverables, and scope. That’s not to say that tweaks can’t be made, or that you’ll be able to accommodate everyone’s needs and opinions. But knowledge is power, and by employing your listening skills, you can head off potential hazards before they threaten the project’s success.


Female project manager looking up skills of successful project managers in order to grow her career.

4. Communicating Effectively

Some days, it feels like all you do is communicate – via phone, meetings, email, text, chat, social media, and more. But are you communicating effectively?

With multiple generations now in the workforce, it’s possible (and even likely) that you’ll be collaborating with team members from Gen Z to Baby Boomers, and each generation tends to have its own communication preferences. The most successful project managers match the message to the right medium.

Get in the habit of asking everyone how they prefer to communicate – via phone, text, email, or face-to-face. It’s also helpful to understand the general preferences of each generation. Here’s a quick primer from a recent article in Entrepreneur:

  • Baby Boomers appreciate formal and direct communications with a preference for using face-to-face, phone, and email; they value background information and details.
  • Generation X appreciate informal and flexible communications with a preference for using email, phone, text, and Facebook; they value a professional etiquette.
  • Millennials appreciate authentic and fast communications with a preference for using text, chat, email, and Instagram; they value efficiency and a digital-first approach.
  • Generation Z appreciate transparent and visual communications with a preference for using face-to-face, Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok, and FaceTime; they value video, voice-command, and a mobile-only approach.

You won’t be able to accommodate everyone all the time, but honoring preferences when possible can ensure your message is heard and acted upon. 


3. Using Tech Tools Wisely

Project management software is now a ubiquitous tool of the trade and has facilitated the shift to remote project management. But whether it helps or hinders your efforts depends on the product you select and how you use it.

Successful project managers do the hard work of defining goals, getting input from the team, evaluating the tech budget, and securing the least complicated software that meets your company's needs. Many companies have difficulty implementing project management solutions that are cumbersome, difficult to use, and loaded with unneeded extras. The more overwhelming the software, the less likely it is your team will adopt it and use it successfully.

If you already have project management software, find a champion in management who can ensure the team has access to training or other resources. The champion also needs to enforce adoption and model the right behavior by using the tool for management reviews or meetings.

Above all, remember that project management software is not a panacea. It should support and automate excellent project management processes, not replace them.


2. Limiting Scope Creep

One of the most powerful words in a successful project manager’s vocabulary is “no,” and you may need to deploy it when scope creep rears its ugly head. But before it gets to that point, there are a few preventative measures you can employ to keep everyone on track and deal with the inevitable change requests that arise:

  • Document the project’s requirements at the outset, and ensure that all stakeholders agree to the scope of work.
  • Set up a change control process to review and approve/reject changes and additions to the project plan.
  • Create a clear project schedule that allows for some contingencies.
  • Keep meticulous records as a defense against someone trying to slip in an extra deliverable that wasn’t originally agreed upon.


1. Normalizing Failures

Have you ever held a series of status meetings where you’ve heard “everything is going great,” only to have your project timeline blow up a week later? Whether it’s to avoid the perception of failure or fear of losing their jobs, team members often paint a rosy picture for you even though things are going off the rails.

Concealment exacerbates the problem because you only become aware of it when it’s too late to intervene. Successful project managers can combat this phenomenon by normalizing failure. This means encouraging employees to flag when things are going off track – and working together to figure out how to fix them. It can also be useful to develop leading indicators, so you and the team will have insight into what’s going wrong as it's happening.

As you begin focusing on how to turn problems around rather than reprisals, team members will get more comfortable speaking up at critical project points.


Are Your Project Management Skills Up to Snuff?

Whether you’re a newcomer to the world of project management or a seasoned pro, USF can help you hone these skills and earn the resume-enhancing credentials sought by top employers. Explore our Designated Project Manager (Project Management for the Non-Project Manager) course, invest in the Project Management Certificate Program, or prepare to sit for the PMP® Exam. Questions? Contact us at 813-974-0950 or CE-Inquiries@usf.edu for more information.


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