When you think of project managers, what skills come to mind?
Many people may be tempted to list attributes like good organization skills, effective time management or a host of technical project management skills, but are these the attributes employers will be looking for in the near future? Not all project managers are created equally, and not all project management skills will be valued the same way.
By 2020, it is estimated there will be 700,000 more project management jobs in the United States according to a Talent Gap report by the Project Management Institute (PMI). These jobs will primarily be within utilities, construction, information services, oil and gas, finance and insurance, manufacturing, and business services industries.
As a project manager (PM), do you have what employers are looking for?
A PMI and Anderson Economic Group whitepaper on “Building High-Performance Project Talent” shows over the past few years 83 percent of employers had minor to significant difficulties finding skilled project managers which led to the following:
- A decline in quality (31 percent)
- An inability to innovate effectively (29 percent)
- The cancelation or delay of strategic initiatives (27 percent)
So what skills will employers value in the next generation of project managers?
1. Technical project management skills
Among the three top desired skills, technical knowledge rates as a key component that employers require but say is hard to find. As these technical skills are primarily process-based, they are easier to teach than other attributes that some project managers possess.
2. Leadership abilities
Although technical skills are essential, and without them it is difficult to effectively manage projects, there are some soft skills like exceptional leadership abilities that will rank much higher as a priority to employers. In fact, according to PMI, 66 percent of organizations rate leadership skills as the most valuable trait of a successful PM. What makes it hard to find is the fact that not all project managers are strong in this area. If you are a project manager with this sought-after ability, you may be in high demand.
3. Strategic and business management mindset
If you have exceptional leadership skills and have a solid grasp of how project management can enable business strategy, you may be among a small percentage of project managers who many employers will seek. Employers rate this as one of the top three “next generation PM skills” in PMI’s “Building High-Performance Project Talent.”
4. Change management and organizational development expertise
Change is a constant in business and most certainly in project management. When asked what his clients are looking for in a project manager, Tony Kirschner, apartner at Davies Park Executive Search offered this advice: "Recently, my clients have been looking to incorporate the softer, change management and OD (organization development) types of skills into the project management function. They are asking for PMs who do more than just ‘tick the boxes,’ and can provide a more integrated approach to large project management and the associated organizational change."
5. Top-notch communication skills
To ensure successful projects, it is important that project managers practice and encourage clear lines of ongoing and transparent communications with key stakeholders at various levels within impacted groups. Potentially this creates an environment of trust and inclusion, which paves the way to successful project outcomes. Without effective written and verbal communication skills, project managers are missing a critical component that can easily derail a project by risking buy-in from team members and stakeholders.
6. Team building and conflict resolution capabilities
A project manager’s ability to build a cohesive team focused on meeting project objectives is a vital skill. This is not always an easy task, and teams often become conflicted, resulting in a project being compromised. This requires a people-oriented leader who has conflict resolution abilities, focus and patience to re-direct members back into a high functioning team.
7. Adaptable and unflappable qualities
Anyone who has ever managed a project knows there are always issues that cause stress, ambiguity and conflict. Employers want project managers they can rely on who can easily adapt to change, and are unflappable during uncertainty and crisis. These traits are particularly valuable at times when there is a need to keep others calm because most people will struggle when uncertainty or crisis strikes.
8. Exceptional facilitation skills
Creating an environment where project teams and stakeholders can collaborate effectively is not always stress-free. Finding a PM with solid facilitation skills may be challenging. Employers want to know they have hired a facilitator who can stay focused on project outcomes and not become engulfed in politics, conflicting agendas and side issues that arise during team sessions. Having a great facilitator can make the difference between staying within the project scope or completely missing milestones and deadlines.
[Related: How to hire a rock star project manager]
Effectively executing projects has become more complicated, and this will only continue in the future. Therefore, it makes sense that project managers who possess these skills, in combination with PM training and experience, will become highly sought after.
Employers and recruiters will be on the lookout for these project managers to help their project initiatives in support of business goals. As a PM, ask yourself if you have the right skills and attributes employers will be looking for.