25 essential project management skills you need to succeed

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia MartinsDecember 18th, 202014 min read
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At Asana, we believe that if you manage projects, you’re a project manager… even if that’s not your job title. In order for teams to effectively collaborate and get their best work done, they need a project manager like you to lead the way. But even if you’re already managing a project—or even multiple projects—how do you get better at being a project manager?

If you’re interested in honing and developing your project management skills, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we’ll cover 25 key skills you need to succeed as a project manager, and how you can develop those skills over time.

What are project management skills?

Project management is the practice of organizing and executing work efficiently—and helping your team do the same. Historically, a project manager was a team member who was trained and certified in complicated project management technology. Traditional project management tools were hard to set up and required constant maintenance, which is where the position “project manager” comes from.

Modern project management evolved from traditional project management in two distinct ways. As companies and teams democratized their project management processes, they needed more team members and team leads who were able to manage a process from conception to completion. In order to support those team leads, project management software needed to evolve from complex mechanisms to flexible and easy-to-use tools.

Today’s project management tools

Today, any team member may be called upon to run a project and become the de-facto project manager—which is why modern project management tools are built to be flexible enough for anyone to use on any project, so you’re able to jump in and hit the ground running. 

These tools, like Asana, make it easy to track, manage, and organize work—without the learning curve associated with traditional tools. With today's project management tools, you can easily implement project management best practices and bring a new level of clarity and visibility to your project team. 

Try Asana for free

Where skills and tools combine

Project management tools do the heavy lifting when it comes to reducing silos, increasing visibility, and facilitating cross-functional collaboration. As the project manager, you can use these tools to give your team the insight they need to get their best work done. While you don’t need to learn complicated skills or tools in order to become a successful project manager, there are hard, soft, and technical skills you can develop in order to improve your management and collaboration skills.

Some of these skills might not apply to you—while others might be things you’re already seasoned in. Like everything in the five phases of project management, approach this list with flexibility and work on the skills that are most relevant to you.

Read: The difference between hard skills and soft skills: Examples from 14 Asana team members

10 soft skills for project management

Soft skills are what we call “non-technical skills,” or skills that can help you improve your quality of work—without a specific tool or technical requirement. These are also called “people skills” or “interpersonal skills” because they often help you work with and relate to others in your workspace. These 10 skills are the most important soft skills for project management:

1. Collaboration

Collaboration is the cornerstone of all project management skills—whether they’re soft skills, hard skills, or technical skills. In project management, collaboration helps you be a better team player. When you’re able to collaborate effectively, you can better communicate with your team and get great work done.

To learn how to improve your collaboration skills, practice having all sorts of conversations. Open communication, reduced boundaries, and co-creation are critical for a collaborative team. For more tips, read our guide on team collaboration.

2. Communication

Effective communication is one of the key competencies in project management and is central for effective collaboration. To develop your communication skills, practice being open and honest with your coworkers. This requires a lot of trust on your part and on the part of your team members. To build trust with open communication, encourage your team members to bring any thoughts into a discussion—even if you disagree with them. As you continue practicing open communication, you’ll increase your team’s ability to collaborate and get great work done.

To become a better communicator, establish communication guidelines with your team. You probably have various types of communication software—like email, Slack, and work management tools. Knowing which tools to use for different types of communication can help your team more easily and effectively communicate and collaborate.

If you want to help your team be more productive, embrace asynchronous communication. This requires getting really good at writing down your thoughts, but pays dividends with how much you can actually get done without having to coordinate a meeting on the calendar.

3. Teamwork

Teamwork is all about supporting your team and encouraging them to do great work—together. Everyone on your team has something to bring to the table, and your team is more effective together than each individual team member is by themselves. Collaboration is part of teamwork, but teamwork is bigger—and ensures that everyone feels welcome and able to contribute.

If you’re working to boost your teamwork skills, practice asking questions. Dig deeper into team brainstorms, 1:1 conversations, and input from all team members. Ask yourself if there’s someone who hasn’t spoken up in a while, or if another team member might have a good idea or relevant skill set.

Download: Aligning teamwork to your organization’s mission

4. Problem solving

Problem solving skills are collaborative, iterative skills that help you approach a problem and, ultimately, solve it. Developing your problem solving skills isn’t about always having the “right” answer to every problem—rather, people with great problem solving skills practice approaching problems from new perspectives and methodically working towards a solution.

To become a great problem solver, start digging a little deeper into your decisions. Why did you make a certain choice, and was there a different one you could have made? Even if the answer is “no,” questioning your intrinsic motivation and your solutions can help you practice your problem solving skills and better approach problems in the future.

To make sure our meetings are successful, we focus the time on discussing open issues that require back and forth conversation to drive a solution rather than sharing status updates.

5. Organization

For a lot of project managers, organization is the most intimidating soft skill. You might think organization is either something you “have” or “don’t have.” But, like every other project management skill in this article, you can develop your organizational skills and become a Marie Kondo in your own right.

The best way to become a better organizer is to create (and maintain) a central source of truth for your work and your team’s work. We’re often disorganized because work is disconnected—in fact, the average employee switches between 10 tools per day. If your information is scattered, of course you’re feeling disorganized. Instead of splitting your time between 10 tools, try using Asana as your organization tool so you and your team have a central source of truth.

6. Time management

Time management and organization skills go hand in hand. As you become better at organizing your tasks, you’ll also have a clearer sense of everything that’s on your plate and how long your upcoming tasks are going to take.

Still, it can be hard to buckle down and prioritize your work. To improve your time management skills and persevere against procrastination, use a work management tool to track the relative priority of each task. When you’re clear on which tasks are high priority, you can tackle them first, to make sure nothing gets left behind or falls through the cracks.

7. Leadership skills

If you’re managing a project, you’re not just a project manager—you’re also a leader. Even if you don’t think of yourself that way, your project team is looking at you for leadership, guidance, and support.

To develop your leadership skills, practice approaching situations with empathy and understanding. Good leaders bring everyone together and help foster teamwork and collaboration. You should also spend some time deciding what type of leader you want to be. Some popular leadership styles include:

  • Servant leadership. If your main goal is to serve your team, you might be interested in servant leadership. Servant leaders are focused on helping their team develop and perform as highly as possible.

  • Participative leadership. Also known as “democratic leadership,” in this type of leadership you encourage your entire project team to work together to make decisions.

  • Transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is when a leader focuses heavily on a vision for their team and works with team members to build towards inspirational change.

  • Autocratic leadership. Autocratic leaders streamline project decisions and leave little up to the project team. This can help teams focus on their project goals and make quick decisions.

  • Laissez-faire leadership. In this leadership style, leaders encourage creativity and flexibility within their project team. “Laissez-faire” is French for “let it go,” and laissez-faire leaders embrace that mentality.

Asana gives me oversight but it also ensures that my teammates aren’t inundated with content strategy tasks. We can be separate yet still connected in a unique way.

8. Adaptability

At some point, whether it’s this project or the next one, some element of your project plan will change. Maybe your deadline will shift or your priorities will change, and you’ll need to adapt your workflow accordingly. Great project managers are able to pivot and adapt to new situations, in order to continue steering their project team in the right direction.

Becoming more adaptable is all about understanding when and how to shift gears. Without visibility into everything that’s happening, it can be difficult to course correct or decide on the best course of action. The best way to build your adaptability is to have a clear sense of everything in motion—which you can do by tracking your project in a work management tool.

9. Conflict resolution

Inevitably, conflict will arise during the projects you manage. It could be that a team member disagrees with which deliverables are more important. Maybe a stakeholder is attempting to change the project scope. Or maybe you missed your budget or deadline.

Conflict resolution is about addressing both sides of the conflict so everyone feels heard and supported. If there are harmed parties, take the time to listen to them and try to find a solution that works for everyone. Even when that can’t happen, approaching the conversation with patience and empathy can help defuse a potentially frustrating situation and lead to a better result.

Read: How to give and take constructive criticism

10. Critical thinking

Critical thinking, like problem solving, doesn’t have a “solution.” You can’t “win” at critical thinking, but you can practice approaching problems logically instead of making decisions based solely on your emotions. Good critical thinkers practice analyzing information in front of them and forming their own conclusions based on the facts—the way Sherlock Holmes solves a mystery.

To practice critical thinking, always take a step back and ask yourself: how did I come to this conclusion? Could there be another answer? Am I being swayed by something other than factual information? Emotional decisions aren’t necessarily bad—in fact, some of the best decisions are those we’re passionate about. But critical thinking is a helpful way to make sure you’re approaching a situation from the right perspective.

I don’t want to only fixate on the end result. The method we used to get there is also important. Asana has been a huge help by allowing us to track work in a visible, actionable way.

7 hard skills for project management

Unlike soft skills, hard skills are teachable abilities that you can quantify. While the soft skills mentioned above are applicable in any situation, these seven hard skills are relevant within the project management sphere. Developing these seven skills will help you become a more well rounded and efficient project manager.

1. Scoping a project

Project scope is the size, goals, and limitations of a project. Your project scope will define what you can achieve within a certain period of time and within a certain budget. Setting and defining your project scope is important in order to prevent scope creep, which is when your project deliverables outgrow your project scope.

In order to improve your project scoping skills, practice setting project scope early and often. Once you’ve set your project scope, share it with stakeholders and surface it frequently, so everyone is on the same page about the project’s aims and limitations. For more tips, read our guide on scope creep.

We have been able to reduce the number of products that we’ve oversold and the number of times we have to contact the customer to push a ship date out.

2. Project roadmapping

Project Management Skills - Project Roadmapping

project roadmap is a high-level overview of your project’s key deliverables and timeline. Project roadmaps are helpful for complex initiatives with a lot of stakeholders, because they can help you get your entire project team on the same page before the project even starts.

Traditionally, project roadmaps are created in Gantt chart-like software, in order to display a general schedule of your project as a horizontal bar chart. To create a project roadmap, use a tool like Timeline in Asana to create a rough timeline of your project, as well as key milestones or important dependencies.

3. Drafting a project brief

Even if you don’t create a project roadmap, you can still benefit from a project brief. Your project brief outlines your general project objectives and how you plan to get there. This can serve as a helpful North Star during future planning sessions.

Example project brief in Asana

The most important thing to remember about your project brief is that it’s a living document. As you develop your project plan and get input from stakeholders, you can adapt and update your project brief. In general, your project brief should contain a link to your project roadmap if you created one, a list of your project stakeholders and their responsibilities (sometimes called a RACI chart), other relevant documentation or files, and any other high-level information your team might need.

Having executive oversight and insight into projects is key so we can quickly get up to speed on what is happening at any point.

4. Project kickoff meeting

A kickoff meeting is an opportunity to align with your project stakeholders. This is your chance to clarify your project goals and scope, and share any documents you’ve already put together like your project roadmap, project brief, or supplemental documentation like a bill of materials for a marketing campaign or a creative brief for a design team.

To host a successful kickoff meeting, plan to share the documentation you have put together with project stakeholders. Then, host a brainstorming or Q&A session to align on any additional variables, like budget, resources, or final deliverables.

5. Project planning

At its core, a project plan (sometimes called a project charter) is a blueprint of the key elements your project needs to succeed. Typically a project plan will include seven things:

  1. Goals

  2. Success metrics

  3. Project stakeholders and roles

  4. Project budget

  5. Milestones and deliverables

  6. Timeline and schedule

  7. Project communication plan

Some of these things, like your goals or your milestones, might already be defined in your project roadmap or brief. But your project plan is where all of these project elements come together to create a cohesive picture of your upcoming work. To get started with project planning, read our project plan guide or try our free project plan template.

A lot of planning goes into the beginning of the year for what our vision is and where we will be by the end of that particular year. Once that is done, we summarize it in a project so it's visible to everyone... Having that visual representation in Asana makes it easier to move things around.

6. Creating a project timeline

[Timeline View] Brand campaign project in Asana, Gantt chart-style view

Your project timeline is the order and duration of events during your project lifecycle. Knowing your project timeline helps your team keep track of project success and deliver the right assets on time.

In order to build a great project timeline, make sure you clarify the start and end dates of your project, as well as any key milestones. As you continue building out individual tasks and deliverables, set dependencies between tasks, and clarify the start and end date of each piece of work. Then, use a timeline tool to bring your work to life.

7. Task management

Once your project is officially underway, task management refers to how well you manage your time and your team’s time. The best project managers have visibility into what their team is working on, so they can help their team effectively prioritize and execute work.

But you don’t have to magically know everything that’s happening in your project—instead, use task management software. Task management software is more than a to-do list—it’s a way to get a holistic view of all of the work happening in your project. With effective task management, you can empower your team to work more productively, efficiently, and effectively.

With Asana, we can see project progress and blockers, plus feedback and action items, all in one place. We're now able to complete work more efficiently and effectively, which has become even more critical while working from home. We’d be lost without it!

8 key technical project management skills

Soft skills: check. Hard skills: got it. The only thing you have left to master are technical skills!

Technical skills refer to your knowledge of specific tools and softwares within project management. These tools aren’t hard to learn—as we mentioned before, modern project management is built to be flexible and easy to use. These eight skills are aspects of project management you should become familiar with, so you know when and how to leverage them.

1. Gantt charts

Project management skills - Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are a way to visualize your project as a horizontal bar chart, where each bar represents a piece of work and the length of each bar represents the amount of time that work will take. Gantt charts have several key features, including:

Traditional Gantt chart technology can be tricky to use and limited in scope, which is why, at Asana, we took the best of Gantt chart technology and created Timeline, a Gantt-chart like tool that helps you see how all of the pieces fit together.

Launching an album has so many moving parts, and Asana helps us track every detail, who’s responsible for it, and when it needs to be completed.

2. Kanban boards

[Board View] Sprint plans project in Asana

Another popular type of visual project management is the Kanban board. Each column in a Kanban board represents a stage of work, like NewIn progress, or Done. Individual work is represented by cards, which move through the columns until they’re completed.

Kanban boards tools are a popular visual project management tool for lean project management teams, particularly product, engineering, and software development teams. In Asana, Kanban is one of the four project views, which gives teams the flexibility to view their work however they prefer.

Read: A beginner's guide to Kanban boards

3. Agile management

Agile management is a lean project management methodology that’s particularly popular with product, engineering, and software development teams. Agile operates on a system of continuous improvement and incremental evolution, and it encompasses several lean methodologies, like Scrum and Kanban.

In order to manage an Agile team, use a flexible Agile management tool that allows your team to move quickly and iterate on results.

4. Cost management

In project management, cost management involves considering your budget at every stage of the project. Cost management is a key part of project leadership, and an important element of whether or not your project is a success. Staying within budget is as important as hitting your project due date, and cost management can help you get there.

To manage cost effectively, good project managers define their costs and budget at the beginning of a project. Make sure project stakeholders and team members all understand the budget. Then, during the project, keep cost and budget in mind. Check in on your spending several times during the project to make sure you aren’t overshooting your budget. Once the project is completed, tally predicted cost vs. actual cost to determine how effective your cost management strategies were. This can also help you benchmark for future projects.

5. Change management

If you’ve ever rolled out big organizational change, you’ve likely practiced change management, even if you didn’t know it. Change management is the process of introducing organizational change—like new processes or tools—over a set period of time in order to increase utilization and decrease friction. Common elements of change management include rolling out the organizational change to one workflow at a time and having internal champions to help guide the change process.

At Asana, we use the Asana Way of Change, a six step process developed by our Customer Success team that incorporates proven change management strategies. To learn more, read our guide to change management.

The standard of our creative team, for a while, was just to react to work. But we’ll never do the best work we possibly can without a clear process.

6. Project management software

Project Management Skills - project management software

Project management software has come a long way from legacy tools that were difficult to use and required a project management professional to implement. But like any tool, even easy-to-use ones, the software you choose takes time to learn and truly master. Make sure the tool you select has a written guide and helpful videos to teach you the ins and outs of how to use it.

Naturally, we think Asana is the best tool for the job. Asana is a work management tool designed to help you coordinate plans, projects, and processes across your entire organization. While project management can help you gain clarity on individual projects, work management is the best way to coordinate processes across projects, initiatives, and teams. With a work management tool, everyone has the information they need to do their most important work.

Read: Work management vs project management: what’s the difference?

7. Workload management

[Workload] Workload management in Asana

If you’ve managed projects before, you know how hard it is to gain clarity on who is working on what—but it doesn’t have to be. Workload management helps you measure your team’s bandwidth and make sure they aren’t over- or under-worked. It’s an interactive process that doesn’t have a beginning or end state—rather, an effective project manager will continuously monitor their team’s workload to ensure no one is burning out.

There are two steps to using workload management software. First, start by figuring out your team’s capacity and current workload. From there, allocate resources based on individual workload, or rebalance workloads as needed.

8. Project portfolio management

Project Management Skills - project portfolio management

With project portfolio management, you can get a bird’s-eye view of your team’s work across multiple projects. Project portfolio management tools help you get a holistic view of all of your team’s work in real-time, so you can connect strategy to execution.

Portfolios are also a key Asana feature for our team. It is a great tool for our executive team so they can see our big pieces of work all in a single place with the status, progress and ownership. Our CEO visits our portfolio daily and adds comments. He loves to be able to see what's going on in a snapshot.

How to develop your project management skills

Twenty five skills might feel like a lot, but remember that you don’t need to master every skill in this list. Some, like Agile, are only relevant for teams that are interested in those methodologies. Others, like organization, become virtually effortless with a great tool—like Asana.

Keep in mind that developing your project management skills takes practice. Challenge yourself to focus on one or two new skills for each project—whether that’s trying out a new visual form of project management like Kanban, drafting your first ever project plan, or leaning into time-management.

There are also classes you can take to develop hard and soft project management skills. Though you no longer need certifications in order to be considered a project manager, the Project Management Institute (PMI) offers courses, learning events, and their famous Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), which was the first project management guide ever published.

Finally, once you’ve selected a project management tool, you can also take their classes to learn technical project management skills. At Asana, we’ve developed the Asana Academy and How to Asana series to help new project managers learn new soft, hard, and technical skills.

Your project management toolkit

If you manage a project, you’re a project manager—and you likely already have some key project management skills. The most important thing is to be intentional, listen to your team, and collaborate with your team members. The rest will follow.

Interested in learning more? Try Asana for project and work management.

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