Anyone who oversees projects is a project manager, but to become a more thoughtful manager (with a higher impact), you need to develop the right project management skills. Learn what skills are necessary to become a successful project manager and how to build them.
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 or project administrator, and how you can develop those skills over time.
Project management skills are the attributes you develop to become a more experienced project manager. Building a project management skill set includes learning technical and hard skills, such as portfolio management and project scoping, and soft skills (for example, adaptability).In honing these skills, you’re preparing yourself to more effectively perform in your role.
Project management is the practice of organizing and executing work efficiently—and helping your team do the same. For a while, project managers had to be 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 has also evolved, from complex mechanisms to flexible and easy-to-use 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.Manage projects with one tool
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
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:
Collaboration is the cornerstone of all project management skills. In project management, collaboration helps you get work done quickly and more efficiently. When you can coordinate across teams, you gain valuable insights into your project that you might not find within your team. If more minds are involved in the work, projects are inherently more creative and well developed.
To improve your collaboration skills, practice having conversations. Use techniques like active listening, where you stay engaged and focused when others are speaking to you. It sounds simple, but learning how to have open communication, reduce boundaries, and co-create are critical for a collaborative team.Read: 10 easy steps to boost team collaboration
Everyone on your team has something to bring to the table, and your team is more effective working together than they would be alone. Teamwork ensures that everyone feels welcome, valued, and they are supported to contribute.
If you’re working to boost your teamwork skills, dig deeper into team brainstorms, 1:1 conversations, and ask for feedback from your team—how can you be a better team member? Notice if there’s someone who hasn’t spoken up in a while, and be supportive when another team member has a new idea.
Miscommunications are common when you’re working with a group of people. Learning how to communicate well and avoid these will make projects run more smoothly and be more enjoyable.
To develop your communication skills, practice being open and honest with your coworkers. This requires a lot of trust between you and your team members. To build this trust, encourage your team members to bring any thoughts into a discussion—even if you disagree with them.
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 reduce procrastination, try prioritizing tasks. When you’re clear on which tasks are higher priority, you can tackle them first, to make sure nothing gets left behind or falls through the cracks.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as a leader or have a role in team management, when you’re managing a project, your project team is looking to you for leadership, guidance, and support.
To develop your leadership skills, practice approaching situations with empathy and understanding. Good leaders bring everyone together and make them feel supported to foster teamwork and collaboration.
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. Instead of splitting your time between 10 tools, try using a digital organization tool to act as that one central source of truth for your team.Read: How to get organized: 17 tips that actually work
Problem solving skills are collaborative, iterative skills that help you approach a problem and, ultimately, solve it. Developing 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 better problem solver, use data-driven decision-making frameworks or routine analyses. For example, if you need to solve for how to boost sales by 10% over your competition, you can run a competitive analysis to determine where you currently stand in the market. Then, use that information to solve the problem of lower sales. In this case, you could develop a new marketing strategy coordinated with the sales team.Read: Turn your team into skilled problem solvers with these problem-solving strategies
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 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.
At some point, whether it’s this project or the next one, aspects of your project plan will change. Maybe your deadline or priorities shifts, and you need to adapt your workflow accordingly. Great project managers are able to pivot and adapt to new situations to continue steering their project team in the right direction.
Becoming more adaptable is all about understanding when and how to shift gears. To do this, you need to understand yourself. Developing other soft skills, such as self-awareness and mindfulness, can help you be more in touch with and manage your emotions, which are often in flux during times of change.Read: 6 Tips to Increase Your Adaptability In the Workplace
Inevitably, conflict will arise during the projects you manage. It could be that a stakeholder wants 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.
Unlike soft skills, hard skills are quantifiable abilities. While the soft skills mentioned above are applicable for many work skills, these seven hard skills are relevant specifically to project management. Developing these will help you become a more well rounded and efficient project manager.Manage projects with one tool
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:
Goals and project objectives
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.
Project scope is the size, goals, and limitations (i.e., deadlines and resources) for your project. Your project scope will define what you can achieve within a certain timeframe and budget. Setting and defining your project scope is important in order to prevent scope creep, which is when your project deliverables outgrow your original 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. Use it as a point of reference, so you know when to say no to new asks.
Your project brief outlines your general project objectives and how you plan to get there. This can serve as a helpful North Star to guide planning sessions.
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.
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.
A 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 help the entire project team get 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, adding key milestones or important dependencies.
Your project timeline is the order and duration of events during your project lifecycle. Knowing your project timeline helps your team track 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.
Once your project is officially underway, task management refers to how well you manage your and your team’s time. The best project managers have visibility into what their team is working on in real-time, 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.
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 roles you should become familiar with, so you know when and how to leverage them.
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.Manage projects with one tool
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.
Real-time project progress
Start and end dates
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.
Another popular type of visual project management is the Kanban board. Each column in a Kanban board represents a stage of work, like New, In 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. They’re an Agile methodology, designed to be adaptable and flexible to adjust to development needs in real-time.Read: A beginner's guide to Kanban boards
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 lean portfolio management, Scrum, and Kanban.
In order to manage an Agile team, it's the project manager’s job to coordinate between team members and stay flexible. This can mean changing the project schedule, aligning with teams working on a different project, or just staying in touch with effective communication.
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, competencies, and current workload. From there, allocate resources based on individual workload, or rebalance workloads as needed.
In project management, cost management is considering how each task impacts 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.Read: Cost control: How to monitor project spending to increase profitability
With project portfolio management (PMM), you can get a bird’s-eye view of your team’s work across multiple projects. Unlike traditional project management, PMM involves working on multiple projects or large-scale initiatives simultaneously. 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.
If you’ve ever rolled out a 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 to make them easier to adapt to.
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.
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 specific teams. Others, like organization, become virtually effortless with a little focus and great tools.
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.
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.
Project management doesn’t need to be complex. Asana was designed specifically to keep project manager’s organized, with tools, automations, and customizations built for collaborating and coordinating everything from a simple brainstorming session to a full-fledged product launch.Manage projects with one tool