Top five skills you need to forge a career in project management

Are you setting up a new project in your company? Here, we give five tips to help you with your project management.

Project management is an attractive option for professionals with an entrepreneurial mindset.

According to the Association for Project Management, ‘The personality traits of a senior project manager are similar to those of a successful entrepreneur: they take responsibility, they lead and they drive a team to achieve success.’

For those considering a possible career transition, here’s five of the key skills you will need to forge a successful career in project management:


Headway towards any set of business objectives is determined by the quality of the working relationships within teams. Strong communication and great interpersonal skills lie at the heart of successful project management. How effective and frequently information is relayed between individuals dictates the speed of progress, and project managers are required to relay complex information in pressurised situations on a daily basis.

Effective communications helps to overcome silos that often arise in project teams operating across departments, organisations, and even geographies. Outside of the project team, the manager must be prepared to engage positively with various stakeholders in addition to senior management within client organisations.

Analytical thinking

Being able to critically assess new information and to effectively analyse evolving scenarios is vital to success. The Project Managers Institute (PMI) offers good advice and toolkits, such as ‘A Project Manager’s Book of Forms’ (a bundle of templates to manage project information). For more seasoned professionals courses like the Managing Successful Programmes Course in London can offer much-needed new techniques.

Courses like this take a deep dive into how successful programmes are designed and outline best-practice techniques. A strong analytical ability also enables project managers to quickly identify and mitigate risks that inevitably emerge during the project’s lifespan.


The success or failure of the project rises and falls on the leadership qualities of its project manager. A project plan can map out the strategic direction, but leadership is required to motivate and drive teams forward. The project manager’s ability to inspire others and communicate a unity of purpose for (often very disparate) teams is critical to success.

Leadership marries clarity of thought with clarity in written and spoken communication. Strong leaders in project management willingly take ownership of crucial tasks and understand when to derogate responsibility for key deliverables to appropriate team members.


Aligned to leadership is the project manager’s desire to maintain the highest possible professional standards. Their disciplined professionalism positively impacts on the productivity of people around them.

Adhering to schedules, maintaining budgets, time management, overseeing a range of databases and records management all test the mettle of even the best project manager – a commitment to the highest professional and ethical standards is the best possible starting point.

Bodies such as the Association for Project Management (APM) offer guidance and support to members and are a great resource for professionals on an ongoing basis.

Willingness to learn

Few professions require such a broad portfolio of skills – and this is what makes project management such a rewarding career path. We know how important it is to stay up to date with new technology but it’s equally as important to refresh and renew core skills.

See also: How project management tools streamline business workflows – Though project management tools are widely available, there exists a gap between the functionalities of these tools and what businesses want. Is one tool enough?

For new entrants to the profession, industry standards courses are available in major across England (eg. PRINCE2 Course Birmingham), Wales (eg. PRINCE2 Course Cardiff) and Scotland (eg. PRINCE2 Course Edinburgh), as well Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Again, the APM offers guidance on continuous professional development – as well as chartered status – for its members and is worth considering.

Perfecting project management

If you’re taking on a new contract or have an ambitious plan for growth, it might be wise to heed the advice of project managers

According to Charles O’Neil, production director at creative digital agency TwentySix, project management is ‘incredibly logical’. So why do so many large projects fail or end up over budget?

The answer is fairly straightforward. The one major sticking point is a lack of planning. ‘It sounds simple, but thinking the thing through in advance is pivotal to its success,’ explains O’Neil. ‘You need to know exactly what the project involves and avoid rushing in. One criticism of project managers is that expectations haven’t been met, and this happens because people rush in without understanding the requirements.’

Perilous without plans

Richard Jones, author of Project Management Survival, agrees: ‘If there’s no plan, you’re in trouble. If there is one but it’s not up to date or the project isn’t being managed by it, you’re equally stuck. Analysing how well the planning has been done is a quick way to find out if things are going well or very badly.’

Yet as Mark Stratford, managing director of Project First, a refrigeration, project management and contracting specialist, observes: ‘You can’t put a contingency plan in place for every eventuality as there are always issues that arise that are very difficult to plan for.’ Stratford notes that this is particularly true for the sector in which he operates, which serves the major supermarkets and stores: ‘In retail, clients are notorious for changing their mind, and that can have a knock-on effect in terms of budget or the timescale for delivery.’

O’Neil adds: ‘Expectations need to be set and met and, as with any working relationship, communication is needed between those working on the project and those for whom the project is being carried out. One of the biggest problems in project management is when a client is expecting one thing and gets something different.’

Know what you’re doing

Fully understanding the initial proposal helps avoid important information being overlooked. Yet each project will bring different challenges, many of them new.

‘We are working on two very difficult projects at the moment, both of which have distinct hurdles to overcome,’ says Stratford. ‘One is a busy Marks & Spencer store on Oxford Street, which needs to continue trading as we work. That means having 24-hour labour available to us so we can minimise the disruption.’

He continues: ‘Another is a Waitrose store that has a car park on top of it, making it very difficult to get the equipment in. Even if you’re experienced, you’ll always come across problems you haven’t encountered before. The way to overcome them is to sit down with your team and work through them in an internal workshop.’

Project management, explains Jones, is about setting clear targets, managing the risk and, importantly, setting and reaching milestones. He says: ‘There are a lot of bad project managers out there who really just hassle people for updates, rather than steering the team. Setting realistic goals allows you to check on progress, and when you hit them there’s a sense of achievement. You need to be constantly thinking about what could go wrong, monitoring how you’re doing and managing the process.’

Owen Gough

Owen Gough

Owen Gough is a reporter for He has a background in small business marketing strategies and is responsible for writing content on subjects ranging from small business finance to technology...

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