4 Valuable Skills to Break Into Project Management

Considering a career in project management? Find out if you have what it takes to excel in this growing profession.

10 April 2012

As companies look for that elusive competitive edge, they’re hot on the trail of candidates with project management expertise. This year, 44 percent of the 353 IT executives in a Computerworld survey said they plan to hire candidates with project management skills.

So what do you need to succeed in this growing profession? Here are four skills that will help get you started:

1. Business acumen

Why you need it: “In most organizations, a key difference between new and senior project management is not age. It’s what we call the ‘boardroom presence’ — the ability to communicate with the executives in an effective way,” says Marc Mutsaers, PMP, senior project manager, Equens, a payment processing firm in Utrecht, Netherlands. “This skill is required to run complex, high-impact or high-risk projects.”

How to hone: Along with taking business courses, put yourself in situations that demand immediate and decisive actions to achieve the organization’s business goals, Mr. Mutsaers says.

2. Project management basics

Why you need it: It sounds obvious, but going in with a working knowledge of some project management fundamentals may give you an edge. Although no organization expects the “newbie” to know everything about project management, you must be well versed in the more common tactics, tools and terminology. 

How to hone: Find a mentor — someone working in the profession that you can observe or interact with, suggests Saad Ansari, PMP, senior consultant, CGI Group Inc., a systems integration, IT and business process services firm in Markham, Ontario, Canada.

“This allows you to observe project management in action and to get familiarized with the profession,” he says.

Along with gaining formal project management education and finding a mentor, Mr. Ansari recommends getting involved in forums such as PMI’s communities of practice or tapping into local PMI chapter resources, he says.

3. Emotional intelligence

Why you need it: “Successful project managers are leaders and managers at the same time,” says Mario Henrique Trentim, PMI-RMP, PMP, manager, project management office, Institute of Aeronautics and Space, São José dos Campos, São Paulo, Brazil. “They know how to cast a vision and engage stakeholders, and they also know how to get the job done through their teams.”

How to hone: Keep a journal of your daily emotions and reactions, suggests Mr. Trentim. Then gather feedback from friends or colleagues. Analyze your journal and your responses to learn how you respond to situations.

4. Assertiveness

Why you need it: You must be able to foster a healthy exchange of ideas with a variety of people — each of whom may come on to the project with their own motives, says Mr. Trentim. You must be able to articulate your needs in a firm, but diplomatic and reasonable manner. 

How to hone: Learn to identify the roles of a project team member or project manager versus those of a stakeholder or sponsor. If you know who is responsible for what decisions, you’ll have a better idea of when you can comply with requests and when to push back.

Armed with these four skills, potential project professionals may just uncover a new career path.

Learn more about emotional intelligence.

Learn more about getting your start in project management.