5 Predictions for the Future of Project Management

A group of project professionals looks at the factors that will shape and shift the future of project management.

Project management has always evolved and shifted based on the demands and opportunities of the larger economic, business and social landscape. Project professionals are quick to learn new skills, forge new paths and take on increased responsibilities in an effort to drive innovation and get results. 

What is driving the evolution of the profession and the needs of project practitioners in 2023 and beyond? Here are predictions from project leaders on the future of project management.   

1. Power skills will continue to lead the way.

“Project management is all about people,” said Mark Mullaly, Ph.D., PMP, president and chief organizational therapist of Interthink Consulting, Toronto, Canada. “We talk about our tools and our processes and our practices and risk plans and work breakdown structures, but this is all about people. This isn’t new but we keep losing sight of that.”

Headshot of Mark Mullaly

Mullaly believes that communication skills and the ability to lead and work effectively in teams will always make the biggest difference between success and failure.

This sentiment is echoed by the results of the PMI Pulse of the Profession® 2023 report, which found that companies that place high importance on power skills — including communication and collaborative leadership — see better results. Fifty-seven percent of organizations that place high importance on power skills reported high benefits realization management maturity and 64% reported high project management maturity.

Wale Elegbede, PMP, director, strategy management, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, USA, agrees, adding, “I think the people skills are going to be really critical because, regardless of whether you're working on a multibillion-dollar project or a couple-hundred-million[-dollar] project, you're dealing with people.”

2. Data literacy will become an essential skill set.

In the PMI report Beyond Agility, 31% of organizations said data science skills, such as data management, analytics and big data, are the highest priorities for talent development. That need is only becoming more urgent as organizations continue to invest more in data. 

According to Mullaly, data literacy is an expertise that more project managers will need in their repertoire.

“We live in a world where the role of data and how data gets used, and simply, the amount of data and information [that] exists out there continues to grow,” he said. “Organizations need to actually be able to manage that data and gain insights from using it — and analyze it and provide and produce meaningful insights out of it.”

3. Project leaders need to embrace culturally responsive leadership.

“When you think about diversity, equity and inclusion and our world right now, this is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have,” said Elegbede, who also serves as the president of the Rochester Minnesota Branch of the NAACP. “The world is becoming more multicultural. Project leaders need to learn those skills as well. Look at the people working on projects. They’re diverse. Your stakeholders are diverse.”

Headshot of Wale Elegbede

Elegbede adds that project leaders need not only be able to collaborate with people of different backgrounds and cultures, but they also need to be able to hire, train and build up people from these diverse backgrounds. He recommends that project leaders and project management office (PMO) leaders engage with and listen to their teams and look for opportunities to train and educate staff on topics such as equitable practices for interviewing and bias awareness. 

“You're not going to be an expert in it, but you need to understand it, you need to value it,” he said.

4. Artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to grow, but it won’t replace the essential work of a project manager. 

AI will continue to be an investment priority for many organizations. 

“In different environments, we're seeing AI and machine learning have a significant influence on how products and capabilities and systems and solutions get built and delivered,” said Mulally. “And that's simply going to continue to amplify exponentially.”

Rajam Nair, PMP, cybersecurity analyst, Artic Wolf, Toronto, Canada, agrees. “AI is crossing all the barriers and limitations that the human brain had and [is] providing efficient solutions for complex situations,” she said. “I feel AI will make major advancements in cybersecurity projects — which is the biggest problem in the digital world — and eradicate data privacy issues and fear of emerging quantum computing.”

For project managers interested in AI and building a career path in those projects, Elegbede’s advice is to “eat it in small bites.” His recommendation: “Do a lot of different trainings on AI, but at the end of the day, it's going to be specific to your industry,” he said. “Whatever opportunities there are, I'd encourage my project managers to get involved in those and just to learn the field.” 

But even with the continued growth of AI, Mullaly doesn’t see it replacing the role of the project manager. 

“AI may help some aspects of the project management role and may be able to offer some generalizable insights, but project management and projects are unique, and I don't see that strategic competency with AI,” he said. “That's where we, as human beings, actually do far, far better managing the complexity and managing and seeing the patterns and being able to say, ‘How do I now navigate this?’ That's not going to go away.”

5. Project management and ESG will go hand in hand.

Investments in environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives continue to grow, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the PMI report The ESG Imperative: Turning Words Into Action.

“The pandemic changed the perception of ESG,” Aman Mourya, PMP, ESG and framework specialist at investment data company FactSet said in the report. “Amid lockdowns and the looming climate crisis, people have become more curious about how companies are operating.”   

But as ESG initiatives continue to grow, there will be a need for increased standardization and maturity.

Ardalan Memarzia, PMP, an ESG and sustainability advisor in Turkey, believes that project managers need to be leading these efforts because they have the right mindset and the right language to drive ESG teams forward and produce results. 

“Project managers need to be involved in ESG efforts,” he said. “Like with any kind of project, if we don’t have the project management or the procedure, there will be no output. Every company that is working on ESG efforts, no matter what industry it is, the energy industry, the healthcare industry, the agricultural industry or whatever, really needs to understand the main system of the project. Otherwise, it will not make sense for them, no matter if they understand ESG.”

The Future of Project Management Is Full of Opportunity

Despite the challenges and disruption that businesses currently face, Elegbede said the most exciting thing about the future of project management remains the possibilities. 

“When you think about industries from space to healthcare to manufacturing, they are full of big, exciting projects that will have a significant impact,” he said. “I'm really excited that we are the ones that are really helping to shape that.”


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