The Path to Project Success: Essential Project Skills for Young Professionals

July 2023

With demand for project managers rising, the future is bright for young professionals with the right skills. Here’s why.

The global economy will need 25 million new project managers by 2030. That presents a great opportunity for young professionals and a challenge for organizations who need to close the talent gap by finding people with the skills that successful project execution demands. 

Dr. Emad Rahim, PhD, DM, PMP, A-CSM, Kotouc Family Endowed Chair, associate professor and program director of Program Management Education, College of Science and Technology at Bellevue University, Bellevue, Nebraska, USA, believes project management skills are imperative for young professionals to learn.

“More than ever, project management is an essential business skill that can help students in a wide range of situations and develop useful decision-making skills,” Rahim says. “Learning project management can help students excel academically and professionally. It can help a student look more desirable to employers, because project management competency areas are highly sought after.”

Khulan Batkhuyag, a 31-year-old communications strategist and graduate student from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and member of the PMI NextGen Insight Team also stressed the importance of project skills. “There are a lot of studies on how the younger generation is more enthusiastic and eager and has more passion to pursue their dreams,” says Batkhuyag. “There are certain things that you can do with passion, but there are also things that you can’t get done only with passion. I would highly recommend young professionals acquire skills that solve problems.”

In fact, 55% of young professionals say senior leaders at their organization place a high priority on the development of project management skills, according to the 2022 Annual PMI Global Survey on Project Management.

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Project management skills go beyond the know-how to scope, schedule and budget a project. They also include communication, problem-solving and strategic thinking, among others. The development of these soft skills or power skills has become critical in a fast-paced, innovative work environment.

Ninety-three percent of young professionals say power skills allow them to work smarter.*

“My technical skills help me to break things down and really analyze things,” Batkhuyag says. “But the power skills that I have acquired over the years help me to understand how to make [projects] a reality. Because even if I create the most optimal strategy plan, people are going to do the project.”

Headshot of Khulan Batkhuyag

The power skills that I have acquired over the years help me to understand how to make [projects] a reality.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

What Are Power Skills?

Power skills are abilities and behaviors that facilitate working with others. These abilities enable project professionals to succeed in the workplace.

The top four power skills* young professionals say they need to fulfill organizational strategic objectives are:

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  1. Communication — Effective verbal and written skills help articulate ideas and address conflicts.
  2. Problem-solving — Analytical thinking and creative approaches help overcome obstacles, identify the root cause of issues and explore alternative solutions.
  3. Strategic thinking — The abilities to align projects with organizational goals, anticipate risks and identify opportunities are important.
  4. Collaborative leadership — Fostering teamwork and empowering team members help leaders inspire innovation and build trust.

Natalia Silveira, PMP, a 36-year-old program manager – PMO at Embraer in São José dos Campos, São Paulo, Brazil, believes communication can make or break projects. “If you can’t communicate with your team and if you can’t engage with your stakeholders then your project can fail because you don’t have everybody on the same page,” Silveira says.

Lekan Oyebamiji, PMP, a 28-year-old NextGen Insight Team member based in Lagos, Nigeria, who works with various startups in Africa, also believes people skills are most important for young professionals. “The most important skills for young professionals to have are people skills, management skills, resilience and the ability to document [their] vision, ideas and strategies.”

Here are steps organizations can take to help young professionals develop these must-have skills:

  1. Provide training and development on power skills. Only 29% of training and development time is spent on power skills.*
  2. Reimburse certifications that help strengthen power skills. Seventy-six percent of young professionals say they are more likely to pursue certifications if their employer offers reimbursement.
  3. Discuss the importance of power skills and bake them into the organization’s DNA. Sixty-one percent of young professionals say power skills were discussed when they were hired or promoted.*

“At my company we are very concerned [about] making a path for the new leaders who are coming,” Silveira says. “We are always trying to make sure we have the right tools and the training in place. We hold a summit and discuss our strategic plans, our goals and how we are delivering to keep leaders up-to-date.”

Ongoing support is crucial — 57% of young professionals are likely to leave their jobs due to the lack of professional development opportunities such as mentorship, training and development and networking.** And 17% of young professionals say they had zero hours of employer-provided training or professional development within the past year.*

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Young professionals agree that professional certifications bring benefits. Research has found that 44% of young professionals believe having a professional certification will bring higher earning potential and 33% believe certifications will bring career advancement opportunities.

Organizations can aid in young project leaders’ career growth by:

  • Emphasizing a culture of mentoring and coaching. Mentorship is crucial for young professionals and 53% say they are more likely to leave a company if they are dissatisfied with mentorship opportunities.**
  • Supporting networking opportunities. Forty-seven percent of young professionals are likely to leave a company if they’re unsatisfied with networking opportunities.**
  • Promoting professional organizations and certifications. Young professionals believe professional organization membership would help them with professional development (43%), networking opportunities (48%) and overall fulfillment (59%).**

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“It’s very important to have someone you feel inspired by, and that person can help you navigate a tough project, so I think that a mentorship program is a powerful tool that companies should really work to have,” Silveira says.

Making Connections in the Profession

There is no one-size-fits-all career path in project management. The field offers a breadth of career opportunities that can take young professionals in several different directions. So how do young professionals navigate a profession with endless possibilities?

The PMI NextGen Insight Team, global volunteers who support PMI's strategic initiatives by providing insight into the trends and issues affecting students and early career professionals entering the job market in project management, found that young professionals need to:

  • Keep up with industry trends.
  • Boost their resumes.
  • Build relationships.

“The most valuable way is to join as many communities as possible, global, regional or local,” says Oyebamiji. “Get involved, volunteer, attend seminars, work on any projects you find within the community and get immersed in the profession.”

For Silveira, mentorship holds the key. “It’s always good to listen and to have someone share their experience because then you can try to navigate to this path and try to develop on a specific area,” she says. “You can talk with that person and that person can say ‘you are on the right path or maybe you can try this.’ So, I think that a mentorship program is very helpful for people who are just starting to work in companies.”

Headshot of Lekan Oyebamiji

Get involved, volunteer, attend seminars, work on any projects you find within the community and get immersed in the profession.

Lagos, Nigeria

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Emphasizing power skills and prioritizing opportunities for young professionals to level-up their careers will be pivotal in closing the talent gap and helping the next generation of project professionals thrive in their careers.

Start moving your career forward

Sources:
*Annual PMI Global Survey on Project Management
**PMI 2023 Workplace Engagement Survey 
PMI and PwC. 2021. PMI and PwC Global Survey on Transformation and Project Management 2021
PMI Job Prospect Survey

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