The Fundamental Project Management Skills You Must Have in 2020

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The business world needs more highly skilled project managers. Otherwise, it will continue to bleed around a hundred million dollars (ouch!) for every billion it spends on projects and programs. Without the right talent and strategy, project schedules and budgets will remain elusive — with only 57% of all projects completed without additional funding, and only 51% successfully making the original deadline.

If you are a project management professional or planning to become one, the coming year will be a great time to progress your career and help businesses overcome the challenges ahead. But you’ll need the right project management skills to make an impact.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a project’s success rate improves by approximately 40% when project managers possess and nurture the ideal skill set (a powerful mix of technical, leadership, and business management expertise).

Those in the know have been shining a spotlight on the increasing demand for project management skills in recent years. Computer World ranked project management among the hottest skills for 2017, while PMI projected a dramatic increase in the demand for project-oriented skills from 2017 through 2027. For each year during this period, companies around the world will need to fill an annualized figure of 2.2 million new project-oriented roles.

Despite the growing number of jobs, the serious lack of candidates with adequate project management skills creates a huge talent gap. With competition expected to become more intense across industries in the coming year, the scramble among recruiters for professionals with excellent project management skills will remain fierce in 2020, to say the least.      

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How much do project managers make?

When strong demand meets scarce supply, prices go way up north. This can be alarming to employers but quite a good thing for project management practitioners. Entry level project managers in the U.S. receive a median annual salary of $70,249 while senior project managers easily take home $102,318 on average. The most skillful and ambitious — those at the high end of the scale — are worth more than $142,000 according to Glassdoor. 

Project managers who obtain an industry-recognized credential like PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) certification have an extra edge. Research by the Project Management Institute revealed that project managers who earned a PMP Certification received a 20% higher median salary than non-certified project managers. The study found the median salary of a PMP was $111,000, compared to the median salary of $91,000 for those without a PMP certification.


Top 25 project management skills needed in 2020

Project management may well be the career where technical, business, and people skills routinely intersect.

To become a good project manager, technical skills are must-haves. You need full proficiency in the tools (such as project management software) and techniques (such as the Agile framework) of the trade.

While you don’t necessarily need to be a domain expert (e.g., non-architects or non-engineers can be project managers in construction while non-programmers can serve as project managers in software development), you need basic familiarity and topview knowledge of the field you are in.

In addition, you need to have a strategic and logistical perspective on each project you undertake to optimize cost efficiencies and benefits. And lastly, you need to possess leadership and people skills to effectively manage a diverse team of people who are also bringing their unique personalities and skill sets to the table.

We have broken down the top 25 project management skills for 2020 into 3 categories – technical skills, business management skills, and personality traits – in the handy matrix below.


Project management skills matrix

Based on studies and recommendations from PMI, KPMG, EY (Ernst & Young), APM (Association for Project Management) and other domain experts, here’s a comprehensive project management skills matrix that can help you make a positive impact in 2020:

Technical skills and functional knowledge

Skill Name Description
Project Management Software Proficiency with commonly used technology tools such as Microsoft Project, Asana, and Trello.
Project Management Methodologies and Frameworks Ability to apply frameworks and methodologies such as Agile and SCRUM throughout a project’s lifecycle.
Reporting/Stakeholder Management Coordinate with managers, clients and team members to set expectations, deliverables, and objectives.
Team Building/Management Build and lead a team of people with different skill sets towards a unified goal by guiding each member to complete their unique deliverables on time.
Resource Planning and Management Formulate and implement a strategy on how project objectives can be met efficiently in the right sequence, by a group of people with unique skills within project constraints (time, budget, quality, etc.)
Time Management/Scheduling Ability to 1) accurately map out talent resources, tasks, and dependencies; 2) make timeline estimates and set specific and general schedules; and 3) keep everyone up to speed.
Cost Assessment/Budget Management Achieve cost efficiencies by optimizing work hours and establishing rationale for key procurements and other expenses.
Review/Monitoring Tr
ack overall project and individual stakeholder progress throughout the project lifecycle, resolving conflicts and optimizing gains along the way.
Conflict Management and Resolution Fix project discrepancies, overlaps, stalled workflows, and other issues due to internal roadblocks or unforeseen external setbacks. Help address interpersonal conflicts among team members.
Policy Knowledge An adequate grasp of the regulatory regime governing the sector, including health, safety, business best practices, and environment.

Business management and soft skills

Skill Name Description
Leadership Enable, motivate, and inspire the team to meet deliverables within project constraints by demonstrating commitment, expertise, confidence, genuine concern, and ability to help everyone solve challenges and achieve goals.
Business Communications Use the right language, tone, and storytelling techniques when communicating, describing, or explaining issues over email, chat, reports, presentations, and other forms and channels of communication. Generate the right impact or response from specific audiences (team members, managers, clients, vendors, partners, other stakeholders).
Collaboration/Relationship building Establish a collaborative culture where people with unique personalities and skills happily work together towards a unified goal.
Decision-Making Make prompt, informed, and fact-based decisions for the good of the project.
Accountability Embrace ownership of and accountability for the project.
Problem Solving/Critical Thinking Assess issues from different vantage points and formulate the best solution in addressing specific challenges.
Active Listening Practice active listening to glean insight and truly understand the needs or message of all project stakeholders.
Negotiation Apply the appropriate framework (SWOT, risk-reward, etc.) to arrive at a best-case scenario for all parties involved.
Research/Information Gathering Fill knowledge gaps through active research or by directly engaging resource persons.

Personality traits

Skill Name Description
Commitment/Motivation/Drive The project manager owns the project and should be the person with the highest level of commitment and motivation to see it through from start to finish.
Goal-Orientedness No one can become a decent project manager without a personality that places tremendous value on outcomes, objectives, and results. Project managers should be focused on the goal and the most efficient route to get there.
Confidence Project managers should exhibit process mastery with confidence and humility. Bragging, bullying, and bossing around don’t work.
Open-mindedness/Trainability Because continuous learning and self-improvement are integral to project management, practitioners should be open to new technologies, approaches, and experiences.
Adaptability/Proactivity Workplaces, workflows and project development practices rapidly change over time. Hence, project managers should possess the required agility to nimbly adapt to different situations and make proactive adjustments when necessary.
Inclusivity/Sociability The workplace is becoming more global and more diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and other demographics. As such, project managers should embrace everyone in the team and help nurture a culture of fairness, diversity, and inclusivity.

Key takeaways for project management job seekers in 2020

In addition to technical skills, companies are probing the job market for project management professionals with the right emotional intelligence, critical thinking, mentoring, and communication skills.

Here are some key takeaways for jobseekers who wish to participate in the project management field:

  1. A project is a unique and temporary undertaking that is defined via a specific scope, timeline, budget, quality standards, and a set of desired outputs, outcomes, or benefits. A project is often contrasted with “normal,” “as usual,” or “ongoing” business operations to describe or distinguish its nature. For example, corporate finance is a “business-as-usual” operation while the development of a mobile financial app for Android devices is a project.
  2. Project management refers to the systematic application of frameworks, processes, tools, and techniques to achieve the desired outcome for a project within a set of constraints such as quality, budget, and schedule. It covers strategic planning, resource allocation, process administration, overall monitoring, risk management, documentation and reporting.   
  3. With a projected job growth of 33% through 2027, a career in project management faces much-better-than-average outlook compared to other occupations.
  4. Project managers are in demand across many industries as the project-based approach to doing business becomes more widespread. While project management has reached high maturity levels in IT and construction, industries with the greatest current demand  include healthcare, telecommunications, manufacturing, and energy.     
  5. Project management ranks among the highest-paid careers, with well-experienced practitioners typically bringing home six-figure salaries.
  6. Because it is radically goal-oriented and requires collaboration with people of diverse backgrounds, project management is among the most fulfilling and satisfying career paths. Success (or failure) of each project has a palpable impact not only on the company’s bottom line but also on its morale and culture.     
  7. Success in project management requires a range of diverse skills spanning technical, strategic, business management, and leadership competencies. Examples of project management skills include negotiation, team-building, and technical proficiency in tools such as Microsoft Project, Asana, PowerPoint, Slack, and Trello.
  8. Project management takes its practitioners on a path of continuous learning, training, and skills development. Moreover, most skills learned in managing projects for one sector are easily transportable to other fields and industries.
  9. Certifications matter. Project managers with accredited certifications outearn non-certified practitioners by 20% on average.  
  10. Like sales, a successful stint in project management is considered a stepping stone towards executive leadership in many global companies. Simply put, if you are a successful project manager, then you have bragging rights to claim that you “literally get things done” pretty much all the time.

How strong are your project management competencies?

It’s easy to see why the appeal of a project management career can be very strong. The demand is high, the outlook is good, and the pay is head-turning. Job satisfaction, relevance, corporate impact, and self-worth similarly score very high on just about any metric.  

But project management is not for everyone. This skill-intensive role fits people who actively seek out learning opportunities so they can discover new things, improve competencies and build their skill sets over the course of their career.

If you are that person — someone who likes to get
things done and embark on a journey of continuous learning — then nothing is stopping you from becoming the best project manager you can be.        

Here’s a good place to start.

Looking for more project management resources around the web? Check out our list of the Top PM Blogs in 2020.

Want to learn more?

Take your project management skills to the next level with our comprehensive (and free) ebook!

Enter your email address

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Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue wears his writer’s hat wherever he goes, crafting top-notch content on business, technology, creativity, and innovation. He is also a dreamer, builder, father, and gamer.




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