Want to be a Great Project Manager in 5 Years? Master These 4 Skills

September 25, 2017

These are the skills that project managers need to learn over the next five years to stay ahead.

To understand the skills that’ll become more important to project managers over the next five years, you need to start with the skills that’ll become less important to project managers over the next five years.

The answer: administrative skills. Scheduling, payments, procurement and tasks of that ilk will increasingly become automated in the near future.

That’s going to drastically change the day-to-day lives of project managers, as those tasks generally take up a lot of their time. So, what skills will become increasingly more important instead?

To find out, we consulted with four project management experts:

  • Chris Croft, a Cambridge graduate and former project management professor who has owned and operated The Croft Management Centre since 1992.
  • Shea Hanson, a PMP-certified project manager and LinkedIn Learning content manager whose job is to anticipate the courses project managers will need the most moving forward.
  • Bonnie Biafore, author of 25 books on project management, who has 25+ years of experience in the field.
  • Doug Rose, an instructor at the University of Chicago and managing partner of Doug Enterprises, which coaches teams at Fortune 500 companies, primarily on agile project management.

The four highlighted several skills that – thanks to changes in both market conditions and demographics – will become increasingly more important to project managers over the next five years. They are:

1. Adaptability

The speed of work is only getting faster and faster. That means new project management methodologies, new tools, new organizational demands, new employee demands and new market dynamics will all require project managers to be even more adaptable than they are now.

“Adaptability is a necessary skill that project managers need to master in order to be successful,” Hanson said.

Croft agreed. “There will be more change,” he said. “There’ll be more projects that are smaller and quicker.”

And project managers themselves aren’t the only ones who need to accept this change. This change will affect all the parties they touch as well, so their ability to manage in times of change will be equally critical.

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

2. Strategy

As more and more administrative tasks become automated, it’ll be incumbent on project managers to take on a more strategic role, Biafore said. That manifests itself in a few different ways.

Project managers are increasingly going to need to know what’s most important to stakeholders and deliver that, even if it means changing the scope of the project. When managing others, they need to keep them focused on those results, as opposed to being bound to process.

And, increasingly, project managers should push back – or, potentially cancel projects all-together – that they believe won’t accomplish an organization’s priorities.

“Project managers can increase their value to their organization by expanding beyond project management,” Biafore said. “Large projects involve a great deal of business analysis and change management, in addition to project management. Project managers who understand how these three knowledge areas interact are able to increase the probability of project success.”

In other words, no longer is a project manager just an executor. Moving forward, it’s more important they act as a partner to business leaders, with a clear focus on what’s important.

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

3. Empowering employees

Here’s something all four project management experts touched upon. No longer can project managers simply lead by mandate: do this, do that. Instead, a more nuanced management style is required to keep employees – particularly millennials – on task.

“Project managers will become less and less about managing the project,” Rose said. “Instead, the focus will be much more on managing the teams.”

At first glance, this sounds frustrating. You are probably asking yourself, “Why can’t they just do what they say in the timeline I give them?”. That’s not reality anymore, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

By empowering employees, they serve as more than just task-doers. They serve as strategic partners who can help you solve complicated problems and provide critical real-time feedback. By leading this way, not only will the people you manage be happier – you’ll also produce better results.

This cuts right to the theme of this article: less and less will projects be straight execution plans, where the process is defined and the outcomes are cleared. More and more, projects will be less certain with the paths to success less clear – and that requires a whole team thinking creatively to fix, not just one leader barking orders.

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

4. Managing remote and international teams

This is something many project managers are already seeing and likely will see more and more of. Working remotely is on the rise and so is working with international teams.

There are challenges to this. If you are in the office with someone each day, you have far more insight into their world than a remote employee or an international employee. Additionally, many international employees have different cultural norms than the ones you possess.

Croft suggests meeting in-person whenever possible with these partners, although many times it’s not possible at all. Hence, project managers will have to learn how to connect with people who either are working from home or working from another country over the phone or via videoconference.

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

The takeaway

You see a theme throughout the four skills in this article, which fall in line with a theme you’ll see in all of our future skills posts: robots and AI will automate a lot of work. That won’t replace jobs (or, at least most jobs), but it will change them.

Project management is a perfect example of that. The administrative tasks that take up a project manager’s time are increasingly going away.

This represents a huge opportunity for project managers. Automation frees them up for more time to become strategic partners to the business. So rather than just focusing on is this happening on time, you can spend more time asking: what outcome will best serve the business? How do I get more out of the people I manage? What aspects of the project are more important than others?

That requires a different skillset than what many project managers possess today. By spending time learning the listed skills, you, as a project manager, set yourself up to highly valuable to any organization moving forward.

This article is part of a series on the future of skills that you and your team will need to succeed moving forward. Our other articles cover:

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