9 Skills All Project Managers Must Perfect

Ring leader. Herder of cats. Manager of projects. The role of a project manager has been described in countless ways depending on the industry, organization, team structure, and even type of project.

Yet, most project managers share similar types of responsibilities and therefore the skills they require share similar themes. And the impact of mastering these skills can have a positive ripple effect through the whole project team.

I believe marketing project managers, whether you go by that title or something different like marketing manager, coordinator, etc. will constantly face the battle of having to prove their value. Too often the person responsible for approving the budget may question the resources dedicated to project management over execution/delivery. However, without this essential function, would the execution work get done on time, on budget, and meet expectations? Maybe, probably not. I’ve seen teams function without a project manager and do ok. I’ve also seen teams transformed by bringing a project manager into the picture.

Below are skill sets I believe project managers can hone to prove their value and the types of skills you should look for when considering a project manager for your marketing team.

Must Haves

These are prerequisites needed by all project managers just to play the game. Without these basic, foundational skills, project management can become a hindrance rather than a help.


Communication is key, people! Project managers should never be the bottlenecks of information, but over communicate so that expectations are clear, there are never assumptions made and most importantly, there are never, ever, ever any surprises. Be clear and concise. State the facts without emotion. Provide detail so you paint a clear picture, but not so many that you cloud the important information. Standardize your updates to keep the message simple, skimmable and easy to digest.

Communication is key! #Projectmanagers should never be bottlenecks but over communicate so expectations are clear, assumptions aren't made, and there are no surprises. #marketingtipsClick To Tweet

Personal Organization

I’ve never met a project manager that could keep a team of marketers well organized and functioning, but their own task lists, inboxes, calendars, etc. were a mess. Literally, never. (If you are of these people, I’d love to meet you.. you’re a unicorn!) Even in their personal lives, PMs will be the ones with the methodically organized grocery checklists that follow the floor plan of the store and advanced reminders for personal calendar events like doctors’ appointments or family member’s birthdays. As a project manager, you’ve got to put on your oxygen mask first before you can help others.

Quality Management / Attention to Detail

Because the project manager is often the keeper of all information, they will notice details that others do not. PMs must have a keen eye for making sure the most granular things are completed well, fully, and meet expectations.

Nice to Haves

These are traits people most often think of as skills a project manager must have but truthfully, these are all things that can be taught and can be specific based on industry and project team structure.

Scope Management

Within their area of expertise, project managers should be able to review a scope or proposal and outline the process for completion of the deliverable(s). Upon receiving a new request from a client or from the internal project team, project managers should be able to quickly assess if the ask falls within the existing scope of work efforts or if it’s outside of the engagement’s limitations. If it’s the latter, PMs should be able to clearly communicate that fact and determine how the new ask would fold into the existing workflow (if it is required), and any timeline or cost implications caused by modifying the scope. PMs should also be on the lookout for any gray area while scoping new work so it leaves little to no room for interpretation if something is within scope or not.

Cost Management

Project managers are often mindful of budgets by planning and controlling how time and resources are used throughout the course of a project. This is not as simple as setting (or being given) a budget and completing the project within that budget. Project managers must know how to properly estimate resources, time, and expenses and define all costs associated with a project and then conduct routine monitoring for any red flags. Great project managers will be able to identify trends and know when to raise concerns before issues become critical.

Time(line) Management

I’ve yet to figure out how to add a 25th hour to the day (but let me know if you have any suggestions!). In the meantime, a project manager needs to be efficient and effective with every minute of their day. Understanding and practicing time management best practices influences how a project manager creates timelines, manages meeting cadences, structures agendas, and prioritizes and identifies dependencies between tasks/projects. A colleague even recently pointed out to me that it affects the efficiency in the transition time between daily tasks. If you have time, I highly recommend learning more about the impact of proper time management from the experts over at the Project Management Institute, who recently hosted a 20 minute podcast called “Job Skills: Time Management” on the topic.

Bonus Traits

These “skills” in my opinion are not necessarily skills at all (hence the quotes) but personality traits that seem to come naturally to project managers. With that said, they can definitely be improved over time with experience. You can often identify if someone will have these traits by conducting a personality or behavioral assessment survey.

Team Management

Project managers are born to herd cats, keep everyone focused and moving in the same direction. Project managers should set the tone for the work, delegate and prioritize tasks, and hold others accountable for the quality of the results. They do this more often than not by example and setting clear expectations. PMs are also great at coaching people (both on their own team or on the client-side) through rough patches or periods of burnout. They not only listen and care but have the power to reallocate work or help prioritize what must be done today or tomorrow versus next week or next month.

#Projectmanagers should set the tone for the work, delegate and prioritize tasks, and hold others accountable for the quality of the results.Click To Tweet

Listening is equally important as communication. The project manager will, without a doubt, become the natural sounding board for your team for both the good and the bad. PMs are the keeper of information, the ones people bring ideas to, the ones people complain to, and share frustrations with. Project managers are essentially project therapists! Do you think it’s too late to change my business cards?

Problem-Identification & Solving

Proactive problem identification is something that comes with time and is learned by asking the right questions. The instincts of project managers will often benefit them because of their detail-oriented nature, they can identify issues before they arise. The more experience a project manager has the quicker they should be able to identify areas of trouble in a project – whether they be scope, cost, timeline, or resource related. And because they need to respond quickly when problems arise, PMs should be flexible and not too rigid in their processes. They’ll need to be able to negotiate a resolution that provides the best possible solution for both their client and their project team.

Risk Management

A lot of consultants and business experts will tell you that risk management is a learned skill, and they are not wrong. Being risk-averse or risk tolerant, general willingness to take a chance, is something that changes with experience. Children are more likely to jump off the high dive because they do not comprehend the risks involved with hitting the water at a high speed and even after one bad attempt they more than likely will try again. But there are those out there that only need the sting of one belly flop before they decide the high dive isn’t for them. Some seem to be born with a good gut and know which risks to take and which to avoid.

A project manager’s risk-averse/tolerance level will affect how they weigh the probability of an event or impact of a decision. Ideally, you want a project manager that is balanced and not too conservative or loose when it comes to risky decisions. It is important to identify potential issues early and build a plan to address those issues. Experience and historical data will tell you what method to use to resolve issues when they arise.

Grasping and putting these skills to work will not just result in the success of the project management function, but like throwing a stone in water (or small child from a high dive), success in project management will have a positive ripple effect to all areas of your project team. The value provided through great project management is the combination of these skills to provide processes and structure for the greater team so they may be as successful as possible.


About the Author

Kimberly Hemesath

Kimberly is a Project Manager at DemandLab. She brings nearly a decade of account and project management expertise, five of which were earned in a high-volume agency environment where she had an opportunity to work with national brands.

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