5 Highly Valuable Project Manager Skills

By: on November 10, 2016

What’s your attitude toward change?

Many of us experience some degree of aversion to change—it’s a natural human reaction when our habits are disrupted. Think of the communal outcry every time Facebook changes an aspect of their user interface.

For most, this reaction is momentary, and then we move on with our lives (although I think we’ve all known someone who reacts to change like it’s the end of the world).


According to Gartner, an individual’s attitude toward change is a defining leadership quality. Truly valuable project leaders take an active rather than passive approach to change—and their organization benefits tremendously.

In the report “Activist PMOs and the Struggle for Lean PPM” (This content is available to Gartner clients) by Matt Light, research VP:

“Like consumer activists leading a boycott, political activists organizing a protest or activist investors forcing a shareholders’ vote, these PMO leaders inspire stakeholders and reorganize processes to implement change. Whether in IT or enterprise PMOs, they see a need for change in order to respond to major threats or promising opportunities—and they consider the risk of not changing greater than that of disrupting the status quo—igniting a kind of activist zeal to confront risk and seize opportunity via PPM.”

Although Gartner’s advice is directed at enterprise project management office (PMO) leaders whose organizations are practicing project portfolio management (PPM), we believe it holds true for organizations of every size and every PPM maturity.

In this guide, we’ll define five skills every project manager should master in order to embrace change and optimize project management value.

Then, we’ll walk you through how to set up and nurture active project management processes at your small to midsized business (SMB).

Highly Valuable Project Manager Skills

The following are five skills that help define an effective, valuable project manager. Of course, this list is not all-inclusive, but these are key areas in which project managers can display active leadership qualities and set themselves apart from their passive counterparts.

Skill #1: Know When to Break From the Template

If you follow our project management (PM) research, you know that we’re big proponents of establishing standardized, repeatable project processes. This is pivotal for advancing in PPM maturity, specifically when your organization is moving from level two to level three.

Breakdown of PPM Maturity Levels Two and Three
Breakdown of PPM Maturity Levels Two and Three
PPM Maturity Levels
PPM Maturity Levels

Not every project is going to follow the same pattern. As you’re developing your PM processes and finding out what works for your team, it’s important to know when to deviate from protocol and acknowledge that this project requires a different approach.

For example, if your team follows a traditional waterfall PM method, but you’ve recently added some remote members to your team, consider adding a daily or weekly “stand up,” i.e., meeting, to your process. Even though this is considered more of an agile PM practice, your team may benefit from the increased insight into their progress.

Alternatively, consider implementing a visual project management tool, such as an agile kanban or scrum board, so that team members know what tasks they are responsible for and the status of other items on the board, even without being in the same location.

This new approach may end up working better for your team’s workflows than what you were doing previously. But the only way to know that is to lean into the change.

Skill #2: Use Reports to Make Data-Driven Decisions

It’s one thing to run reports; it’s another to analyze the data and use those insights to drive your decisions. Understanding how your team performs and at what rate they can complete work can help you give more exact estimates on how long it will take to complete a project.

An example of a performance analytics screen in Mavenlink

This also helps you adapt to changes over the course of the project. If a stakeholder wants to expand the scope and add a requirement, as a manager you need to be able to say with confidence that doing so will add X amount of time, which in turn will impact the budget by Y.

Having the data to back up this estimate enables you to present a change impact analysis that would reset the baselines for project scope, budget and timeline. Stakeholders can review the data you present and accept the new baselines, or they can decide not to add the extra requirement due to the change impact.

Skill #3: Initiate Risk Management Protocols

To be an effective project manager, it’s imperative that you plan for events that threaten the success of your project.

We recommend tying risk management to your project planning process. This involves:

  • Evaluating each initiative to identify known risks that are likely to occur before the project is launched or during it.
    • Performing both qualitative and quantitative risk impact analysis to assess risks based on their likelihood of occurring and their potential impact on project objectives.
      • Developing contingency plans that detail how you will deal with the risk in the event it occurs.
      Additionally, keep in mind that the term “risk” isn’t innately negative. It can encompass events that threaten the success of your project, as well as initially unrealized possibilities.

      Planning for these events allows you to be open to both scenarios, helping you mitigate threats and embrace advantageous opportunities.

      To learn more about the tools available to help you manage risk, download our free e-book.

      Skill #4: Continue to Learn

      According to PM Solutions, there is a direct correlation between high performing organizations, i.e., businesses that experience high levels of project management success, and an emphasis on PM training and career advancement.

      These organizations tend to have a business unit, e.g., a PMO, to oversee training and mentorship. But even without a PMO, you can facilitate an environment of continued learning among project managers at your organization.

      This can include:

      Valuable project manager skills

      Creating an environment in which managers are encouraged to collaborate and help each other improve their PM skill set only makes your team more able to respond to change because they have a support network.

      Skill #5: Challenge the Status Quo

      Change is a necessary part of life. People and organizations can become apathetic and fall into destructive patterns wherein you follow processes simply because “it’s always been done this way.”

      For example, let’s say in a small startup, important project decisions were always run up the ladder for C-suite approval. At first, this might make sense, as it’s likely that these executives would be interested and involved in each project executed by the startup.

      However, as the company grows, this process makes less sense. Not all projects will require buy-in from C-suite executives, and to continue to loop them into the decision making process will waste time and resources.

      At this point, the fact that “it’s always been done this way” doesn’t justify the added expense. Valuable project managers should embrace this opportunity for change and question if “this way” is the best way and actively search for opportunities to improve processes and increase PM value.

      As Gartner analyst Light says, highly valuable PM leaders “consider the risk of not changing greater than that of disrupting the status quo.”

      Next Steps: Introduce Active Project Management Processes at Your SMB

      To help you set up active PM processes at your organization, we’ve outlined a few next steps you can take:

      Create and maintain a shared PM vision
      Tie organizational strategy to project initiatives and ensure that each project aligns with your business goals.

      Cut waste
      Establish project evaluation criteria and review each initiative for overlap with other projects to ensure that each project delivers unique value.

      Invest in PM software
      Create a shared workspace for teams to collaborate, managers can track rack performance metrics and monitor project progress and actively develop PM technical skills.

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