There’s a big difference between being a good project manager and a truly great one. But exactly what skills do you need to be a great project manager, and how can you build them?

Whether you chose project management as a career or it chose you, to succeed in today’s complex project delivery environment you must continuously reflect on your skill set and work on any gaps. Read on to find out where you’re at and the resources available to help you grow.

What makes a great project manager?

Great project managers are like Swiss army knives, with a multitude of technical capabilities and leadership qualities ready to deploy in any situation.

Outsiders might think that project managers spend their days methodically scopingschedulingbudgeting, and implementing their projects. And while this is partly true, it only really covers the technical side of project management. Being a Gantt chart guru or a budgeting boss won’t prepare you for the complex daily challenges project managers face.

Project managers need to be strong leaders with the strategic insight, agility, and emotional intelligence to motivate people to achieve a shared vision. Masterful collaboration, negotiation and problem-solving skills are essential. The challenges project managers face each day often centre on people. To be a great project manager, your ability to get people working together to produce outstanding results is the most important (and difficult) skill to master.

What essential project management skills do you need?

Look at any project management job ad and you’ll see that organisations aren’t only interested in your skills and on-the-job experience. They want to be sure you have the right personal attributes. They’re looking for a blend of technical and behavioural project management skills. Once your technical skills are in place, it’s your strong behavioural skills which will set you apart and lead you on the path to managing large, complex projects.

What are technical skills in project management?

A technical skill requires specific technical knowledge and determines your ability to do a task. In project management, these skills include:

  • Planning: Great project managers are visionaries who can see the path from A to B. They can accurately scope a project, set and monitor budgets and resources, and deploy various scheduling and tracking tools to ensure the project runs smoothly.
  • Prioritisation and delegation: great project managers know what’s most critical for project success and trust their team to deliver it.
  • Contract managementContract management is a key hard skill in project management. Great project managers strategically manage all necessary contracts to optimise project and organisation outcomes.
  • Risk management: great project managers are experts in identifying, mitigating and managing risks.
  • Technical expertise: this will vary between projects, but a great project manager has a solid background and understanding of the industry and work that the project involves. It’s not always necessary, especially if you’re surrounded by a team of skilled subject matter experts, but it definitely helps. Great project managers have business smarts and are deeply invested in the project’s success.

What are behavioural skills in project management?

A behavioural skill is a personal quality or trait that drives how you perform a task. In project management, important behavioural skills that you may naturally possess or need to cultivate include:

  • Leadership: Great project managers inspire, influence, and motivate their teams to deliver, even when things go wrong. They’re skilled at managing people and adept at navigating change. Some people are natural, charismatic leaders. Others embark on leadership training and use different leadership styles with great success.
  • Communication: the ability to communicate clearly and effectively is arguably the most vital skill for project managers. You need exceptional speaking, writing, and listening skills, including the ability to decipher non-verbal cues when negotiating or resolving conflict.
  • Critical thinking: great project managers don’t get caught up in speculations. They deeply analyse the evidence to accurately understand the situation at hand. This leads to better problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Adaptability, confidence, and resilience: it doesn’t matter how amazing your project schedule is, things won’t always go to plan. Great project managers are ready for anything thrown their way, because they’re resourceful and have the confidence and resilience to adapt their thinking and actions to get the best project outcome.
  • Empathy and diplomacy: your team, client, manager, and stakeholders are all individuals with quirks, needs, priorities, and problems. Great project managers are diplomatic and empathetic, helping them get the best out of everyone.

Project management skills test

Want to know how good your project management skills are? Take our project management self-evaluation quiz to assess your project management experience. We’ll let you know where you stand and your best next steps.

13 tips for being a better project manager

There are so many moving parts in a project manager’s day, so what should you focus on? We’ve put together this list as thought starters to help you on your journey to becoming a great project manager.

Think about each one. You might know you should be doing it, or already be doing it, but could you refocus and do better?

  1. Care deeply about your team and project outcome
  2. Be ethical, lead by example, and always keep your cool
  3. Be positive and enthusiastic – it’s contagious
  4. Be decisive and set clear priorities
  5. Be comfortable with a level of chaos
  6. Delegate fully, trust your subject matter experts and don’t micro-manage
  7. Cultivate exceptional relationships with stakeholders
  8. Over-communicate
  9. Celebrate team success
  10. Reflect on your mistakes and own them
  11. Be creative in the face of problems
  12. Negotiate fairly, and don’t be afraid to compromise
  13. Keep working on your leadership skills


How to improve project management skills

The list of skills you need to master to thrive in your project management career can feel quite daunting. Fortunately, organisations like the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) exist to support you to keep building these skills throughout your career. Here are just some of the ways becoming a member of a peak industry body like the AIPM can help:

1. Access quality education

You can advance your skills and keep your knowledge up to date by doing an in-person or online project management course. There is a plethora of project management training options available, but not all are reputable. We review, assess, and endorse project management courses to ensure they reflect Australian industry standards and current best practice. Use our project management course directory to take the guesswork out of finding quality short courses, VET diplomas, and university degrees.

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2. Recognition for your skills and experience

Getting a project management certification from the AIPM can help you stand out from the pack. It boosts your resume and gives access to better career opportunities (and higher income). During the certification process, you’ll reflect on your skills and identify areas for growth, giving you a defined pathway for professional development and helping you become a better project manager.

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3. Thrive in an amazing professional network

The AIPM links project professionals from all over Australia.

  • Networking: We facilitate networking to share ideas and gain insight by learning from others.
  • Events: We hold regular in-person and online events so you can meet like-minded professionals.
  • Mentoring: We have a professional mentoring program so you can learn from experienced industry leaders.
  • Awards: We also have an awards program and share project success stories so you can keep up to date with the latest happenings in the world of project management.

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Being a great project manager isn’t easy

We’d argue that the mix of skills you need to be a great project manager is up there with the most complex required in any profession. The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone.

AIPM Membership gives you access to support, guidance, and resources to keep building your skills and progressing your knowledge and capabilities throughout your professional career.