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Today’s Must-Have Skills in Project Management
Today’s Must-Have Skills in Project Management

It’s a boom time for project managers. According to a PMI report, jobs for PMs are expected to grow more than 12 percent in the United States between 2010 and 2020 across project-intensive industries like business services and manufacturing. That translates to almost 6.2 million new jobs by 2020.

So how can you up your chances at landing one of these spots?

To find out, we talked to two people who would know: Brady Erb and Jennifer Diamond, project management experts who teach in our Certificate in Project Management program.

Here’s what Erb and Diamond suggest doing to build the skills hiring managers are looking for right now.

Get to Know Multiple Methods of Project Management

There’s more than one way to get from point A to point B in a project. In the past, most project managers used the Waterfall approach, where you follow a set, linear process — going task by task, like a hurdler jumping one hurdle, then the next and the next. While this is still the right pick at times, you need to have more options at the ready as a project manager today.

“You need to have multiple tools in your belt — and the ability to apply the right tool to a project to get the best outcome,” said Erb, who heads up a program management team at Amazon. “That might be Waterfall or Agile or a combination.”

Demand for a really adaptive and involved project manager is insanely high.

Jennifer Diamond, Instructor, Certificate in Project Management
Agile, one of the most popular project management styles these days, is a must-know now. With this project management approach, your team completes small parts of a project at a time, iterating as they go. This means each step in the process needs to be more flexible, so you can shift gears based on the outcomes of your iterations.

At the root of being able to choose and use the right approach, there’s the ability to be nimble in general. In this role, being nimble — whether you’re working with different project management styles, company cultures or products — is absolutely essential, said Diamond, a practice area lead for retail clients at Slalom, a consulting firm in Seattle. “Demand for a really adaptive and involved project manager is insanely high,” Diamond pointed out.

Develop Your Ability to Lead Change

You’ve heard it before: The only constant in life (and business) is change. And when you’re a project manager, you’re dealing with change on a few levels.

There’s training people on tasks associated with a project. There’s managing change over the course of the project, say when business priorities or the scope of the project changes. And there’s organizational change management. This last one is key — it’s all about preparing people for how a project will shake up the status quo. Depending on the nature of the project, team members might need to learn a new tool, a new process or a whole new way of doing their jobs.

“Project managers know that developing and delivering the product of the project is only half the work. The other half is confirming why the work is the right thing to do and how the team will benefit,” Diamond pointed out. “You have to bring people along with engagement, training and communication. If you don’t, you can build the most amazing tunnel, but no one will drive through it.”

Build Your Soft Skills

Employers are looking for project managers who are versed in the “schools, rules and tools” of project management, Erb said. But that’s just a start. They also want project managers who have, or can develop, the equally important people skills needed for the job.

“Those softer skills — leading teams, influencing without authority — are more and more valuable and a high predictor of upward potential for someone in a project management role,” Erb said.

When hiring new project managers herself, Diamond looks for people who have the ability to listen and be engaged. “A project manager today has to understand the work at hand and understand people,” Diamond said. “I can teach tactics and techniques,” she continued, “but you have to come with curiosity and a perspective of service that lays the groundwork to support others.”

Keep Learning

Interested in starting or advancing a career in project management? Check out our Certificate in Project Management or explore one of our related offerings.

For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

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