Project Management

Top skills to look for in your next IT Project Manager

Project management

A project manager walks into their boss’s office and says: “Here is the bottom-line budget needed for the success of the project.”
The boss says: “What can you do for half the budget?”
The project manager says: “Fail.”
The boss says: “When can you get started?”
The project manager says: “I think I just did.”

This is just one of many project management-related jokes, but you know what isn’t funny? Trying to find the right project manager (PM) for your team. It can be a grueling process – believe me, I do it every day! So, here are the top skills I think an IT project manager should have. And what a hiring manager should be on the lookout for.

Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. For many project management jobs, a PMP certification is required. Even if it’s not, candidates with their PMP are masters of their trade. And in my opinion, a certified manager can perform much better in a grueling environment than a person that doesn’t have it.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), there are almost 1,000,000 PMP certification holders worldwide. But it’s not one of those certifications that you pay a fee and boom – you’re a PMP. A person has to earn it, so you can be sure they know their stuff.

Before you even apply, you need to have three years of experience leading projects and 35 hours of PM education/training or a CAPM Certification. Or, you must have a high school diploma, five years leading projects and 35 hours of PM education/training or a CAPM Certification. And then, you still have to take the exam and maintain your certification year after year with continuing education.

Waterfall and Agile experience. Many companies use the Waterfall methodology, the Agile methodology or a combination of both to manage projects. We have seen the Waterfall environment slowly becoming more Agile or companies switching to Agile altogether. So, seeking out someone who is adaptable and has worked in both or a hybrid environment is a huge plus.

Experience at the enterprise level. Enterprise project management is as a specialized branch of traditional project management that focuses on an organization’s overall business objectives, rather than specific short-term goals. By grouping projects together and taking a broader view of its activities, a company can avoid internal conflicts and wasted effort.

Leading a project at a smaller business that’s also small in scale and budget is very different than a multi-million-dollar project at a large company with global offices. Looking at candidates that have experience at the enterprise level can help your company take a more strategic approach to budgets, operations and resource allocations. If you choose just any PM to lead your projects, they might drown in the work rather than thrive. And your business is the one that truly pays the price.

Communication skills. As a PM, this person is the face of the company when speaking to stakeholders, vendors, developers, etc. They have to be able to explain a project to different people in layman’s terms and at different levels (like a matrix structure – more on that in a bit). For example, the PM needs to be able to explain to a stakeholder that it might be unrealistic to develop an app in two months that would actually take six months to accomplish.

The ability to work in a matrix structure where the PM reports on the project to multiple people is something to look for as well. Their job is to make sure everyone is on the same page and that everything runs smoothly, and good communication is key.

Many projects succeed or fail based on how effective the communication is. Not only does the project manager need to know how to communicate, but they need to know when. This requires laying out a communication plan and sticking to it. According to PMI, 90 percent of a project manager’s time is spent communicating what is going to be done.

Organizational skills. Now, your PMs don’t have to be Marie Kondo, but they do need to be able to organize a project effectively from beginning through to the deliverable. This entails prioritizing tasks, neatly documenting everything for future reference and making sure that information is easily accessible to everyone on the project. For a PM, organizational skills are a must.

An often under-valued, but crucial organizational skill is juggling other people’s schedules. If all the players can’t get together on the same date and time, the project is bound to fail. It may seem like an administrative task, but some would say that being a good meeting scheduler is an art. Especially considering how busy everyone is these days.

Development background. While not a deal-breaker, finding a PM that has some developments knowledge is a huge plus. In IT, a majority of projects revolve around some type of development. So, if your PM can walk the walk and talk the talk, the project will go that much smoother.

In addition, if you can avoid training someone on the developer lingo, how the process works, basic concepts, etc., you can begin your project a step ahead of the game. It removes a step in the training process when you bring on someone new to your team.

Innovative thinker. A person that just goes through the steps of a project per the established guidelines of how a project should run, is basically a box checker. And you don’t want that.

It’s like the saying goes – there’s more than one way to skin a cat. When it comes to project management, there’s more than one way to successfully complete a project. So, your PM needs to bring new ideas to the table, think ahead, be innovative and not simply administrative.

Risk manager. It’s easy for a PM to get blamed when a project doesn’t go well, so being able to proactively manage the risks in a project are an essential part of the job. A PM should be able to gauge the risks of any project in a methodical manner.

But, even with the best laid plans and identifying the possible risks, things will go wrong. A seasoned PM can foresee the risks of a project – knowing what could go wrong way ahead of it happening. But it’s also about outlining how to mitigate risk, the probability it will happen, how much it will cost and strategies to overcome the risks.

In a nutshell. A good PM is hard to find. And these skills are by no means a complete list. PMs require varied skills, a unicorn of sorts, and that’s why it’s a difficult field to recruit. But that’s why hiring managers lean on recruiters like me. Reach out to us if you need help finding your next PM.

About the author
Rebecca Berry serves as a Technical Recruiter for Synergis and has 4+ years of experience in the staffing industry. Through her recruiting efforts, she is determined to match the goals of our clients, with the goals of our candidates and specializes in placing Project Management roles. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Agnes Scott College. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, traveling, and hanging out with her two dogs, Ranger and Morgan!