What is the Single Most Important Skill for a Project Manager?

by | Oct 26, 2015 | Project Management Skills | 0 comments

“What is the most important skill that a Project Manager needs to be successful?” This question is asked endlessly in articles, blog posts, discussion groups and polls. The usual answers are skills such as: “Leadership”, “Communication”, “Team-building”, “Honesty”, and “Technical Knowledge”.

The problem with these answers is that they are too generic: noble intent but general and therefore open to many interpretations in the real world.  “Communicate what?” is the first question that comes to my mind.

But there is a skill that not only differentiates great PM’s from others, but also speaks to why Project Management is different to other forms of management activity.

That most important skill for PM’s is the ability to obtain an outcome.

In other words, a project the aggregate of all the outcomes that have been achieved throughout its life.

If a project is the result of all its outcomes, then the job of the project manager is to obtain those outcomes, step-by-step, one-by-one until project completion. It may be for the PM to directly obtain those outcomes, or it may be that s/he facilitates the outcomes in the way the project is set up, or even just by establishing the need for outcomes as the central core of the project.

Therefore the one skill that a successful project manager cannot lack is the ability to obtain an outcome.  More importantly, the ability to obtain a persistent outcome at any level: one that locks in progress towards the end result.

Have you ever experienced a meeting or discussion where nothing happens: there’s a lot of talk, there may even be great discussion, but the meeting ends and everyone goes their separate ways? Have you ever been involved in a series of activities, sometimes over many weeks, where there is a lot of action, but the goals remain elusive, and nothing seems to be achieved? Anyone who has been on an average project for more than a few minutes has probably seen this type of thing: a meeting or discussion that ends with nothing accomplished except perhaps the passage of time.

Simply put, a project achieves a defined outcome that adds value. This is the very nature of a project, and the intrinsic purpose of project management is to manage available resources to achieve the defined outcome.

In sum a project is made up of many outcomes, achieved from the lowest level with simple interaction outcomes, e.g. a decision in a meeting, up to the top level at which, the “outcome” is the delivery of the all the project objectives.


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Each week Adam writes about interesting and varied topics for Project Managers everywhere and curates useful articles, books and papers from other sources.