Does an effective project manager need to be an expert in the field of the project they are managing?

There is much debate about whether or not a project manager must be an expert in the subject matter of the project. For example, one side believes that if you are managing the installation of a network server, you should have the skills and knowledge necessary to be able to install the server. You should be a technical expert for a technical project. Other people believe that if you are a good project manager, you can manage any type of project. You could manage the creation of a marketing campaign, the development of a new pharmaceutical product, or the roll-out of a new operating system. Generally, it is best to have an overall working knowledge of the technical aspects of the project for the greatest degree of success.

What basic management skills must the project manager possess?

Regardless of whether the project manager is a subject-matter expert, the project manager must have general management skills and be knowledgeable in project management techniques. The project manager must possess the following basic skills, characteristics, and knowledge.

  • Analytical thinking: A project manager must be able to understand the overall vision and goals of the project, as well as the smallest details. The project manager must understand how project activities are interrelated, how issues affect project activities, and how changing priorities will ultimately impact the project’s results. Project managers must demonstrate solid business judgment throughout the project life cycle.
  • Time management: Project managers must be able to manage their time effectively. Organization skills are also critical. The project manager must also be able to manage both people and administrative tasks effectively. S/he must possess the critical ability to prioritize their own work, as well as the work of others during the planning and execution of the project.
  • Interpersonal: A project manager must be able to manage and work with people of different experience levels, personality types, ages, genders, and cultures. The project manager must also be comfortable interacting with people at different levels of the organization and negotiating resources as necessary.
  • Communication: The project manager must be a great communicator—listener, speaker, and writer. The ability to adapt different communication styles and to convey project information effectively with others is critical. Meeting facilitation skills are also important.
  • Leadership: The project manager must know how to build a team, motivate people, and resolve conflicts. Additionally, the project manager must be able to make decisions with confidence and find creative solutions to problems. The ability to build consensus and maintain momentum are also crucial skills for a project manager.

In addition to the basic skills, what other skills are necessary?

In addition to the basic skills of analytical thinking, time management, interpersonal, communication, and leadership, the project manager must also possess the following:

  • Human resources: Project managers should give the best estimates of the skills and personnel needed to carry out the project. Sometimes major projects require skills that are not part of the current organization (such as construction work or software engineering). In situations like these, the project manager must take steps to find and contract (or hire) qualified personnel. The project manager must be capable of interviewing and hiring staff, screening and negotiating contracts with vendors, coaching team members, and providing constructive feedback regarding performance and developmental opportunities.
  • Project management mechanics: The project manager must be able to define the project scope, identify milestones, develop and maintain a schedule, create estimates and budgets, analyze risks and respond to them, implement and manage scope change control processes, and close a project. Every project manager is expect to perform these basic activities within the project management processes. Each of these activities have various techniques to apply; the project manager should be aware of the techniques, know how to find more information regarding tools and techniques, and know when to apply the techniques based on the project’s unique characteristics.

Additionally, project managers require mastery of certain soft and hard skills to be successful. Soft skills, commonly referred to as people skills, include the following:

  • Strong work ethic
  • Positive attitude
  • Good communication skills
  • Time-management skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Team-building skills
  • An ability to accept and learn from criticism
  • Flexibility or adaptability
  • An ability to work well under pressure

In contrast, hard skills are typically based upon science, math, and analytical capabilities. These hard skills for project management may include risk analysis, quality control, and proficiency with technical and administrative procedures, such as budgeting and scheduling. Hard skills are typically easier to observe, quantify, and measure than soft skills. A leader must use a combination of these characteristics to motivate and develop relationships among team members and other project stakeholders. Project managers must set an example, utilize team-building skills, facilitate meetings, encourage originality, solve problems, make decisions, plan, delegate, observe, instruct, mentor, coach, encourage, and motivate. Furthermore, a project leader must reinforce cohesive behavior throughout the project life cycle. Even the best orchestrated project will require adaptations and changes to the project plan throughout the process.

Project Leadership

The project manager provides leadership to the project team to accomplish the project’s objective. Leadership involves planning, organizing, and controlling the work effort. Of course, the ultimate responsibility of the project manager is to make sure that the customer is satisfied and that the work is completed in a quality manner: within budget and on time. In addition, the project manager must possess the skills to inspire the project team and win the confidence of the customer.

A project manager must be a good leader who inspires the people assigned to the project to work as a team, and to successfully implement the plan and achieve the project’s objectives. S/he should be committed to the training and development of the people who are working on the project, be an effective communicator who interacts regularly with the project team and the customer, and have good interpersonal skills. By definition, the project team is a group of individuals working interdependently and cross-functionally to achieve the project’s goals and objectives. Teamwork is a cooperative effort by members of the project team to achieve the common goals.

The role of project manager is critical to a successful outcome of the project.  The project manager has many responsibilities:

  • Provide day-to-day leadership of the project
  • Provide a clear road map to the team on how to complete the project
  • Define and manage project boundaries and constraints
  • Obtain approvals for the project plan and other key deliverables
  • Assign the right people to the right roles, encouraging skills development
  • Develop the team and create the proper project culture
  • Make sure the appropriate standards and processes are followed
  • Equip the team with the right tools
  • Maintain effective project communications
  • Remove obstacles for the team so they can be successful

The project manager is the leader of the project.  Ultimately, the project’s success or potential failure sits directly with the project manager.


Schwalbe, Kathy. Introduction to Project Management. Mason: South-Western-Cengage, 2006. Print.

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