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4 Essential Skills Every Project Manager Should Have

4 Essential Skills Every Project Manager Should Have

By Jean-Roch Houllier and Olivia Le Jeune
February 21, 2024

In an increasingly complex world characterized by growing uncertainty and the multiplication of transformations (e.g. technological, environmental, societal), project managers need to develop new skills. Among them are four skills essential for every project manager to have. In this article, we describe, and comment based on our experience in the project management context.

Skill 1: Resilience or the art of coping with adversity

In its original definition, resilience is the ability of an individual to build and live satisfactorily despite traumatic circumstances. Applied to a project, it is the project manager’s ability to cope with the adversity of the project, its uncertainties, risks and day-to-day problems.

In these increasingly hectic contexts like crisis situations for example, the project manager is sometimes alone at the helm of their ship and feels the weight of responsibility on their shoulders, as we have experienced in our own project management experiences. Resilience helps project managers bounce back, be optimistic, find solutions (“there are no problems, there are only solutions”), build confidence among teams, lower stress levels, bring a new vision, facilitate decision-making and, more generally, avoid putting the project at risk.

In this way, the resilient project manager develops a posture and state of mind that enables them to transform a negative situation into a positive one. Resilient project managers find new opportunities and prepare to give up when necessary. Resilience is acquired with experience, maturity, self-confidence, relativism, and the ability to step back from situations.

Skill 2: Emotional intelligence, a must in relationships with ourselves and others

Emotional intelligence is an individual’s ability to perceive, understand, control, and express his or her own emotions, and to distinguish, decode and recognize emotions in others. It enables project managers to know themselves well, to apprehend complex contexts, to integrate social relationships, to understand other emotions and to be good listeners. This skill compliments resilience perfectly.

Let’s consider an example. In a large company, as part of a complex transformation program with a strong impact on the reorganization of employees’ work, many positions were eliminated. Local managers no longer had the levers to motivate their teams and maintain productivity. The project manager and their team went out into the field to meet the teams, organizing informal moments (lunch, exchanges over coffee, etc.), as well as interactive exchanges around motivational levers. By listening, understanding the difficulties encountered in the field, and making themselves available, the project manager recreated a spirit of cohesion and community between the various teams and restored local managers’ confidence.

Project managers who have developed emotional intelligence will be better prepared to understand their environment, interact in a nuanced way with project stakeholders, manage stressful situations and adapt in the face of uncertainty.

Skill 3: Adaptability or the ability to cope with constant change

Is the project a “long quiet river”? Clearly not, even if as young project managers we would have liked this to be the case, convinced as we were of the relevance of our initial schedules, estimates and various projections! In these times of growing uncertainty, adaptability–the ability to adapt to new environments and situations–is more than ever a must for any project manager wishing to succeed.

Through our respective experiences, we have learned just how important it is for the project manager to be able to constantly “navigate” and “adapt” to changes in the project. We have learned the following lessons: an appropriate mindset and posture (whatever the methodology applied (Agile, predictive, etc.) makes it possible, first and foremost, to accept, welcome and even transform change into opportunity for the project; also, to give up when necessary.

For example, a last-minute request from a customer, initially destabilizing and impacting the project, may in the end, properly requalified as a request for evolution, result in an amendment to the contract. Appropriate behavior and, in particular, agility, assertiveness and negotiation skills are also precious allies for the project manager.

Finally, mastering and sharing a vision enables the project manager to take a “meta” stance, like a “compass”, to keep the project on course and maintain its overall coherence, despite the many changes and disruptions encountered along the way.

Skill 4: Critical thinking, the project manager's lethal weapon

Back in the spotlight, critical thinking, a skill that dates to Aristotle, refers to a person’s willingness to examine data carefully before establishing its validity. It has for us three main dimensions: the art of discernment, analytical thinking, and humility. In the world of project management, its importance is growing, even critical, particularly with the advent of the digital age and the accelerated development of artificial intelligence.

By mastering the art of discernment, the project manager develops a “meta” posture that is essential for stepping back and de-dramatizing the situations encountered. This goes together with the development of systems thinking, which gives the project manager a dual appreciation of reality, capable of alternating between the “global” (vision and staying on course) and the “local” (problem-solving).

The second dimension, associated with analytical thinking, gives the project manager the ability to analyze the problems submitted to them and the associated decision-making, for example, by avoiding confusing causality with simple correlation.

Finally, humility plays an essential role in the project manager’s ability to accept what they do not know, they may make mistakes, and, above all, they are willing to listen to suggestions from team members. This is an essential dimension, vital for any project manager who wants to avoid “overheating”, and ultimately burnout, by trying to concentrate on everything–information, ideas, and decisions.

These four skills—resilience, emotional intelligence, adaptability, and humility—are essential to the project manager’s credibility with their teams, and even more so to their own physical and mental well-being!

A graduate of HEC Paris, SUPAERO (ISAE) & SKEMA BS, Jean-Roch Houllier is currently Head of Operations, Learning & Digital at SAFRAN University, the SAFRAN Group university. Jean-Roch is also a research associate at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) in Paris, in connection with his research into prehistory, and a visiting teacher and professional thesis supervisor.


Olivia graduated with a Master’s Degree in Chemistry from the University Paris Orsay. She is currently an expert in change management and a project director with Groupe Société Générale France. Olivia is also a professor at Skema Business School Paris (Master Project & Program), and Coach (Personal development).  She is previously Presidente PMI France.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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