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Six Essential Skills for a First-Time Project Manager

With strict budgets, short deadlines, new processes, and a plethora of management decisions to be made, life is never easy for a first-time project manager.

An efficient PM is also expected to have a deep understanding of personnel management, risk management, and data-driven progress analysis. Even though this seems like a lot to do all at once, these challenges gradually become easier with time. 
However, as a new project manager, it is your responsibility to stay sharp and up to the speed so you can maintain your competitive edge. You will be expected to become the leader you promised during the hiring process, resting on your laurels is out of the question. A decent certification might help, but it does not guarantee success in day-to-day operations, and it all comes down to a few inherent skills that a good project manager must possess. Here’s a list of six skills that you need to develop right from day one.

#1 – Become a Problem Solver

When you’re starting out, there’s struggle, uneasiness, and way too many questions that need an answer. The best way to look at every tough situation is to consider it a challenge that will help you grow while you cement a place in a new environment. It’s all about training your mind not to panic and to trust your guts as a genuine problem solver. Don’t forget to look from every possible angle. You can always reach to a senior, mentor, or someone you look up to for finding a solution. This is the first skill that you need in your arsenal.

#2 – Manage Your Time Like a Champ

Time management is another vital trait that can help you stay on top of things. Being aware of the exact deadlines, the strength of your team members, and the knowledge to use every resource at your disposal are all essential facets of managing your time. In most ways, time management is nothing but the ability to manage the tasks at hand while meeting your targets and sticking to your timelines. Someone who manages their time efficiently is usually seen as a thorough professional commanding respect and authority both from peers and senior management.

#3 – Be Flexible

A new project manager can never stay away from constraints like strict schedule, low-budget, and the feeling of being understaffed. These are part and parcel of the game, and you need to showcase your flexibility by handling these obstacles. Most new candidates talk about flexibility as their strength before they are hired for a job. You need to prove it right from day one. Just manage the resources at hand with maximum precision and be a little proactive. As they say, project management is all about planning for a change. 

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#4 – You Must Be a Solid Negotiator

Managing a team full of experienced pros with distinct personalities is a bit of a challenge if you’re new to the organization. Naturally, you must make some compromises and utter “no” at more than a few occasions. After all, it’s not possible to give every team member what they want. However, you need to develop the skill to balance your odds while keeping the team interest on the top. Being a master negotiator is a skill that saves you from a lot of turmoil and unease. It is surprising how much of the modern project management has come down to just being a good negotiator.

#5 – Risk Management

One of the core responsibilities of a new project manager is to foresee any possible risk that may pose a threat to your project. The process of risk management is nothing but identifying and responding to every potential risk that’s associated with the project. Sometimes these risks are unpredictable and jump out of the blue. As a project manager, you need to assess the situation and prepare quick and effective solutions. If required, you might have to use certain damage control measures just to make sure that things don’t go out of hands. Life is unfair, and you might have to juggle a few hot potatoes. Deal with it. Even if you failed to handle a situation first time around, don’t panic and learn and develop risk management skill through experience.

#6 – Lead by Example

A project manager is probably the “go to leader” in most situations. The onus and the responsibility lies with the PM for the success and the failure of a project. This means fixing the underlying issues and obstacles as soon as possible; anticipating and expecting risks before they happen. A project manager is responsible for setting a vision for the team, and then doing everything in their capacity to realize that vision. It comes down to leading the team by example.
As a new manager, you cannot shy away from showing your team how it’s done. It’s also important for your own growth because if you’re not able to lead a team well in the first few days of you joining the organization, it becomes tough to gain respect from your team members. If you are facing a bit of a trouble to settle in, it’s always recommended to reach out to your mentors or participate in specific skill development programs to get better.


At the end of the day, being a new PM can be overwhelming. Even with the knowledge of all the skills mentioned above, you might make a few mistakes in the first couple of months. The idea is to learn from those mistakes quickly and continuously improve your skills. In fact, not every new project manager is expected to be on top of their game, especially at the beginning. It’s never easy, and the position requires an extensive range of skill set. All you can do is adapt fast and keep learning. Are you ready for it!

Paul Oppong

Paul Oppong is a management, strategy, and business transformation consultant, specializing in digital transformation and program management. He helps clients navigate the ever-changing landscape of business Technology, using his expertise to deliver evidence-based solutions that exceed their performance expectations. Paul Oppong has a global outlook and has assisted organizations in both the public and private sectors, including some of Africa’s largest financial institutions and Australian government agencies, in realizing the benefits of their transformational investments through project and portfolio management. For more information visit

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