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5 essential hard skills for effective project management

Examples of project management hard skills that are essential for successfully landing projects.

Apr 14, 2016

14 min read

Project planning meeting

Last updated on: March 20, 2024

Becoming a great project manager or aiming to start in the field means mastering primary hard skills. In project management, hard skills can be seen as the bricks that build a sturdy project, and project managers are the “builders” who need to understand the blueprints, know how to use project management tools effectively, and coordinate with their team.

What are hard skills in project management?

Hard skills are the technical abilities and knowledge needed to plan, schedule, and manage projects. You can acquire project management hard skills through education, training and experience.

What are some key traits of hard skills everyone should know?

  • Hard skills refer to specific, learnable abilities or knowledge that one must have to perform certain tasks required in a job.
  • Unlike soft skills, hard skills can be measured. For instance, proficiency in a programming language can be quantified by assessing one’s ability to write code or solve technical problems.
  • Employers check for these skills on resumes when hiring. They include job-specific skills like using certain software, as well as broader skills like speaking a second language.

In this article, we’ll look into some of the key hard skills that are a must for successful project managers. When you master these skills, you’ll be on your way to knowing how to turn your projects into achievements.

We say that you’ll be on your way because you’ll still need to gain mastery of project management soft skills, as well, as in your career, these two sets of skills go hand in hand when aiming to build robust projects.

Project management hard skills examples

The hard skills required in project management are multiple and diverse, from technical abilities, such as proficiency in project planning software, to skills related to project execution such as budget management, risk assessment, quality assurance methodologies, and scheduling techniques.

These are five hard skills every project manager should own:

  • Project planning skills
  • Risk management
  • Data literacy and automation skills
  • Analytical and strategic thinking
  • Visualization and reporting
Examples of hard skills for project managers

Let’s take a closer look at each of the key hard skills that influence a project, whether we’re aware of their impact or not. We’ll explore their significance and give you some tried and trusted best practices to help you hone your project management skills.

Project planning hard skills

These are the skills that help project managers in organizing project tasks, schedules, and resources to ensure successful project delivery. They include:

Project charter preparation

This involves creating a formal document that outlines the project’s objectives, scope, deliverables, and stakeholders, requiring technical knowledge of project management principles and documentation.

Project charters are the blueprint for effective project management. They should be issued by management and provide a summary of the business opportunity the project intends to capitalize on. However, management often fails to produce the charter, leaving it to the project manager to develop.

A good project charter will define the purpose, objectives and the scope of the project. Project charters also include key details such as budgetary guidance, stakeholder lists and a timeline, Gantt chart or project roadmap. They become a critical reference point throughout the project’s life cycle.

PMs who become proficient in creating project charters will be better equipped for communicating with their project sponsors and for gaining stakeholder buy-in. Our five tips for developing this skill are:

  • Use the project charter’s development as an opportunity to engage your sponsor and stakeholders. Collaborating early will establish beneficial relationships that will help later on.
  • Be clear and concise – think one or two pages. A brief project charter will not only be better received by busy stakeholders, it will also help you communicate succinctly.
  • Include measurable, time-bound objectives that are realistic, easy to understand and simple to track.
  • Set the project’s preliminary timeline with a simple visual that includes key milestones and when they will be delivered. A good visual will be updated and re-used in status reports throughout the project’s life.
  • Reuse project charter statements when communicating. This will help realign audiences with the important business objectives of the project.

Work breakdown structures

Developing a work breakdown structure (WBS) is a critical planning item in managing a project. Work breakdown structures help project managers organize the scope of their projects and enable them to do a variety of project management tasks such as assigning resources and defining deliverables. Since a WBS forms the foundation for all cost and time estimations it is a crucial skill for any project manager to have in their toolbox.

Project managers need to become skilled in breaking down all project deliverables into smaller work packages, a process called decomposition. Here are some best practices in creating a WBS:

  • Include 100% of the items required for successful project delivery in the development of your WBS – internal and external deliverables;
  • Lean on your team when creating a Work Breakdown Schedule. They will contribute valuable experience and perspectives to the process;
  • Leverage any existing models or templates that your group or company may have created in the past.
  • Using tools like mind mapping software for the decomposition process will help you capture and structure the WBS.


Creating and managing project schedules involves technical proficiency in project management software, resource allocation, understanding dependencies and critical path analysis.

Project managers know they need to produce a time-based schedule of activities so they can set the order in which tasks will be completed. Over the course of the project, their schedule will help them see each task, whether it has been completed, is partially done or still needs to be done. It will also allow project managers to see where there are dependencies so they can plan the most efficient path for delivering tasks.

Scheduling is a challenging part of project management, and a hard skill project managers need to have. They will benefit from having completed a WBS document which will help set up the project tasks and estimate and sequence them on the schedule. Here are 5 tips to help PMs enhance their scheduling skills:

  • Add progress milestones as check points to the schedule and regularly check them.
  • Wherever possible put higher risk tasks closer to the beginning of your schedule, so you have more runway to manage delays.
  • Know the different types of duration counts that can be used for estimating task duration.
  • Baseline schedules after they have been created so you can compare the plan versus actual when you get into execution.
  • Anticipate that the project schedule will change as tasks or client needs fluctuate and have a process for handling changes.


Developing and managing project budgets involves technical skills in financial analysis, cost estimation, and budget tracking.

Writing project budgets is an important hard skill for getting projects properly funded and for controlling them. A project manager’s ability to get approval for the necessary funding is dependent on the costs they forecast in their budget. An approved budget also forms a baseline against which actual costs can be measured to determine if the project is on the right track.

Projects that go way over budget are often viewed as unsuccessful, even if they are delivered on time. Project managers need to be skilled in forecasting and managing budgets.

Here are a few strategies for developing project budgeting skills:

  • Consult with your project team and sponsor when estimating your costs. They have experience that may help you more accurately estimate.
  • After you have estimated costs, identify risks such as third-party dependencies, depth of experience on your bench or unfamiliar technology, and manage this risk by adding padding to the budget.
  • Your budget should not just be the total costs of your project, it is the total cost + padding for risk mitigation.
  • Learn from similar budgets that your team or company may have created before, paying special attention to the areas that went beyond budget.
  • Protect your budget against any scope creep. Use your change management process and seek additional funding to cover any unplanned work that can ruin the budget.

Risk management

Risk management relies on identifying and reducing potential risks that may impact project outcomes. This requires technical expertise in risk analysis, probability assessment, and risk response planning.

Projects rarely go exactly as expected and stuff goes wrong along the way. Project managers who are skilled at managing unexpected obstacles plan for it. It is a hard skill that begins with trying to identify the vulnerable areas of the project and then assessing the probability and the impact to the project in worse case scenarios. Skilled project managers should be able to determine which vulnerabilities require risk management strategies; they include those strategies into the main project plan to mitigate the risk.

As a project manager, this is what you need to do to identify and reduce potential risks:

  • Understand how much risk is tolerable on the project. You will need to calibrate any risk management plans with this level of risk toleration.
  • Divide your risk areas into three categories, High Risk, Medium Risk and Low Risk. Create a mitigation plan for all High-Risk vulnerabilities.
  • Execute recurring risk assessment exercises regularly throughout the life of the project as a way of monitoring for new risks that may have surfaced.
  • Identify positive risks and create plans in advance for capitalizing on these opportunities so they can be turned into favorable outcomes.

The costs for all risk management plans need to be built into the budget early.

Data literacy and automation skills

Data literacy and automation skills are becoming more and more important in project management owing to the growing reliance on statistics-driven decision making. These skills are used in handling data and automation tools in project management. Let’s break down the ways these skills work for project managers:

Data literacy

Data literacy empowers project managers to understand, interpret, and use data sets to make informed decisions, identify risks, optimize resources, and track project performance.

This requires technical skills such as statistical analysis and data manipulation.

Project managers make decisions based on data. Analyzing trends and patterns in data helps them make better choices and identify problems early on by looking at past project data. This lets them plan ahead and reduce the chances of problems during the project.

Data literacy also helps project managers optimize resource usage and keep the project within budget. Additionally, it enables project managers to monitor project progress effectively by tracking key indicators like goals and milestones. Project managers analyze data to identify what’s working well and what needs improvement.

Our tips for improving data literacy skills in project management include:

  • Invest in training in data analysis tools and techniques.
  • Encourage a culture of data-driven decision-making within project teams, where data is used to inform project planning and execution.
  • Use data visualization tools to present project data in a visually appealing and easy-to-understand format.
  • Partner with data experts within the organization to benefit from their expertise in analyzing and interpreting project data.
  • Schedule regular data review sessions with project teams to analyze project data, identify trends, and discuss opportunities for improvement.

Low-code or no-code skills

Non-IT professionals can use these skills to create apps with the help of  intuitive drag-and-drop tools that minimize the need for traditional developers who write code, using low-code and no-code platforms. PMI’s Citizen Developer is a current business movement illustrating this type of skills that enable Project Managers to rely less on IT departments and save more time and money.

Here’s how you can benefit from developing low-code or no-code skills as a project manager:

  • Prototyping: Low-code or no-code platforms allow you to quickly develop prototypes and proof-of-concepts for data-related tools or applications. This allows for experimenting with different data solutions without extensive coding knowledge.
  • Data integration: Low-code or no-code platforms often come with built-in integrations with data sources and APIs. You can use these integrations to easily connect to and integrate data from different sources into your applications or workflows.
  • Workflow automation: Low-code or no-code platforms often include workflow automation capabilities. This allows you to automate data-related processes and tasks, which can streamline data workflows and reduce manual errors.

Analytical and strategic thinking

These hard skills involve the technical ability to analyze complex project data and develop strategic plans. Project managers benefit from this skill as it enables them to make data-driven decisions, anticipate project risks, and align project activities with organizational goals, all of which require technical proficiency in diverse project management tools, methodologies, and frameworks.

Our suggestions for improving analytical and strategic thinking are:

  • You can enhance your data analysis skills by investing in training and resources to improve your ability to analyze project data and derive meaningful insights.
  • Develop critical thinking abilities by enhancing your analytical capacity. How? Basic ways to improve analytical capacity start with questioning assumptions, evaluating information objectively, and considering alternative perspectives.
  • Focus on long-term planning. Consider the long-term implications of project decisions and strategies. Focus on achieving sustainable outcomes.
  • Stay informed on industry trends, best practices, and emerging technologies relevant to your project. This helps with strategic decision-making and anticipating challenges.
  • Seek feedback, collaborate, engage with stakeholders to gain diverse perspectives and refine strategic approaches.

Visualization and reporting

Visualization and report generation are valuables needed for presenting project data and progress to stakeholders in a visually understandable manner. They require technical competence in data analysis and interpretation, as well as an understanding of design principles. Visualization relies on the expert use of a wide variety of technical methods and tools to convert complex project data into easily understandable formats.

Here’s a more detailed look at what project managers need to own in order to have expert visualization and reporting skills:

  • Data analysis proficiency demands robust analysis skills. This involves the ability to collect, clean, and analyze large datasets from sources such as project management software, spreadsheets, and databases. To perform a statistical analysis and interpret project data accurately , project managers need to understand statistical concepts such as mean, median, standard deviation, and regression analysis.
  • Visualization techniques. As simple as it may seem, data visualization requires using specialized techniques and knowledge. Project managers should know that effective visualization involves selecting the right type of chart or graph to represent the data clearly and intuitively, and that different visualization techniques serve different purposes.
    • Gantt charts are ideal for displaying project timelines and task progress over time. Project managers can use Gantt charts to identify dependencies and critical paths, allocate resources efficiently, and track project milestones.
    • Pie charts and bar graphs are most suitable for illustrating proportions, comparisons, and distributions of project data. They help project managers convey information about budget allocations or resource use.
    • Heatmaps and scatter plots are useful for identifying patterns, correlations, and trends in project data. Project managers can use these visualizations in performance optimization, to analyze risks and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Presentation skills. Beyond creating visualizations, project managers must also have strong presentation skills to be able to communicate their findings to stakeholders in an efficient way. These skills entail a mastery of various techniques, such as storytelling, visual design principles, and interactivity, ensuring that the information is conveyed engagingly.
    • Storytelling implies structuring a narrative around the data to create a compelling story that resonates with the audience. This involves providing context, highlighting key insights, and offering actionable recommendations.
    • Visual design principles. Understanding principles of visual design such as color theory, typesetting, and layout helps project managers create visually appealing and easy-to-understand reports and presentations.
    • Interactivity. Using interactive features in visualizations and reports can engage the audience more and encourages exploration of the data. Interactive elements such as filters, tooltips, and drill-down capabilities enhance the user experience and offer deeper insights.

Tools for visualization and reporting

Visual project management software Office Timeline

Project managers need technical expertise in tools that allow them to manipulate and visualize data in an efficient way. Tools like Jira, Excel, Google Sheets, MS Project are popular and cater to basic needs. For advanced results needed in complex and highly competitive environments, project managers benefit more from using specialized visualization tools that enable them to efficiently handle and present data, leading to impactful outcomes.

One such tool is Office Timeline, which has raised the bar in project management visualizations and aids project managers in delivering impressive presentations. Office Timeline offers a 14-day free trial, providing its users with access to a variety of ready-to-use timeline templates and allowing them to explore its full capabilities before committing to a subscription.


To sum up, hard skills are the backbone of effective project management, providing the technical expertise and analytical abilities necessary to drive projects forward. While soft skills, like communication and teamwork, are an absolute necessity for leadership and collaboration, hard skills complete them by enabling project managers to figure out technical challenges and analyze data for deeper insights.

It is only by mastering both hard and soft skills that project managers can achieve complete success. Ideally, in any project-focused organization, a successful project manager needs to have the right balance of knowledge and experience, blending both hard skills and soft skills, to help them handle the challenges of managing complex projects and keeping teams happy.

Frequently asked questions about hard skills in project management

Take a look below and find our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about hard skills in project management.

Project management tips and tricks

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