8 skills to look for in IT project managers

Good IT project management can make or break key business initiatives, but finding top talent means identifying a unique mix of technical know-how and soft skills. Here are eight skills to look for when hiring project management professionals.

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Skills to Look for in IT Project Managers

As the economy continues to climb out of recession, demand for project management professionals has skyrocketed. Finding the right project management talent for mission-critical IT projects can be difficult, as the role requires a unique mix of technical and soft skills.

In addition to the usual suspects -- attention to detail, focus on process, time management and capability to multitask, for instance -- there are some less obvious, but equally crucial, skills that separate the good from the great. Here, our experts weigh in on what to look for when hiring IT project managers.

The ability to Manage Resource Conflicts

Ability to Manage Resource Conflicts

"No matter how big your business, no matter how large your company, you always have these kinds of resource allocation conflicts. You're always limited by costs, by technology constraints, by time and by personnel availability. The project managers who can decide how to best allocate limited resources to the projects that will have the greatest positive business impact are very valuable," says Tushar Patel, vice president of marketing at Innotas, a cloud-based project portfolio management solutions company.

Familiarity With a Variety of Technical Platforms/Methodologies

Familiarity With a Variety of Technical Platforms/Methodologies

For IT project managers familiarity with the standard way in which software and applications are developed, designed, built and delivered is a necessary skill, says Patel. Nowadays, most IT organizations are using the agile development methodology, so that's an important framework to understand.

"In the past, agile was only used by software development teams, but more than half of the companies we talk to today are applying the agile methodology to an increasing number of their technical projects. So, concepts like iteration, sprints, scrum, and how to translate changing requirements into end-user functionality based on customer feedback are some of the skills IT project managers must possess," says Patel. Of course, every organization interprets agile differently, so project managers must also understand how agile is used and applied in the organization they're working for.

A Focus on Business Strategy and Agility

A Focus on Business Strategy and Agility

A project management team that's focused on how projects contribute to a company's growth, innovation and the greater business strategy rather than simply on completing discrete tasks can give businesses can a major competitive advantage, says Patel. "Using agile concepts outside of the IT department to create business agility is critical for good project management," he says.

"You want project managers to understand not just how to be responsive to customers and markets, but to do so even when your market changes, or your internal strategy changes; to do so if your company's acquired, if your company's acquiring another, getting a new CEO - any number of major changes. Project managers must be able to show they have the ability to turn on a dime. To manage the business' priorities in the face of sweeping change," Patel says.

It used to be enough that businesses were quick to react when markets changed, but nowadays, project managers must be proactive and anticipate every possible change and shift that could happen and how those could affect not just their projects, but their business as a whole, he says.

"One of the traits we're evangelizing is being predictive - forecasting the need to be flexible and adaptive; planning staffing, costs, time constraints and the like as much as six months out and determining which projects will be the key to success then," he says. "It's not easy, for sure, but this is something good project managers must do."

Project manager - communication skills

Excellent Communication Skills

Communication is obviously a must-have when hiring project management talent, according to Hallie Yarger, regional recruiting director, Midwest region for Mondo, a digital marketing and tech talent sourcing and consulting firm. Project managers must be able to reach people from all different backgrounds, with all different personalities, and to be able to quickly and concisely inform employees, executives, customers and all other stakeholders about the status of the project. "Communication skills are a no-brainer for PMs, but the key is that these skills be multi-dimensional, touching on both internal and external stakeholders," says Yarger.

Management Skills

Management Skills

Hand-in-hand with communication skills are management skills. Project managers must be able to navigate tough situations and make difficult decisions based on the needs of the business without being political. Being able to understand and empathize with stakeholders that may have different viewpoints, personalities, communication styles and needs is difficult when projects are going smoothly -- being able to do so in times of crisis is incredibly valuable for a project manager.

"You almost have to have a little bit of a psychology background to figure out how to effectively motivate, push and cajole each person involved to make sure projects are completed on time and with a minimum of conflict," Yarger says.

Ability to Accurately Assess Risk

Ability to Accurately Assess Risk

"With every IT project, there are risks involved", says Yarger. Risks that resources are allocated to certain projects and not others, risk that projects will not meet the expectations and standards set by clients and stakeholders, risks that deadlines will be missed and projects won't be delivered on time. However, a good project manager should be able to assess and mitigate all these by prioritizing the value of each asset, while minimizing the risk of project failures by ensuring the right team members have the tools, knowledge and information they need.

Speaking the Right Language

Speaking the Right Language

Especially in IT, trust is a key factor in establishing rapport as a project manager. Software developers, in particular, can be a finicky bunch, according to Yarger, so it's crucial to find project management professionals with the street cred to manage and motivate developers.

"You have to find someone with whom software developers will gladly work and who they will respect; someone who's familiar with the languages and platforms they're using, who knows the ins-and-outs of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), who understands their challenges and strengths - someone who can talk the talk and walk the walk," Yarger says.

Global Experience or Vertical Experience

Global Experience or Vertical Experience

Today's current global, digital economy means that some projects will be handled by teams in distinct geographical locations. Yarger points out that project managers with experience working with or managing offshore teams, or who've worked on projects in other countries are in especially high demand.

"What our clients are demanding right now are project managers with global experience, as well as experience in verticals like healthcare -- especially EHR/EMR experience -- and finance, for issues like regulatory compliance," says Yarger.