Are we ready for the future? Skills and Traits project leaders (PLs) will need for success

Date: 16/12/2018

Prepared by: Majed Abdeen


Future Project Leaders (PLs) face a challenging role demanding personal/interpersonal traits/skills and understanding of the industry (Ahsan, et al., 2013, pp. 2, 5). Project Management knowledge increases with changes (Morris, 2013, p. 25); PLs are well-equipped for change thus organisations must utilise them (PMI, 2018, p. 13).

Driving Factors

Three key factors driving the requirement for specific skills and traits PLs need can be identified; Digitisation, Environment, and Approaches.


Developments in Digital/Disruptive technologies change behaviour, productivity and performance (Morris, 2013, p. 19). As organisations use projects to adopt technology, PLS require specific digital skills (PMI, 2018, p. 3). PLs automate repetitive tasks, and enable accuracy in estimating/forecasting tasks through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), thus the role/skills/traits required of PLs is evolving; PLs will focus more on human-based skills.


As project management expands into new industries (PMI, 2017 b, p. 3), they adopt new technological tools (PMI, 2018, p. 3), and contracts are aligned for success, changing management of projects (Morris, 2013, p. 9).


PLs must use a variety of approaches; practice differs based on approach, thus different skills/traits are required (Morris, 2013, p. 19). Future organisations will use flexible, collaborative approaches such as lean, agile practice, and scrum (PMI, 2018, p. 4); project management will become intuitive, not procedural (Morris, 2013, p. 19).

Future Project Leaders

How will PLs deal with these changes? They must acquire and maintain skills and traits.


PMI identifies key skills which must be combined with the PMI Talent Triangle of Business Management, Leadership, and Technical skills, including:

    • Data science (data management, analytics, big data),

    • Innovative mindset,

    • Security and privacy knowledge,

    • Legal and regulatory compliance knowledge,

    • Ability to make data-driven decisions, and

    • Collaborative leadership. (PMI, 2018, p. 5)

PLs must adapt management to fit their environment (Ahsan, et al., 2013, p. 1). Research demonstrates demand for communication, education, technical, stakeholder management, and cost management skills (Ahsan, et al., 2013, p. 25).


PLs must focus inwardly (self-control, analytical/conceptual thinking) and outwardly (focus on stakeholders, leadership) (Ahsan, et al., 2013, pp. 9-10). Understanding behaviour/motivation enables good leadership, a critical success factor (PMI, 2017 a, p. 60). Projects require different leadership (Ahsan, et al., 2013, pp. 5, 6, 9), thus PLs must be able to identify when to apply servant, interactional, or other styles, using Emotional Intelligence for effective leadership (Ahsan, et al., 2013, p. 11). With emphasis on agile approaches (PMI, 2018, p. 4; Morris, 2013, p. 19), PLs must be adept servant leaders. Key PL traits are illustrated in figure 1 below.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The assumption in the literature that PL skills/traits and leadership styles fit all projects in all industries (Ahsan, et al., 2013, pp. 6, 8) limits progress. Since industries, organisations, and projects are unique, PLs should align specific skills/traits with their chosen field as those deemed important vary by field (Ahsan, et al., 2013, pp. 8, 28). PLs should likewise adapt their leadership to fit the situation.


PLs do not operate in a vacuum. The organisation is the context in which projects take place, thus it affects the role of the PL; thus in future, organisations must support and enhance PL development (Ahsan, et al., 2013, p. 4). They must also enable internal culture change to take advantage of PLs and projects (digital-pm-skills.pdf, 6). PLs themselves affect project success (Ahsan, et al., 2013, p. 5) thus must focus inward, reflecting on, analysing and developing their own skills and traits, and also outward, considering the teams, stakeholders, and environments around them. As Morris (2013, p.20) observes, "project management has been, is and will be a dynamic, powerful discipline having plenty to offer society—it's just up to us to deliver it!" To do so, we must ensure we look to the future and build on the foundation of practice already established.


Ahsan, K., Ho, M. & Khan, S., 2013. Recruiting project managers: a comparative analysis of competencies and recruitment signals from job advertisements. Project Management Journal, 44(5), p. 36–54.

Morris, P. W. G., 2013. Reconstructing project management reprised: a knowledge perspective. Project Management Journal, 44(5), p. 6–23.

PMI, 2017 a. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 6th ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

PMI, 2017 b. Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap Report // 2017-2027, Newtown Square, USA: Project Management Institute.

PMI, 2018. THE PROJECT MANAGER OF THE FUTURE: Developing Digital-Age Project Management Skills to Thrive in Disruptive Times, s.l.: Project Management Inistitute.