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Successful Project Manager IX: The Key Managerial Competencies

05 May 2021

In this series, we are taking a closer look at the role and responsibilities of the project manager. The success of the project manager depends on many aspects, among which are his skill and personal characteristics. At the same time, a project manager should master management domains through a set of acquired competencies. What are the project management competencies that the project manager should possess and how they can be acquired?

Main project management competencies

The list of the project management competencies can be a long one. The International Project Management Association (IPMA) has put together an Individual Competence Baseline (ICB®) that defines the key competencies for project managers. Many enterprises abide by the guidelines of the ICB®, but they are also important for educators, and trainers of Project Management courses. Human resource professionals may assess the candidates according to these standards.

What is a competence?

Generally, competence is defined as the ability to perform efficiently and successfully. It includes capacity and qualification. According to ICB®, individual competencies consist of three elements: knowledge, skills and abilities. While knowledge is the combination of acquired information and experience and is represented by an understanding of different concepts, skills are the aptitudes to perform tasks based on the acquired knowledge and experience. Finally, there is the ability that is demonstrated by the successful delivery of a project. Ability is always assessed by a given context in which is it demonstrated.

competence illustration

The Eye of Competence

Another way of looking at managerial competencies is through the so-called Eye of Competence designed by the IPMA®. As seen in the following picture, the Eye of Competence is divided into three fields based on the character of the competencies:

The Eye of Competence
IPMA® Eye of Competence

Each of the fields represents a set of competencies based on their character and orientation. Behavioural competencies are those that the project manager displays through personal conduct and interpersonal relationships. Some of the most important ones are reliability, efficiency and results orientation. The ability to negotiate and resolve conflicts also falls into the category. If you wish to improve upon those skills, take a look at our Leading & Negotiating for Project Success course.

The contextual competences are closely tied to the project itself, its orientation and implementation. They are always assessed in the context of the particular project and the project manager’s ability to organize and lead a project to finish successfully. Time management, as well as personal management, are part of the contextual competences as well.

Finally, the technical competences are such that lead to success during the individual phases of the project. Project manager with technical competences delivers the quality project on time and within the budget. A well-managed project displays success even when changes need to be implemented. It is well-designed with clear objectives and requirements and executed by a successfully managed team.

Key competencies of a successful project manager

The Individual Competence Baseline (ICB®) has created a set of 28 competencies divided into three groups: practice, people and perspective competencies. While many of these competencies are self-explanatory and widely accepted as part of a project manager’s portfolio of skills and abilities, the following ones are just as important in modern project management:

skills and competencies infographics

Culture and values

Culture and values mean that the project manager can influence not only the culture of the enterprise but also the wider society. Culture, in this context, is a set of behaviours while values are concepts on which project managers base their behaviour. Culture and values should be aligned, especially when it comes to projects that extend across world societies, religions and cultures.

The culture and values competence includes knowledge of ethics, theories about culture and information about certain cultural norms and values. As far as abilities and skills are concerned, a project manager should be aware of cultures and values internationally and display respect and aptitude to work in different cultural environments while leading the team to do the same, to achieve project objectives while bridging different cultures and values.


A good project manager is a resourceful project manager. Knowing how to define and find alternatives to solve problems is a very important competence to possess. In practice, this means being able to think out of the box and use original and imaginative approaches to stimulate both individuals and team to be creative when facing changes, unexpected problems but also stress and uncertainty.

When it comes to knowledge, resourcefulness includes knowing how to think strategically and conceptually, but it also consists of knowing how to create different marketing and business analyses such as SWOT and PESTLE. Lateral, synergy and systems thinking are very important as well. The key skill for obtaining the competence of resourcefulness is the analytical skill which is demonstrated through the choice of methods and techniques for communicating information. To display resiliency when dealing with failures and mistakes as well as the ability to imagine the future state of the project is among the key abilities.

Self-reflection and self-management

While the strict distinction between professional and personal lives is desirable, it needs to be acknowledged that personalities and individualities do influence the work environment. Project managers manage projects and teams, but they should not forget, first and foremost, themselves. This competence is geared towards one’s personality. While self-reflection means acknowledging and understanding one’s behaviour and emotions and the impact they make on one’s work performance, self-management is mostly about setting objective goals and working towards achieving them.

The competence of self-reflection and self-management includes the knowledge of stress management, relaxation methods and effectiveness theories. It is the ability to manage one’s emotions and behaviour, as well as personal time and work pace. One of the key abilities is to delegate tasks. Among the most desired skills to achieve this competence is self-motivation. Above all, the ability of self-control in difficult situations is something any project manager will benefit from.

Source: IPMA®: Individual Competence Baseline for Project Management