Top five challenges in project management: Column

Project management is a complex and demanding discipline. The project manager faces many difficult aspects in his or her daily work. The difficulties depend upon the types and sizes of projects and the clients. Here are five of the most significant project management challenges that project managers face.

The budget

The project budget is almost always the No. 1 or No. 2 challenge on every project. One of the biggest factors that makes the project budget a challenge is the number of different people, companies, locations or other entities charging to it.

The project budget status can go from strong and healthy to weak and precarious overnight as charges come through accounting and are entered into the project accounting system. Then the project manager must determine why.

The scope

Management of the project scope is always a challenge for the project manager and the project team. Many times decisions are close calls on whether they are in or out of scope. Any change order tests the project manager’s skills since he or she must present them to the owner to obtain approval.

The conflict

Some people thrive on conflict. However, project managers are not some of those people. The project management responsibilities place the project manager in the direct line of performing some of their least favorite duties such as: resolving conflicts, handling personnel issues and giving performance reviews.

The progress report

Progress reporting can be an art and a science. The project manager must develop a progress report format that works for all stakeholders who care about the report.

A usable and informative dashboard must be created, especially for owners and their designees, senior management of the construction firm and designated key stakeholders. An effective and user-friendly dashboard may be all they ever want to see.

The dashboard may include some high-level percentages of progress or a green-yellow-red traffic signal approach to reporting the timeline, tasks and budget status.

The documentation

The lack of detailed documentation of project requirements can be a very serious problem that results in controversy and debate among the project team members.

A major reason why there is a lack of detailed documentation of all project requirements is that no matter how many experts and key consultants are involved and no matter how much the client is involved in the process and insists that all requirement have been included and the scope is final, someone eventually finds something that was overlooked or omitted.

Four critical skills needed

Project managers are responsible for managing work through the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet the project requirements. This concise definition of project management communicates the idea that project managers must possess varied competencies and know how to apply them to projects.

There are several critical skills needed to successfully meet the project management challenges mentioned above. Here are four of those most critical skills.


Great leadership is a critical skill for a good project manager. The leadership role involves leading and managing teams; setting the vision; motivating the team; serving them; coaching them and inspiring others.

Project managers must lead from both a strategic and tactical perspective; communicate the vision and get team (and organizational) buy-in; resolve conflict, set goals, and evaluate performance and ensure team members have what they need to get things done.

Planning Skills

Project scheduling is a core project management skill that successful project managers must provide. Planning is all about finding and implementing ways to do everything that is needed as efficiently and as timely as possible.

Project managers need to plan many steps ahead and weeks ahead. They also need to always know “what is next” and translate that into the form of tasks and goals.


Another critical skill for project management is being understanding and understood through effective forms of communication. Great communication is the lynchpin of any relationship and so the effectiveness of a project manager’s communication impacts not only the project team, but the client and stakeholders too.

Clear communication involves a dialogue that leads to being understood.

Negotiation Skills

Project management often involves a divergent group of people that have competing interests. The project manager must align the different interests of the group so that a successful project can be achieved.

Project managers negotiate with many people every day. They negotiate: with other project managers; for support from senior management; with third-party suppliers and/or with clients. Project managers must possess strategic negotiating skills to achieve some middle ground by developing compromises that help each of the negotiating parties feel like they have won.

Long ago, Aristotle uttered some sage project management advice.

“First have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”

Glenn Ebersole, is a professional engineer and business development manager at CVM Professional and CVMNEXT Construction in King of Prussia. He can be reached at or 610-964-2800, ext. 155.

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