Identifying Knowledge and Competencies for Project Managers
Bill Hoberecht - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Project managers will concern themselves with their resume (when seeking employment), a job description (when determining what their job entails), and project management standards (when seeking or renewing professional certification).  One other item deserves a place on this list: a framework that lists areas of knowledge and expertise in project management.  This framework can be used by individual project managers in creating their plan for professional development and by organizations in establishing a detailed specification of knowledge, skill and performance expectations.


Introduction - Articles on Professional Development

This is the third of a three-article series for project managers on the topic of professional development:

  1. My Skills Gap Caused a Longer, Costlier Project describes why professional development is valuable for all project managers
  2. An Approach to Becoming a Project Management Expert outlines an iterative process for professional development.
  3. This article, A Simple Project Management Competency Framework describes key knowledge and performance areas in successfully managing projects - this is used when assessing project management skill competency, identifying skill gaps and prioritizing areas for development.

So Many Project Management Standards – Which PM Skills Really Are Important?

As project management continues to mature, today’s project managers face a confusing array of standards and certifications; on-the-job training, performance criteria, knowledge and skills expertise is often missing or vague.  It can be difficult for a project manager to know what skills they should be development, what areas of project management knowledge they should be seeking to understand, and how their performance should be measured.  

If you are looking to build a list of essential project management skills, a good place to start would be by looking at project management standards that are relevant for your projects – this might be the PMBoK, Prince2, Scrum, or others.   Fortunately, there is more information available to help you.


Project Management Competency Frameworks – Some Available Standards

Today’s project managers are fortunate that the PMI has produced an excellent competency framework; the PMI published Issue 2 of the Project Management Competency Framework in 2007.  This excellent document, based upon the now-obsolete PMBoK Issue 3, describes project manager proficiency in terms of knowledge, performance, and personal competence.  The standard is structured to show units of competence, elements of competence and performance criteria.

Of course, if you are using Prince2, don’t use PMI standards, or are living in the Agile world, then the details of the PMI’s framework may not be entirely useful to you.  The Agile Alliance offers a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) designation for those that take the CSM course and pass the CSM exam, but there is no published competency framework.  The Agile Alliance is clear that knowledge-based certifications (such as CSM) are easy to achieve and are not sufficient evidence of an acquired skill.

Other competency standards worth reviewing are: 

  1. The Project Management Standard published as open source by the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS).  This standard is structured into six units:  Manage Stakeholder Relationships, Manage Development of the Plan for the Project, Manage Project Progress, Manage Product Acceptance, Manage Project Transitions, Evaluate and Improve Project Performance.  Each unit has multiple elements, which in turn have defined performance criteria.
  2. The International Project Management Association (IPMA) Competence Baseline standard defines the knowledge and experience expected from the project managers.   The foundation of this standard is that competence is best indicated by a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills.  The IMPA classifies 46 competency elements into three groups:  Contextual, behavioral and technical competency.  Each element is composed of a knowledge and experience component that can be evaluated to yield a competency assessment.
  3. The APM Competence Framework, based upon the APM Body of Knowledge 5th edition is a tailored version of the IPMA Competence Baseline.    The APM version has the same structure, but has a different set of competence elements.  The freely-available APM’s self-assessment form shows the overall structure and names of all the competence elements.

These are all very good competency frameworks, and each is the result of significant research and review.  The APM and PMI frameworks must be purchased; however, the value they provide is significant when compared to their relatively low cost.  These frameworks all suffer one notable drawback: they are all oriented to traditional project management.  You won't find any guidance in any of them to help you with agile or adaptive project management, nor will you find any lean principles embodied in these frameworks.  Now this isn't a deal breaker, this just means that if you use any one of these frameworks that you will also want to supplement it with other areas of knowledge, skills and performance. 


Standards and Frameworks are no Panacea

Much as we’d like to think that a complete regimen of training will give a result of excellent project managers and consistently successful project performance, that just isn’t the case.  Encouraging project managers to become familiar with project management standards and all of the knowledge embodied within a competency framework is probably necessary, but will rarely be adequate in sufficient improving the performance of project managers. 

Two papers on this topic from Lynn Crawford, although from over a decade ago, are worth reading:  Senior management perceptions of project management competence  and Profiling the Competent Project Manager.  These academic papers report on research that questions the assumption that project management knowledge leads to better workplace performance;  in effect, these are papers in support of demonstrated competency, not just knowledge-based competency.   More current papers on this topic are in several chapters of The Wiley Guide to Project Organization & Project Management Competencies (tip: this book is available for free viewing by PMI members on The PMI web site ).


Using A Simple Project Management Competency Framework

I ask my project managers to recognize that a Simple Project Management Competency Framework is a general guide to the areas of knowledge, skill and demonstrated performance.  They can use it on their own as:

  • A constant reminder of the breadth and depth of a project manager’s responsibilities
  • A list to help identify those project management practices that are not used regularly but could benefit their projects
  • A means of identifying areas where they should be improving their knowledge base and performance as a project manager
  • A key reference when constructing a professional development plan

In my responsibilities of directing project organizations, I use a Simple Project Management Competency Framework to:

  • Give good definition to specific areas where project management improvement are needed broadly within my organization
  • Help identify, for particular project managers, areas where specific project management improvements are needed
  • Promote an approach to professional development in which project managers can self-assess their own project management capabilities, skills, knowledge and performance


Introducing the Simple Project Management Competency Framework

If you are a project manager looking to find a framework that will help you identify areas in which you should be developing project management proficiency, the simple framework below would be a good starting point for you. 

This framework is structured to cover both knowledge and performance; comprehending project management concepts is a precursor to what we really want: being able to apply this understanding effectively to project situations. 

I’ve deliberately kept this framework concise, but do refer to other competency frameworks and standards that have more detail.  As a framework, this provides a structure for considering your knowledge of project management and application of that knowledge to projects.

This simple framework has 3 segments:

  1. Knowledge - Getting Smart About Project Management:  Acquiring broad knowledge of project management, covering multiple standards, spanning traditional PM and agile.  This knowledge is generally acquired through study (books, web sites, training) and can be demonstrated through any means that validates knowledge (e.g., certification or passing an exam at completion of coursework).   
  2. Doing the Job of Project Management Well – Demonstrated Competence:  Applying project management knowledge and skills in all project phases.  This involves appropriately selecting appropriate project management methods and using those methods effectively on the project; of course this also involves achieving project objectives.  This can be demonstrated by the creation and effective use of project management artifacts; the effective use of agile and traditional project management processes; and satisfactory project results. 
  3. Managing Yourself:  Actively managing your daily activities while also taking a longer term perspective.  Your ability to manage yourself can have a tremendous impact on your success in leading project teams.  This involves adopting strategies and techniques for managing your time effectively, handing email (and other electronic communication), and devoting energy to your own professional development.  Competency in this area can be demonstrated by an appropriate allocation of your time to important and priority activities, a well-managed email inbox, and a record of continuous professional development.


A Simple Project Management Competency Framework

Knowledge - Getting Smart About Project Management

Knowledge Area Brief Description Competency Rating

Project Integration Management

Ensuring that all the project's work elements are coordinated – this area includes project planning & execution processes.  
Project Scope Management The processes that limit and control the work included in a project, ensuring that all the work of the project is included.  
Project Time Management The processes required to ensure timely completion of the project, including activity (task) definition and sequencing processes.  
Project Cost Management Planning, estimating, and controlling costs so that the project can be completed within the approved budget; includes resource planning and cost budgeting.  
Project Quality Management Ensure the result of a project meets the needs for which the project was executed; includes quality planning, assurance, and control.  
Project Human Resource Management Organizing and managing the project team; includes training, aligning on project objectives and goals, defining roles in the project and assigning project team members to those roles.   
Project Communications Management Linking people (including team members and stakeholders), ideas, and information throughout the project life cycle; includes timely generation and collection of information along with its proper dissemination and archival.  
Project Risk Management Identifying, analyzing, and properly responding to project risks (opportunities and threats).  
Project Procurement Management Acquiring the products, services, or results from an external source; includes contract management and control processes necessary to administer contracts, properly managing the buyer/vendor relationships, and managing the project’s obligations to the vendor.  
Project Management Using Scrum Knowing how to use the methods of Scrum to management projects: three roles, three ceremonies, and three artifacts  
Managing Projects using Prince2 Understanding a comprehensive project management methodology.  

The scale for evaluating each area of project management knowledge is this:

  1. Level A: Currently certified, by passing an exam, in this area of knowledge
  2. Level B: Have completed training and have a good understanding in this area of knowledge
  3. Level C: Cursory knowledge of this area of knowledge
  4. Level D: Unfamiliar with this area of knowledge


Project Management Performance

Performance Area Brief Description Competency Rating


Defining a new project or new phase of an existing project and securing authorization to start; establishing overall scope.



Establishing the total project scope, setting objectives, developing the plan to achieve the goals.  (includes re-planning, iterative, rolling ware” and other forms of planning; don’t limit this to waterfall-style planning).


Executing the worked defined in the project management plan to achieve the project objectives.

Monitoring and Controlling Overseeing the progress and performance of the project, adapting the plan as needed.  


Finalizing all project activities.  

The scale for evaluating each performance area of demonstrated project management competence is this:

  1. Level A: This project phase almost always achieves objectives and project management methods are used effectively and project management artifacts are readily available
  2. Level B: This project phase generally achieves objectives and project management methods are generally used effectively and project management artifacts are generally available
  3. Level C: This project phase sometimes achieves objectives or project management methods are generally used ineffectively or project management artifacts are generally available
  4. Level D: This project phase rarely achieves objectives or project management methods are used ineffectively or project management artifacts are rarely available.


Managing Yourself

Performance Area Brief Description Competency Rating
Time Management Organizing (e.g., planning, prioritizing) and using your time effectively.  
Use of electronic communication Effective use of email as well as project and document repositories.  
Professional development Planning and regularly completing relevant educational, training and skills development activities.  


The scale for evaluating each “managing yourself” performance area is

  1. Level A: Outstanding - methods are regularly used with very good results in this area.
  2. Level B: Generally well managed - methods are sometimes used with good results in this area
  3. Level C: Ad Hoc - no structure used to manage this activity and results are mixed
  4. Level D:  Gap - no structure is used to manage this activity and results are frequently poor

What's Next?

Understanding your knowledge, skills and performance as a project manager can help you in identifying areas where further development would be beneficial; as well, recognizing your strengths can suggest topics where your insights can be valuable to others.  Don't delay!  Set a near-term goal of evaluating your own project management competency using the simple framework presented here, and then use that information as an input to your plans for professional development.