Getting ahead of challenges, navigating disruption, and minimizing risks—they are all integral to today’s conversations about the future of generative AI (GenAI). They are also integral to the role that project management professionals have been performing for decades.
Despite their daily familiarity with these issues, many project professionals may find themselves unprepared for how their organizations will leverage GenAI or how it will affect their jobs specifically. While no one can predict all the ways GenAI will change corporate operations and processes, there’s no doubt that this emerging technology will augment the role of many knowledge workers, including project professionals.
GenAI have a significant impact on the anatomy of project work. Given the rapid pace of GenAI’s evolution and adoption, there is a growing sense of urgency for project professionals to build AI-related skillsets—to increase productivity, efficiency, and project success.
For project managers, GenAI can perform heavy lifting across various project activities including: automated report generation, timeline updates, data analysis, cost estimations, and more. Project professionals who can harness the power of AI will ultimately free their time to focus on higher-value tasks that drive project success. As a result, it should allow them to focus more on adding new business value, developing their leadership capabilities, and driving innovation for their organizations—aligned with the goals of the enterprise.
Research shows that organizations are significantly increasing their investment in AI this year. Project professionals who stay at the forefront of the progression of emerging technologies and help drive AI adoption within their organizations will best position themselves for career success.
Developing skills, becoming AI-ready
To tap into the wealth of advantages that AI can provide, project professionals will need to prioritize upskilling. PMI research shows that only about 20% of project managers report having extensive or good practical experience with AI tools and technologies. And 49% have little to no experience with or understanding of AI in the context of project management. This is staggering when compared to the fact that 82% of senior leaders say AI will have at least some impact on how projects are run at their organization over the next five years.
Using GenAI to automate, assist and augment your project management capabilities requires new skills and a new mindset towards project work. Project professionals can use GenAI to enhance their project skills across the three core areas of the PMI Talent Triangle®: Ways of Working, Power Skills and Business Acumen.
Ways of working. This dimension focuses on adopting the best approach, practices, techniques, and tools to manage projects successfully. With the widespread availability and potential of GenAI tools at both the individual and organizational level, it is important to take advantage of the improved results that GenAI can help project managers deliver.
Think “ways of working” as a chains of events and tasks to deliver a result, where generative AI can automate, assist, or augment project management skills and competencies. Specific areas where you can leverage GenAI in this space include: project planning, time and cost management, risk management, writing and reading assistance.
Project managers should also learn about the fundamental relationship between data and AI and become familiar with their organization’s data strategy and practices. By understanding how data feeds these tools, project managers will be better positioned to understand and evaluate AI outputs. Data literacy will also enable project managers to shape the tools and models that are specific to projects — those that predict project outcomes, risks, resources, etc. — so that they are delivering the most accurate predictions and analysis to drive decision-making. This knowledge will also help project managers identify and solve for the risks that the use of GenAI can potentially introduce to the business.
Power skills. Ensuring teams have strong interpersonal skills – which we call “power skills” – allows them to maintain influence with a variety of stakeholders. This is a critical component for making change and driving successful project outcomes.
Our Pulse of the Profession Survey has identified four critical power skills that are essential to helping organizations transform and deliver sustainable results: strategic thinking, problem solving, collaborative leadership, and communication. All these are human traits that to some degree can be augmented by AI. For example, project managers can contribute more strategically to their projects and organization by applying AI tools to different aspects of their businesses, industry, and market, to solve problems more effectively and quickly.
There are four key areas where you can leverage AI to enhance power skills:
- To embed strategic thinking
- Improve collaboration
- Faster problem solving
- Improved communication.
Power skills will become even more of a competitive advantage, making or breaking each and every project as AI productivity gains allow more time to be spent on human interaction. Our own research, as well as multiple small- and large-scale studies over the last two decades, consistently cite human factors among the top causes of project failure. Remember that algorithms cannot look anyone in the eye, speak truth to power, stay the ethical course or be accountable for their decisions. Project managers can do all these things and more including the ability to interact with humans, express empathy, adapt, create counterintuitive solutions, decide in ambiguity, negotiate, manage stakeholders, lead, and motivate. Project managers have skills that will never find their way into machines, no matter how smart the machines become.
Business acumen. Professionals with business acumen understand the macro and micro influences in their organization and industry and have the function-specific or domain-specific knowledge to make good decisions. Professionals at all levels need to be able to cultivate effective decision-making and understand how their projects align with the big picture of broader organizational strategy and global trends.
Imagine you want to have a better perspective on the risks at the corporate level of your project or program and the most likely scenarios you may encounter if some of the risks actually occur. AI can help you gain insights to prepare a comprehensive business risk analysis and impact evaluation because of project issues. This will prepare the organization with a recovery plan and to anticipate all mitigation actions before a major event happens and impacts the organization. Project managers can begin to leverage GenAI capabilities for scenario analysis, insights generation and innovation, assessment of business implications, and systems thinking decisions.
The use of AI tools will enhance business acumen in two ways. First, by handling time-consuming, mundane tasks, it will free project managers to spend more time focusing on intraorganizational influences, objectives and relationships. Second, GenAI can augment project managers’ abilities to see the strategic implications of their work, enable them to practice and frame their conversations with high-level stakeholders and make better decisions about their projects. The very presence of these tools may also change the types of business acumen that project managers need to deeply understand, versus those that can be accessed by the tools.
For example, generative AI makes it much easier for any project manager to look at a situation through the eyes of an industry expert (through a prompt). So, like individual phone numbers, general industry knowledge may be less important to retain in the human brain. However, the details of the organization’s competitive advantage, potential leverage from data that exists in the ecosystem, or new data generated by your project – will be something to understand in detail.
Functional operations are becoming more automated and transparent as well. These common software-as-a-service (SaaS) enabled processes are also well defined in general data sets. Again, here, the business acumen that will set you apart has more to do with what is different about the way your organization operates. What makes it special, more efficient, more effective? This level of understanding will help you not only firmly connect to the strategy with your project but allow you to ensure that all of the project-to-organization connections are in place to truly achieve results.
Are you ready to upskill?
Knowledge is a critical element to empowering professionals in their AI journeys. You can tap into specialized training for project managers that will help you navigate this new GenAI-enabled project landscape. Project Management Institute (PMI) recently released a free introductory e-learning course to help combat AI adoption anxiety and fill the knowledge gap among project professionals. It includes relevant use cases and advice on how to use GenAI specifically to deliver projects.
It’s clear that AI is going to enhance the way projects are delivered, transforming the role of project managers into project leaders. There will be new challenges and risks ahead, but by adopting an AI mindset and remaining curious about GenAI’s potential, project professionals will be prepared to deliver successful project outcomes. Continuous learning is the key to navigating the AI revolution and elevating the role that project professionals play across industries.
 Edelman, D.C., Abraham, M. (2023, April 12). Generative AI will change your business. Here’s how to adapt. Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2023/04/generative-ai-will-change-your-business-heres-how-to-adapt