Your Complete Guide to Project Management Staffing

Effective project management plays a critical role in business today. Increasingly, companies are turning to project-based work to address business challenges, complete strategic initiatives, and innovate. According to a cross-industry survey of business leaders, 79% believe the future of work will be project-based, not role-based.

Good project leadership ensures projects are completed on time, on budget, and within the agreed-upon scope. Unfortunately, good project managers don’t grow on trees, and it’s common for companies to struggle with project management staffing.


The growing talent gap, for starters. Research tells us the need for effective project managers has outpaced the availability of qualified talent. In 2017, the Project Management Institute (PMI) commissioned a talent gap analysis to look ahead 10 years. Talent shortages in the space could result in a potential loss of about $208 billion in GDP in the 11 countries PMI studied.

Beyond a limited talent pool, companies often undermine their project management talent search by misjudging the traits of a successful project manager. For example, are you moving candidates forward in the hiring process simply because they are PMP-certified? Sure, PMP certification is enough to demonstrate that a candidate meets the minimum technical job requirements, but it does little to show off their soft skills. By overemphasizing methodology and undervaluing leadership skills, companies bloat their hiring pipelines with candidates who look good on paper but lack the people skills that make for stellar project managers.

Download our “Getting Beyond PMPs” whitepaper.

Which brings up another sticking point: Can you even define “stellar project manager”? What other factors influence effective project management? The role can be difficult to describe and easy to underestimate. Anyone can list out baseline requirements, but how do you validate a candidate’s ability to fulfill those requirements?

If all this sounds exhausting, we’ve got good news: You don’t have to go it alone. By partnering with a boutique staffing agency, you will be able to find a good project manager who can solve problems and create growth opportunities for your organization.

What a Boutique Staffing Agency Brings to the Table

If you’ve never worked with a staffing organization before, you might be hesitant to bring on an outside vendor to help recruit, hire, and onboard employees. After all, your people aren’t merely a facet of your business; they are your business. So it’s natural to be a bit protective.

However, consider this: The sole function of a staffing organization is to identify the best talent for your team. In contrast, your HR department is in charge of myriad processes on top of recruitment — from workplace safety to corporate responsibility to compensation and benefits to training and development. Facing competing priorities, your internal team can spend only so much time finding a good project manager. Partnering with a boutique firm lets internal teams focus on their big-picture day-to-day work and leave specialized staffing practices to your vendor.

Hiring and recruitment are more than perfunctory business processes, especially when considering the costs of making the wrong hire. Some estimate that a failed hire could cost up to $240,000, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, you could spend up to 30% of that hire’s first-year wages just trying to replace them.

Broadly speaking, a staffing organization screens résumés, checks references, shortlists candidates, and schedules and conducts interviews so that you can focus on the growth of your business. But the right staffing organization can help you find a good project manager and, thus, improve the success of your project management by:

  • Screening for soft skills. In our data-obsessed world, it’s easy to emphasize hard skills because they’re easy to link to measurable results. But the best project managers can rally a team around a challenging project, resolve team conflict, and build trust in the process — and that requires soft skills. Approximately one-third of project management experts recognize that task-based skills and people skills are equally important traits of a successful project manager. Traditional staffing firms don’t have the subject matter expertise to provide expert judgment, ask the right interview questions, and assess how well a candidate will do in the role. It takes a firm specializing in project management to do that.
  • Deconstructing project management. Most of us have a general understanding of what a project manager does, but there are six distinct roles within project management: leadership, subject matter expertise, data analysis, scheduling, coordination, and administrative tasks. What makes a boutique agency like Project Assistants unique from others is its ability to help you get a handle on all six roles. They help you identify the gaps you currently have in your project management apparatus and find the right candidate to plug the holes.
  • Identifying candidates who match your culture. Culture is one of the most oft-discussed hiring considerations of the past decade — and for good reason. When Robert Half surveyed business leaders in 2018, 87% agreed that their most successful hires were assessed for culture fit. It makes sense: When you feel like you belong at a company, you’re more likely to stay longer. Cultural alignment is critical in project management because everyone must be working in unison to complete the project successfully. This quality is impossible to glean from a résumé. A boutique firm can foster a community of practice with an intimate knowledge of candidates’ leadership styles to see who will work best in your existing environment.
  • Setting the project manager up for success. The outcome of your project hinges on the effectiveness of your project manager, so it’s imperative to onboard a new project manager so they can acclimate in a timely manner. But did you know that it takes roughly eight months for a new employee to reach full productivity? That’s why we sometimes advise project managers to stretch the process out so they feel as prepared as possible to begin their role. In partnering with Project Assistants, you can better understand what kind of support you need to provide for your new hire to set them up for long-term success.

Boutique Staffing Agencies vs. Traditional Staffing Organizations

The staffing marketplace is larger, more advanced, and probably more diverse than you might realize. The industry has deep roots in the American labor market dating all the way back to the 1940s, but it has grown tremendously over the past decade with the rise of the contingent workforce. And all signs point to continued growth: According to the “U.S. Staffing Industry Forecast: September 2021 Update,” staffing revenue will increase by 16% in 2021 to reach a total of about $157 billion.

All that’s to say that picking the right staffing partner is of the utmost importance. When evaluating partners, you should start by deciding whether you want to work with a traditional staffing organization or a boutique staffing agency. One isn’t inherently superior to the other; it’s just a matter of what you need out of the partnership. Let’s run through some pros and cons.

Placing professionals in technical roles is a traditional firm’s bread and butter. Traditional firms have a broad spectrum of offerings, so clients use them as one-stop shops for all their hiring needs. Unfortunately, that’s also their drawback: Traditional firms usually lack specific expertise. Plus, they rarely identify a shortlist of good fits. Instead, they deliver a pile of résumés that fit the baseline requirements and leave it to your HR team to identify the real matches.

This might not be such a big deal when you’re looking for, say, software developers or graphic designers. However, it can pose problems when you’re looking for project managers because it’s hard to infer the most important skills and expertise from the résumé alone.

On the other hand, boutique staffing agencies are laser-focused on a specific market or methodology. At Project Assistants, for instance, we serve the project management market. Boutique agencies deliver value through specialization. They can help you pinpoint your specific hiring needs, work with you to craft more impactful job descriptions, and find a few bull’s-eye candidates to choose from.

A boutique staffing agency doesn’t cover everything, which can be a drawback when you need multiple positions. Additionally, boutique staffing agencies are often geographically limited. At Project Assistants, for instance, we don’t serve the European market. And because boutique staffing agencies are typically smaller in size, they won’t be able to serve as many clients as a traditional firm might.

The Traits of a Successful Project Manager

Whether you decide to hire a traditional firm or a boutique firm, it’s a good idea to fully understand a project manager’s key attributes. After all, you want this person to thrive long-term and help your business grow. Here are four skills that we continually look for throughout the process of project management staffing:

1. Leadership skills

We’ve touched on the value of soft skills in project management several times now, but it’s worth repeating. Strong project managers have not only mastered technical skills related to the process, frameworks, and discipline of project management, but they also possess a unique set of skills that help them lead their teams toward a shared goal. So when we think about what makes a project manager an effective leader, all roads lead to interpersonal skills.

As the modern workplace continues to trend toward diversity, we’ll see new team dynamics emerge. Project managers need to anticipate those dynamics and optimize team-wide communication to strengthen the team’s confidence and focus. As a result, they’ll keep projects on time and on budget while delivering extraordinary outcomes for your organization.

2. Negotiation skills

If you’ve ever worked on projects, you know that things will change no matter how much you plan ahead. So just as strong project managers act as team leaders, they also fulfill the role of intermediary, delegator, and even negotiator.

When a change of plans isn’t well-communicated, it can send your team into a frenzy and your project into a tailspin. With a stellar project manager at the controls, changes become like light turbulence. You want (and need) a project manager who can communicate bad news to unwelcome ears and convince those ears that the change is necessary and maybe even beneficial.

3. Analysis skills

A project might conclude on time and on budget, but it won’t be considered a real success if the results don’t meet stakeholders’ standards. As the project progresses, they need to continually analyze data to ensure those expectations fit into the project plan, review the results, and make necessary adjustments.

Along the way, the project manager will probably have to contend with competing requirements or office politics among stakeholders, which is where their negotiation skills will come in handy again. A project manager’s ability to analyze and balance all these competing interests can speak volumes in terms of their aptitude for the position.

Download our “Eliminating Project Failure” whitepaper.

4. Communication skills

Nothing can kill a project’s momentum quite like poor communication. The best project managers can mobilize a team’s collective talent via dynamic and effective communication to raise confidence, improve morale, and generate amazing returns. When asked to rank the top communication skills needed for successful project management, project managers across the globe named active listening, nonverbal communication, building relationships on trust and respect, and openness to feedback.

The Final Say

In our project-fueled business world, it’s hard to overstate the importance of finding a good project manager who can deliver sustainable business results. But companies don’t have to tackle that hefty task on their own. In fact, they might find it challenging to unearth the talent they need without the support of a project management staffing organization. If you want to learn more about how Project Assistants can help you augment your staff, contact us today. Not quite ready to chat? Read more about our staffing services here.

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