Project Management Professional (PMP)® Articles - Great Project Manager

10 Things That Make a Good Project Manager Great

By Christopher Scordo PMP, ITIL

When it comes to being a leader, it takes a special set of skills to take charge and manage a group of people. Leaders need to get the best out of their team, no matter how grouchy, difficult or different they all are from each other. The same concept applies to project management.

As project managers, there are characteristics which make good project managers great. In fact, the Employment Status Indicator (ESI) of the United Kingdom managed to compile a list of responses from different sources to establish a rough list of attributes that make for a great project manager; and below are the top 10.

1. Great Project Managers Inspire a Shared Team Vision While it may be common sense to most - for a project to work, everybody needs to have the same vision for where exactly the project is going. Great project managers help all team members feel like they have an equal stake in a project, and empower everyone to share and experience the group's vision. Warren Bennis, the pioneer of Leadership studies, said about this type of visionary leader: "They offer people opportunities to create their own vision, to explore what the vision will mean to their jobs and lives, and to envision their future as part of the vision for the organization." While this might be heavy for your average corporate project, the foundation is solid: when team members share a similar vision, they feel vested to deliver their best.

2. Great Project Managers have Great Communication Skills As a project manager, communicating with different types of stakeholders can be tricky at times. When it comes to communicating with clients versus team members versus corporate leadership, it can become downright difficult. Project managers need to clearly communicate goals, performance, and expectations; and they need to manage feedback coming at them from all directions. Being accessible, open, and direct is critical for being a good communicator. Further, having the ability to persuade team members to do certain tasks a bit differently, or work overtime when necessary, is equally as important. Overall, a project manager’s overall effectiveness is often realized by the ability to communicate effectively.

3. Great Project Managers have Integrity A project manager's actions set the modus operandi for the team. Good leadership requires commitment and adherence to ethical practices. Yes, projects must be profitable; and yes, there are many ways to ensure project managers take their corporate interests into account while serving the client. However, great project managers abide by ethical standards and rewarding those team members who follow suit is part of the responsibility of the job. Project management should never be motivated by self-interest; rather it is the interest of the project’s success that matters most.

4. Great Project Managers are Enthusiastic Negative leaders can be a real pitfall to the success of a project and the overall effectiveness of a team. Great project managers have a bounce in their step and a can-do attitude that sets the pace for their entire team. Having good energy (without being annoying) is critical to setting a positive example and demeanor for the team. Project managers who are positively committed to goals - even when things go wrong - will help inspire others to not become negative when the project hits a delay or snag.

5. Great Project Managers show Empathy, Not Sympathy Empathy and sympathy are two different things. Sympathy is usually projected, while empathy means truly understanding how the other person feels, especially when it comes to things which involves a life outside of work. Sometimes empathy needs to be shown towards team members who are struggling to cope because of whatever outside influences might be affecting their work. As such, a strong project manager will empathize with the team member’s issues without showing remorse (where appropriate). Doing so ensures team members can remain productive on the project, without exacerbating any personal issues they may be going through.

6. Great Project Managers are viewed as Competent in the Subject Matter of the Project Team members need to feel like their project manager has some degree of expertise in the project’s subject matter. As such, project leaders should have the ability to lead their team with technical expertise if the project so requires it. This does not necessarily mean a project manager on a software development project needs the ability to open Visual Studio and begin coding in C-Sharp; however it does mean that the project manager understands the implications of different technical challenges and opportunities. Leaders who are seen as competent by their peers have the ability to inspire, enable and encourage.

7. Great Project Managers are Great at Delegating Tasks Trust is a huge part of effective project management; and how much project managers trust their team is often shown through how much responsibility they are willing to delegate. Great project managers understand the degree of oversight each team member requires for a given set of tasks. Assigning the right tasks to the right people and trusting them to leverage the best of their abilities is a key characteristic of a great project manager. Assigning the right amount of tasks so that team members are not overwhelmed is equally important.

8. Great Project Managers Stay Cool Under Pressure In a perfect world, every project would complete on time, on budget, and on scope. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. When the going gets tough, good project managers get going on keeping things calm. Warrant Bennis (mentioned earlier) stated: "Out of the uncertainty and chaos of change, leaders rise up and articulate a new image of the future that pulls the project together." In short, the more the project managers visibly “stress out”, the more the team and client will stress out as well. Great project managers stay cool under pressure.

9. Great Project Managers Promote Team Building For a team to move forward from a group of strangers to a well-oiled unit, a project manager must understand process dynamics. He or she must go through each phase of team development - even when conflict crops up - and get the team to put differences aside and focus on the common goal. Let’s face it: most of the people on your team did not choose to work together, and would probably not voluntarily spend time with each other outside of work. Great project managers foster a sense of unity on the team, across personal dynamics.

10. Great Project Managers Know How to Solve Problems Great project managers solve problems by sharing the responsibility with the experts on their team. Similar to item #6 above regarding competence, even a great project manager will not have the solution to every issue that arises; it’s just not possible. However, great project managers will understand how to set a path towards the solution. This means leveraging the knowledge of those team members and stakeholders who have the expert knowledge to assist; and setting a plan to solve tough problems by harnessing that team experience.

Being a great project manager is not easy – it takes a very special person to navigate the complex tapestry that goes with managing a project, and making a success of it. Most of the above-mentioned characteristics tie in with each other; and if good project manager displays one or two of these attributes then chances are they can work towards being great.