7 Traits of Stellar Project Managers

Here at The Fast Track, many of us manage large projects on a regular basis.  No doubt this is one of the more complex and stressful aspects of our jobs, so I’ve asked some of the best PMs I know about the traits that are essential to their success.  According to my sources, great PMs:

Possess unofficial authority

Often, the best PMs do not have formal authority over those working on their teams.  Instead, their natural charisma and infectious enthusiasm motivates people to follow and listen to them, and helps them develop an organization-wide reputation as a popular leader.

Are networking stars

The best PMs understand who they need to go to to get things done, and they develop strong relationships with those individuals so that cross-functional projects run more smoothly.  Also, should the project run into a snag, great PMs can rely on their network to find and implement a workaround.

Communicate constantly

A project cannot succeed without a PM who seeks and listens to the advice of experienced partners, and then puts processes in place for soliciting feedback on a regular basis.  They are clear in what needs to be done, by whom, and by what deadline, and they intuitively understand the questions to ask to ensure a project is moving in the right direction.

Have an obsessive attention to detail

When you’re leading a large project with thousands of components, it’s easy for small but critical pieces to get lost in the shuffle.  The best PMs use technology and frequent team communication to keep track of these details so that red flags are dealt with immediately – before they become deal-breaking issues.

Understand the big picture

At the same time, though, talented PMs can pick the areas to focus on by always keeping the end result in mind.  They align the goals of the project with the overall goals of the organization, and if a project element doesn’t further the big picture or impact the project in a significant way, it can be tossed out or at least back-burnered in favor of more pressing concerns.

Have a thick skin

In order to be able to sustain a complicated effort that places stress on all parties, PMs must be able to let harsh criticism roll off them.  They are able to take the brunt of the fallout when a client or higher-up is upset about a delay, and put themselves in the line of fire if the project does not deliver in some way.  They keep their cool and view failures as intriguing challenges rather than soul-crushing setbacks.  They can make decisions quickly, without worrying about what every individual on the team is going to think.

Are amateur psychologists

Great PMs are able to read between the lines when team members aren’t getting along, or when someone is underperforming.  They are able to effectively manage the expectations of internal and external stakeholders by intuitively understanding what’s important to each person.  They speak to others empathetically – as fellow human beings – and diplomatically resolve conflicts when they occur.

What have I missed?  What other characteristics must a modern PM possess?








Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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  • http://www.askamanager.org Alison Green – Ask a Manager

    Alexandra, I love this post — and it would work really well as a job posting for this type of work too!  

    [Reply]

    Anonymous Reply:

    @Alison, thanks!  I think if people really took time with job descriptions, hiring would be a lot more successful.

    [Reply]

  • Khalid A Y

    Having a what-if scenarios! They should have plan B & C in case things go unexpectedly wrong!

    Risk management is the key!

    Thanks alevit for the excellent to the point post

    [Reply]

    Anonymous Reply:

    @Khalid:  Absolutely, great addition.  The ability to be two steps ahead is critical.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.pmhut.com/ PM Hut

    HI Alexandra,

    Your last point that project managers should be “amateur psychologists” reminded me of one very short article I have published back in the summer on why project managers should have a degree in psychology.The first point should be probably changed to “grab unofficial authority”, because grabbing is the only way to get authority if you don’t have it in the first place. I’m not sure if project managers really need to be networking stars…

    [Reply]

    Anonymous Reply:

    @PM:  Interesting perspective.  I still struggle with grabbing unofficial authority despite an actual degree in psychology.  I think it’s an art.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.pmhut.com/ PM Hut

    HI Alexandra,

    Your last point that project managers should be “amateur psychologists” reminded me of one very short article I have published back in the summer on why project managers should have a degree in psychology.The first point should be probably changed to “grab unofficial authority”, because grabbing is the only way to get authority if you don’t have it in the first place. I’m not sure if project managers really need to be networking stars…

    [Reply]

  • Emly_dcrl

    theses are very informative aspects of business management my only concern is the overall marketing strageties that will have to be implemented in order to be extremely informative and organized to reach your target market!

    [Reply]

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