What Makes a Good Project Manager?

A recent LinkedIn discussion asked the question:

What type of PM are You?

Have noticed quite a few discussions here related to PM attitude and attributes. Am amazed a discussion on arrogance has so many comments, majority are thoughtful and insightful.
Soft skills vs hard, arrogant vs humble, personnel motivated vs personal…. etc. Is this more about who we believe we are vs how others perceive us or a quest for better awareness?
History, experience, family, culture and environment all contribute to your style, approach, manner. Heard someone say once “if it takes more then 5 things to describe something, you may not really know what “it” is”.
So am asking, what 5 characteristics make YOU a good or great PM?
Please, response is not about what characteristics make A good or great PM or a good person but what make You a good or great PM operating in a project environment, today.


I thought I was somewhat flippant in my response, which was:

If I look back on my career there are moments or comments that seem to reflect how I present to others which probably more truly reflect me as a manager than I might perceive myself to be. However, I guess because these things resonate with me they probably reflect how I would like to be perceived.

Early on I was a ‘Doesn’t take fools lightly” and ‘Goes where Angels fear to tread” type. I’m not sure those were necessarily good PM attributes, but success seemed to indicate otherwise.

Later I was told, by a Contractor in a large team of mine “I don’t like you as a person, but I respect the way to manage your people.” That one took a little while to digest.

Even more recently I’ve been told, by people who have worked for me, that they have successfully used my style themselves. When asked what that was it usually turned out to be ‘you were always a hard bastard, but you were always there for us”.

So, what do I think are the five characteristics ? To me its pretty simple:
1. Trust your Team.
2. Trust Yourself.
3. Communicate with all external stakeholders – not matter how you feel about them.
4. Worry, continually, about what you don’t know – risks and issues – document in detail.
5. Leave your ego at the door.


But it is actually a very reasonable question, which is probably quite difficult to answer. I have been a Project Manager (PM) in the IT industry for longer than I would like to admit. Have I been a good one? Well, how do you actually measure that? Was I always on time and on budget? Did I deliver the required functionality to my business stakeholders? Was my team happy working for me? Was I happy with what I achieved? Was I even the PM for the entire life of the project? Could I actually call the end result my own?

Even after all these years I am still not sure what Project Management really is, let alone what a good PM really is!

Yes it’s about managing, it’s about delivery and its about people. But what really makes a good PM?

I have been involved in probably 5 projects from start to finish in the last 40 years. In other words I have been there from go to whoa and can rightly claim each as my project. But then again, I have probably been PM on another 40 projects at various times; started them, arrived at some point in the cycle, and on too many arrived late and asked to make a current failure a success.

Some of my comments in my response to the LinkedIn discussion may actually be more correct than I thought, now that I think about it. If I am a Manager shouldn’t my team members trust me, have faith in me, see me as a person willing to back their judgement? After all I can’t do all their jobs, at some point I have to give them trust.

If I don’t trust myself, then who do I trust? Do I go to work continually worried about what pressures I will be faced with? Or do I imbibe myself with a belief that I am actually in control, that  I understand the issues, that I have accounted for the risks, that I have spent the time to put down the things that concern me about project complexity, the unknowns, the personal stakeholder issues that face me?

And then do I really leave my ego at the door? Am I actually prepared to ‘suck it up’, or will I ‘stand firm’. How much of me will I be willing to let go to ensure the success of others? What is more important, at the personal level, the ‘well done’ tick of Management or the same tick from the project team. And are each mutually exclusive? Can you deliver both? Well you can, but only in very special circumstances.

It’s a good question and after 40 years on the job I’m still thinking about it.



One Comment Add yours

  1. Hi John,

    I think what really makes a good project manager is good organizational skills – in everything. Trusting your team and trusting yourself are just slogans – what’s really important is “Am I organized or not?”

    PS: You might be interested in this post, good vs. bad project managers: http://www.pmhut.com/good-vs-bad-project-managers

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