The Five Faces of a Great Project Manager

People often ask me what makes an outstanding project manager. Based on my experience hiring project managers and project directors, and watching some succeed and others struggle, I believe a great manager is:

  1. An adjustment artist.Openness to change is sign of effectiveness, not weakness. It is adaptability to the world around us. Large projects are complex and surprises often arise. If you can’t shift course on the fly, you may head right into trouble.
    The top project managers constantly weigh alternatives as they choreograph the moving parts. They keep at least two Plan B’s on hand at all times.
  2. A skilled communicator. Project managers work with all sorts of people, including polar opposites who haven’t collaborated before. Good ones are objective and understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses. They listen. They are clear and don’t dribble out information on a “need to know” basis. They:

    a. Talk to the development team directly, not just the project plan.
    b. Interface effectively with the larger organization to meet its needs.

    The great project manager brings out each team member’s strengths and works tactfully with difficult individuals.
  3. A keen problem-solver.That’s all project execution is — solving one problem after another. The manager works with others to bring out effective solutions, gives everyone a 360-degree view, and helps prevent bad side effects.
    The top project managers ask the hard questions and dig for answers. They question proposed issues and challenge the solutions.
  4. An experienced hand.No two projects are the same and there’s no better way to learn the pitfalls and nuances of project management than by doing it.
    The best project managers have lived through successful and failed projects, analyzed each one, and added insights to their toolkits to help with future challenges.
  5. A visionary of the parts and whole.Good project managers see the pieces and how they come together. They grasp the essence of the project — its role in the organization’s strategy — and use it as an ongoing frame of reference. They keep the big picture in mind while carrying out the day-to-day tasks.
    A great project manager continually aligns the strategy with the vision and monitors ongoing objectives for any impact on the original picture.

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