Characteristics of Great Project Managers


In his comment to my previous post, Babu said, “unqualified project managers quickly sink a project which would've otherwise fared better.” (Keith, I'll respond to your next comment in another post.) I've had the pleasure of meeting great project managers, and some not-so-great project managers. Here's my list of necessary skills for great project managers:

Non-technical qualities, preferences, skills

  • Listening skills. See Hal's last e-tip.
  • Negotiation skills. PMs need to ask for resources, trade resources and information…
  • Writing skills. PMs need to be able to write down a plan, so that everyone understands the plan and the tradeoffs
  • Oriented towards a goal. PMs need to be able to finish a project and keep people focused on the goal
  • Interested in the people who work on the project. The PM doesn't have to be everyone's friend, but the PM has to be able to see when people are struggling, when something isn't working, as well as when things are working
  • Able to manage ambiguity — to live with the ambiguity and make decisions. So far, every project I've managed, not just the software projects, has had periods of ambiguity.
  • Able to manage the details. Even if the PM isn't a detail person, the PM has to find a way to manage the details.
  • Ability to steer the project — to observe the current state, note what's different from where you want the project to be, and the ability to guide the project to the new state

Technical Skills: Functional skills

  • Understand different lifecycles, and which one(s) is most appropriate to this project
  • Project scheduling
  • Task estimation
  • Risk management
  • How to deal with configuration management. Hmm, that may be too software-specific. Maybe in more general terms this means dealing with assets, earned value.
  • Extracting data from the various tools to see where the project is

Other Technical Skills

  • PMs don't need to know the details of both the problem to be solved by the project, or how the problem is solved, but without one or the other — some form of domain knowledge — the PM doesn't know enough to make good project decisions.
  • Either knowledge of a project scheduling tool or an assistant who knows how to use the specific project scheduling tool.

As you can tell, I believe the non-technical, not-easily-assessible skills are most important. And, they're the ones no certification test can adequately examine.

If you have other suggestions for this list, or modifications, please comment or send me email and let me know.

2 Replies to “Characteristics of Great Project Managers”

  1. Regarding “Characteristics of Great Project Managers”, there’s another thing there, but I’m not sure how to phrase it. For lack of a better description, call it ‘the knack for facilitating conflict resolution’. Some people are fundamentally unable to resolve certain types of conflicts, especially those that involve giving something up; like sacrificing feature A to keep delivery date B. Good PMs facilitate this process. This is more than negotiation; I’m talking about the ability to help resolve the conflict where one party does not wish to condede something, and is only interested in getting the other parties to acquiesce.

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