Traits of a Successful Project Manager

Project Managers can come in all shapes, sizes and walks of life, but there are traits which they all have in common. These traits are what set them apart from their counterparts. There is a value to good habits which is often overlooked. They take helpful behaviour and move it towards being automatic. When good habits are automatic, they are just followed, almost without thinking. And that frees up attention to focus on the other important details on the task list. So, habits amplify effectiveness and, therefore, how successful project management practices are developed.

There are essential habits a successful project manager must have, without them, then failure is imminent, they are ability to follow the project process and acting with complete integrity. Following process speaks for itself, but integrity, the ability to speak honestly and dealing fairly with people seems obvious but is lost to some. It is also portrayed as a sign of weakness, when in actual fact it takes strength, because it can be easy to not pursue uneasy situations. The habit should be to only take actions that represent absolute integrity, and not to consider whether or not to pursue them, and this in itself is no easy matter to assess.

Focusing on several other constructive habits, and making them an extension of being a project manager can assist and possibly enhance the long term ambition of career success.

Being prepared for a shift, it will happen so trying not to be annoyed by it is a defiant trait. Set the mind to thinking it terms of risk. See the possibility of failure in every part of the plan. It’s too easy to study a plan and see the risks as variances to the plan.

Traits of a successful project manager

Successful project managers have two traits that complement one another:

  1. Looking for problems and planning how they will deal with them.
  2. Constantly working their risk register. They review outstanding risks on a regular cycle and push constantly for progress.

The ability to listen, people can make projects tricky. Stakeholders have the capacity to make or break projects. So, communicating with them must be right at the top of a priority list. It has been stated that project management is 80 percent communication.

That communication splits three ways, and not evenly. Some goes to the governance tiers, being the boss, client or sponsor, and some go to the team and colleagues. However, most of the communication will be with stakeholders via informing, consulting, cajoling, persuading and so much more. The one trait that makes all this easier, that wins their respect, and feeds insight is simple: always be listening.

Projects are big, complex endeavours with lots of moving parts. They can drain away energy. Time is precious so prioritizing and focus is order of the day. But there is one thing that a project manager craves above all else: control. That is the job of a project manager: to bring control to the messy, chaotic, uncertain, changing environment that is a project. Every project should be treated as though it is unique with its own priorities and points of impact.

For each project, find the one or two levers that provide maximum control over the project. Make them the focus of monitoring and control. When the right levers are understood, and learnt how to work them, everything else will fall into place.

No project manager will be truly successful until they learn to delegate effectively. It confers so many benefits that it should be the standard solution for getting things done. The ability to delegate not only frees up the PM time to focus on other aspects of the project, it also instils trust in the team. Delegation is a premium tool for developing people, not by just benefiting them. It builds resilience into projects and therefore mitigates some substantial risks.

Understand, unless it’s a small project, where the PM is also the team, then the project manager will not be delivering the project, the team does. In the context of project delivery, the job is quite simple. Make it as easy as possible for them to do their jobs.

So, forget about stale stereotypes of being the boss. The trait here is to get into making the coffee for the team because the role here is to serve the team, to provide them with the resources they need, to thrive and succeed. They should be shielded from the corporate meddling that constantly frustrates day-to-day efforts to get on with work.

Excellent projects often benefit from excellent governance, the ability to provide high quality detail in a succinct format. The project manager should not be afraid to constantly be questioning, challenging, and looking for new evidence. Avoid confirmation bias by preparing project reports from the bottom up. Project reporting tools can really come in handy here. Start with raw data every time, rather than gathering data to illustrate main points. Seek out wise counsel, and test ideas with experienced and senior colleagues.

Finally it is important to evolve and keep learning, successful professionals evolve faster than other people because they have an “always learning” mindset.

  1. Invest in knowledge, learning and skill set.
    Read books. Go to events. Take courses. Lifelong learning is the surest route to flexible career options, fulfilment and even good mental health.
  2. Review experiences.
    The people whom others most consistently rate as being wise, the people whose opinions are sort out and valued, they have one trait in common. They make time to reflect on their experience. Often, they keep a journal. They record their thought processes, their choices, their reasons, and their actions. And they also reflect on how things turned out, looking for patterns and lessons to learn.

To assist in developing good traits, the best project management tools should be used. has access to powerful online project management software that helps with everything from project planning to scheduling to stakeholder management. Take one of the available free 30-day trials and put those good habits to use!

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