6 traits of highly effective project managers
Updated: May 13
To be a truly great project manager, you must be a strategic business partner fully vested in organizational success — and be able to roll with inevitable setbacks. Here’s how to stand out from the crowd.
Every project manager knows to execute projects on time and on budget. And good project managers also take pains to consistently meet project requirements. But truly great project leaders go above and beyond. Not only do they execute projects within scope, but they are also accountable, strategic business partners fully vested in organizational success.
Be a strategic business partner
Project managers who can offer higher-level strategic leadership skills, not just technical management skills, provide significant advantages for organizations of all sizes. These days, there are far more factors, both internal and external, that can negatively impact projects of all types. Such factors include triple bottom line (economic, ecological, and social outcomes), legal and legislative restrictions, remote project issues, and international and cultural factors, among others. Factors such as these create additional complexities that a project manager must contend with, and if you don’t have a strong understanding of how your project fits within the overall company-wide strategic goals, you greatly hamper your chances of delivering effective outcomes. Executive Project Management Offices (EPMOs) focus on this connection and help to increase project, program, and portfolio success rates.
Encourage and recognize valuable contributions
The success, or failure, of a project, doesn’t fall on the shoulders of one person. A project leader’s effectiveness is strongly impacted by the contributions of others on his or her team. Highly effective project managers share credit for work well done and encourage all members to participate and contribute at their highest levels. Rather than try to be a jack of all trades, leverage the knowledge and skills of others on the team. This simple but effective tactic will greatly increase the likelihood of achieving goals.
Respect and motivate stakeholders
Highly effective project managers believe in the work they do, and they are fully vested in seeing a project from initiation to close. This mindset helps achieve the best results throughout the project. Be completely involved in all professional aspects of the project, its activities, and its people. Avoid overextending yourself if you want to maintain professional integrity and stakeholder satisfaction. John Paul Engel, president of Knowledge Capital Consulting, says engagement, resilience, and the ability to maintain a high level of both client and team satisfaction are the keys to generating results.
Stress integrity and accountability
Not everything on a project will go as planned. Mistakes are to be expected, but it’s important to always accept when you are wrong and to learn from your mistakes. Being accountable for your decisions and actions is vital, and sends a strong message to the rest of the team. Paul Dillon, the founder of Dillon Consulting Services LLC, agrees: “Integrity, decisiveness, good judgment, the ability to form a vision and execute it, confidence in your own competence” are hallmarks of highly effective project managers. “Without the ability to be selfless, to put the needs and wants of others before your own, you will never get people to ‘follow you to a place where they wouldn't go to by themselves,’” Dillon says, quoting Joel A. Barker. “And that is why most people fail in leadership positions, I think, or can't do it at all.”
Work in the gray
All of the previously mentioned attributes speak for themselves, but what truly sets a project manager apart is his or her ability to work in the gray. This is a must-have skill since the majority of projects, regardless of type, industry, size, or complexity, will have gray areas you will need to navigate at some point. Issues with external constraints and complexities, remote project limitations, conflict and ambiguity — these and other uncertainties will almost certainly be encountered. Joyce Wilson-Sanford, an executive coach, consultant, and writer at JWS Consulting andRead Joyce, says the ability to approach change in an organization, to see when a project is in trouble or can cause trouble, and to not get rattled by delay or crisis or budget cuts is key. Project managers with high technical and high people skills are a tough combination to find, she says. And when you combine those with the ability to work in the gray, you are a very effective project manager indeed.