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This chapter is from the book

Qualities of Successful Project Managers

Given the many roles played by a project manager, the broad range of skills needed, and the inherent challenges in successfully delivering a project, we need to find ways to accelerate the learning process. Two key ways to accelerate our learning are understanding the qualities of successful project managers and understanding the common mistakes made by project managers.

Successful project managers do not share personality types, appearances, or sizes, but they do share three important features:

  1. They excel in at least two of the five key skill categories (Project Management Fundamentals, Business Management Skills, Technical Knowledge, Communication Skills, Leadership Skills) and are either good enough in the other categories or staff their teams to compensate for their deficiencies.

  2. They avoid the common mistakes described in the next section.

  3. They bring a mindset and approach to project management that is best characterized by one or more of the following qualities:

    • Takes ownership—Takes responsibility and accountability for the project; leads by example; brings energy and drive to the project; without this attitude, all the skills and techniques in the world will only get you so far.

    • Savvy—Understands people and the dynamics of the organization; navigates tricky politics; has the ability to quickly read and diffuse emotionally charged situations; thinks fast on his feet; builds relationships; leverages personal power for benefit of the project.

    • Intensity with a smile—Balances an assertive, resilient, tenacious, results-oriented focus with a style that makes people want to help; consistently follows up on everything and their resolutions without annoying everyone.

    • Eye of the storm—Demonstrates ability to be the calm eye of the project hurricane; high tolerance for ambiguity; takes the heat from key stakeholders (CxOs, business managers, and project team); exhibits a calm, confident aura when others are showing signs of issue or project stress.

    • Strong customer-service orientation—Demonstrates ability to see each stakeholder’s perspective; able to provide voice of all key stakeholders (especially the sponsor) to the project team; has strong facilitation and collaboration skills; and has excellent active listening skills.

    • People-focused—Takes a team-oriented approach; understands that methodology, process, and tools are important, but without quality people it’s very difficult to complete a project successfully.

    • Always keeps “eye on the ball”—Stays focused on the project goals and objectives. There are many ways to accomplish a given objective, which is especially important to remember when things don’t go as planned.

    • Controlled passion—Balances passion for completing the project objectives with a healthy detached perspective, which enables him to make better decisions, to continue to see all points of view, to better anticipate risks, and to better respond to project issues.

    • Healthy paranoia—Balances a confident, positive outlook with a realism that assumes nothing, constantly questions, and verifies everything.

    • Context understanding—Understands the context of the project—the priority that your project has among the organization’s portfolio of projects and how it aligns with the overall goals of the organization.

    • Looking for trouble—Constantly looking and listening for potential risks, issues, or obstacles; confronts doubt head-on; deals with disgruntled users right away; understands that most of these situations are opportunities and can be resolved upfront before they become full-scale crisis points.

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