What separates the best project managers from the rest?


By guest blogger Brad Egeland.

There are good project managers and they likely succeed as often as most PM’s do. Then there are the great ones. They may not have a much higher success rate than the rest of the crowd, but something separates them from the pack. Something makes them different… makes their team listen more, follow more, remain engaged. Something that helps lead those frustrated customers through the trying times on the engagement. What is it?

Is it their success rate on projects? Probably not. Is it their ability to make senior management happy? No, probably not. Is it their ability to work wonders with project management software so that everyone knows everything at all times? Again, probably not. At least not in my opinion. How about their ability to rally their team members and make them better performers. Yes… that’s part of it. How about their ability to interact with and lead the customer and maintain a high confidence and satisfaction level from the customer throughout the engagement and beyond? Yes… I’m of the opinion that this one is critical because so many other things can be tied into it.

The greatest project manager in the world is going to still fail periodically on projects. There are too many things beyond the project manager’s and team members’ control that can affect project success to ever make that success a sure thing. So, if it’s not regular success that makes a good project leader great, then what is it?

In my opinion, it’s one or more of the following key qualities that separate the best from the rest in terms of project managers…

Confident leadership and decision making. The confident leader can lead a team and the customer while juggling other tasks and still make good decisions during crunch time for his projects and personnel. When you’re running multi-million dollar project implementations and you’re responsible for leadership of skilled resources being billed to your trusting customer at a rate that is well into three digits per hour, you must be a confident leader. You must exude confidence with every decision you make, every task you assign. That’s not to say you can’t ask for help. It’s not to say your team can’t help you review the project management software schedule and help you tweak it on a weekly basis as you revise everything and bring it up to date. A good leader doesn’t ‘go it alone.’ Rather, they strategically align themselves with individuals who can make them even better leaders and who they can have a positive influence on.

Excellent communication skills. I’ll stand by the communication role of the project leader till the day I die. I believe that it is the single biggest responsibility of the project manager and anyone else who leads on projects. Without effective and efficient project communication, too many things can go wrong quickly and the project budget becomes an issue, the project timeline becomes an issue, and customer satisfaction certainly becomes an issue. Alas, these are the three main determiners of project success. Without good communication from the top on down, your project is simply doomed to fail. If you’re not a good communicator, do not – I repeat, do NOT – try to lead projects. You’ve reached your Peter Principle already, there’s nowhere to go but down. You can be a wizard with your project management software, but that won’t help. You must be able to communicate well and often and efficiently… and effectively.

Great customer engagement and interfacing skills. Finally, and possibly almost as important as the communication factor, is the customer interface. The project manager or team member who remembers the customer is a priority and treats them as such is going to more often than not be deemed a great project resource. I’ve led failed projects where the customer has later tried to hire me for their organization. And I’ve led a project where the customer valued my business analyst so much that they were willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars more on the project through a change order to ensure that he worked onsite with them throughout the engagement. Customers recognize excellence even if things on the project don’t always go as planned.

Summary / call for input

There are lots of leadership qualities or personality qualities that could be pointed at as separating the great project managers from the good or mediocre project managers. These are just three of my top ones that I recognize in those project managers who seem to excel when others do not.

How about our readers? What are your thoughts on great project leadership qualities? What separates the best from the rest?


brad-egelandBrad Egeland is a consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. He is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s project management blog.



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