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The Successful Project Manager

February 11 2010

Let’s assume that you are a hiring manager, you have a Project Management Methodology in place in your organization, and you’re looking to hire one or more project managers to staff the PMO.  What characteristics do you look for?  What criteria do you have for success in a project manager?

Is it PMP certification?  That’s a start, but it’s really only a measurement of success on a test and documentation of some experience and training.  It’s not a measurement of how someone has really performed managing a team, a customer, and a project.  So what do you look for?  There’s really no crystal ball, so you have to go with a few characteristics – none of which can really be verified in a normal job interview.

Let’s look at what I consider to be a few characteristics of a successful project manager:

– Effective communicator.  Communication may be the single most effective tool that the project manager has at his disposal.  Depending on the organization’s project management practices, there are some formal communication paths that have to happen – often laid out in a formal Communication Plan for the customer.  Status meetings, status reports, delivery of revised project schedules, etc.  But just as important are the informal communication methods – adhoc calls with the team and customer, emails, instant messaging, in-person discussions.  Effective and thorough communication is a must for the project manager to keep his team and customer up-to-date on what’s happening on the project.
– Organized manager.  The Project Manager must be organized.  The team and the customer need to be able to count on the project manager to provide the regular updates and deliverables that enable both sides to stay on track during the engagement.  A disorganized project manager will have a very hard time managing a project schedule and budget and keeping things moving forward productively.
– Confident leader.  Confidence is important for the project manager.  Leading skilled resources isn’t always easy, and if you’re always questioning your own abilities, you won’t be able to confidently lead others.  Project management is all about leadership.  ‘Fake it till you make it’ if you have to, but remain confident and in charge.  The team WILL follow.
– Good listener.  Your team and customer are important – and so is what they say.  Listen effectively during both formal and informal communication opportunities because key status information is relayed during those times.  Stay on top so your team knows you’re paying attention.
– Strategic problem solver.  Problems always arise – know how to react in critical situations.  Remain calm and have a few go-to contacts within the organization.  Don’t be afraid to look for help from your team and outside resources, but above all remain confident and in charge.

These are just a few characteristics – there are many others that likely go into the makings of a good project manager.  Look at what you consider to be your strengths and see if you think those strengths help to make you a more effective manager of project resources.  And keep working on the areas that you think are lacking….we all have room for improvement.