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3 Traits of Great Project Managers

Flying Duck

Obviously one must have technical project management capabilities, but that is NOT enough to be a GREAT project manager. To be called upon to lead the most important projects, one must also have backbone, leadership skills and the ability to think broadly as well as in detail.

1. Backbone – You have to be willing to take on a tough project and tell the TRUTH to people who may not want to hear it; people who are powerful and who influence your career and income.

2. Leadership – This covers a lot, including timely decision-making under pressure. Your team members need to know that you have their back and you will stand up and say “they did a great job” when things are going well and “it is my fault” when something goes wrong. See also BACKBONE.

3. Broad and detailed thinking (the PMO Executive Council calls this "seeing the forest AND the trees") - There are some people who can think “big picture” and strategically but have no tolerance for details. There are many people who can think in details but easily lose sight of the big picture. There are fewer people who can create a big picture that everyone can rally around as well as break that picture down into all of its pixels and then lead the effort to build it one pixel at a time. See also LEADERSHIP.

Note that none of these can really be tested in a multiple-choice exam. They often come as part of someone's "chemical make-up" or DNA. This idea sometimes upsets people.

Once I was working with a wonderful client in China, and when we discussed #3, he laughed. He said, “There is a Chinese Proverb for that. Eagles are management. They live high in the sky and only swoop down when it suits them, causing a lot of panic on the ground. The land-based animals can never see the forest and certainly never know what the full landscape looks like from above. And then, there are ducks. What you’re saying is, project managers are those very few special creatures who can waddle on land, fly high in the air and even swim when needed.”

Indeed, great project managers are very special creatures with a special set of skills. This is why, despite my PMP designation, when I am hiring Project Managers, I look for evidence of these characteristics as well as clear expertise in the use of solid project management practices. And as a Manager of Project Managers, it is important to support and nurture these elements. If you do that, your team of Project Managers will be well on the way to being a GREAT success!

Need to develop your project management talent? Contact us and ask about our mini-course called "What does it take to be a great project manager?"


About the Author: Dawn Mahan, PMP, is Founder & CEO of PMOtraining, LLC., enjoys Chinese Proverbs and helping project managers to harness their inner ducks (and tigers).

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