Basically, I’m just thinking out loud here though I do indeed have an opinion, and I’ll eventually get to that. But the question I’m posing is this…are project managers born or trained? Are we born with the inherent leadership traits that make us good project managers, or do we learn these along the way? And what are these leadership traits? What makes a project manager a good project manager – or even equipped to think about becoming a project manager at all?
I would be very interested in hearing what our readers consider to be the key traits of a good project manager. For me, there are three that specifically come to mind….
Ability to make unwavering decisions
This is a tough one because out of the gate as a new project manager it’s next to impossible to make those tough decisions and stand by them when you know you might be wrong. The key always is to rely as much as possible on your experienced team to help you with those decisions and any key stakeholders who are available to discuss options with. The project manager that always acts like an island is bound to make a terrible decision – a career defining…or ending…terrible decision and isn’t likely to be in the profession long.
You’ve surrounded yourself with good resources…use them whenever possible. But once you’ve made the major decision for the project, that’s when you need to stand by the decision and move forward in what you believe is the right direction for the project, the team, and the customer. You may be in the category of ‘fake it till you make it’ but you need to exude leadership and you start by making the tough choices and hard decisions and moving forward.
Ability to keep key resources engaged and focused
A key leadership quality of a project manager is the ability to take diverse resources and mold them into a cohesive, collaborative unit. And it’s critical that you figure out a way to keep them engaged on the project and focused on those tasks you’ve assigned to them. Certainly they have other work to do and likely may have other projects they are assigned to. But as the project manager for THIS project, it is your job to make sure they are accountable to the tasks you’ve assigned them and the work they need to complete. How you do that is up to you and the creativity and leadership you bring to the project. For me it’s meeting with them regularly to discuss their tasks so they know they’re being held accountable, and I also make sure they have to get in front of the customer to give progress reports so they know their actions and efforts will be highly visible on the project. I can’t say I’ve ever had a problem with resources not being focused and accountable as long as I’ve expected this level of accountability from them.
Ability to communicate effectively and efficiently
Finally, the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently on the project is a key trait for the project leader on an engagement. In fact, it’s a critical aspect of being able to effectively perform the first two roles above. The project manager who can’t effectively communicate expectations, status, responsibilities, and decisions on the project to the team, the customer and his senior management is doomed to fail in his profession. In my opinion, there is no greater PM trait than this one. This is the building block for the effective and productive project manager.
I’m going to state right now that I don’t think there is any way we are ‘born’ to be project managers. I certainly think there are traits about ourselves that make us better or worse candidates to be project managers than the next person down the line. That is certainly true. But are those born traits or learned traits? I think we are more a product of our environment and upbringing and experiences (including birth order, etc.) than anything else. And I’m always happy to engage the other side of the discussion, so please feel free to tell me I’m wrong. I think that the traits needed to become a good project manager are shaped along the way and knowingly or unknowingly guide us toward the PM profession or toward the situations that land us in these key leadership roles.
Thoughts? Please join in the discussion.