Characteristics of a Project Manager – Part 1

Posted by Brad Egeland

What makes a Project Manager a good Project Manager?  Employers struggle with this question a lot, I’m sure.  They struggle with it when they’re creating a Project Management Office (PMO) and the accompanying policies, procedures and processes.  They struggle with it when their Human Resources department is putting together job postings.  They struggle with it when they’re interviewing candidates and I’m sure they struggle with it the most when they weigh the candidates and try to come up with the one that they decide should become part of their organization. 

On the flipside, as Project Managers – or for some, aspiring Project Managers – we also struggle with this concept as we try to analyze our own characteristics to see if we have what it takes to be a Project Manager.  Do we have what it takes to organize and lead a diverse team on a successful implementation?  What is it that makes a good Project Manager tick?  What qualities allow someone to lead a group of talented individuals and organize their efforts to arrive at a successful solution?  I’ll give you my take – in no particular order, but I’m very open to your input as I know this is not a definitive list and is really longer than 5 or 10…it’s probably more like 100. 

Good Organizer

As a Project Manager you’re trying to contain a talented group of anywhere from 2 to 50 team members, keep the project budget in order and up-to-date, create an accurate status report, and schedule meetings throughout the week.  None of this is possible without a decent amount of organization skills.  Oddly enough, in my daily life at home, organization skills are not my strong point.  Just ask my wife.  But in terms of Project Management, I tend to thrive on the need to keep all of these activities together, stay on task and keep a project team moving forward.

As a Project Manager, you may be running 4-5 projects at a time.  As I’ve discussed in previous articles, the formal communication alone on each project should involve a weekly team meeting, weekly Status Meeting with the customer, and a weekly Status Report to team members and the customer.  If a PM is running 5 projects, that’s 15 formal communication points to coordinate.  The informal communication that happens on a project in the form of emails, phone calls and impromptu or emergency meetings with team members and the customer can add a nearly infinite amount of additional communication points to coordinate.

Excellent Communicator

I was once told by one of my Business Analysts on a project that he gets more emails from me than another other Project Manager he’s ever worked with.  I definitely took that as a compliment because one of my biggest fears as a PM is that with so much communication happening between team members and between vendor and client I might miss communicating a critical piece of information.

The Project Manager is the central information repository for both project teams and many times the timeliness and thoroughness of his or her communication can be critical to the success of the current tasks and the project as a whole.


During an implementation, there may be time on your project when you have to play the role of negotiator.  The most obvious time is when scope changes arise.  Immediately, the Project Manager is thrown into the role of negotiator as he or she has to put together an estimate with the help of his team and present that package to the customer and ‘sell’ them on the additional work that is required.  Sometimes this is a tough sell to a customer who may believe that the work is really within the original scope of the project.

The Project Manager must have the confidence and initiative to stand firm on scope issues as well as the ability to have the 1,000-foot view of the project in order to see possible negotiation points in case the ‘sell’ is harder than anticipated.  For example, the PM needs to be ready to offer a phased approach to a project implementation if that is needed to negotiate a scope issue.  A phased implementation involving moving a portion of the project to a later timeframe or phase may save the project timeline and make the customer happy even though they have to pay for the additional effort.

Up Next…

These are just three characteristics of many.  Next I will discuss Leadership, Listening, and Connection within the Organization.  Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts on this subject.

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13 Comments to “Characteristics of a Project Manager – Part 1”

  • This is an excellent posting on a topic that all PMs seem to struggle with from time to time. I’d like to share my list of PM attributes with you.

    My list was collected as part of a greater research project to better understand what is takes to successfully manage a large IT project. I wanted to answer questions regarding how much formality is used when selecting a PM and identify the characteristics that are brought into the selection decision. It is comforting to note that there is great overlap between the list above and what I found. I ranked my list based on the number of responses and found Communication Skills of the PM candidate to be the most important criterion. For those interested, my list appears in the Feb 4, 2009 posting at Management House (

  • A few more posts from – blog post url, and the comments:

    Comment by Saurabh Saxena 1 hour ago
    Great article. I agree with most of your points. Few things i want to add here.
    1) Trust Worthy – Now a days with projects getting more and more complex, it is very important for a good project manager to understand the subject really well. This also helps in gaining the team trust and providing good suggesstions when there are road blocks.
    2) Good People Manager – It’s imperative for a good project manager to be a good people manager first. Team is the one who actually builds the project and having a highly motivated team requires excellent skills in people management.

    Comment by Kevin Holden 1 hour ago
    I agree…again with most of what you wrote. Organisational skills, People Managing skills (including negotiating), and communication (including listening! often forgotten! I am looking forward to part 2) are for me the 3 key points and skills any project manager must have. Without these, he or she will never become a highly successful PM.

    I do however want to differentiate between “thorough and timely communication” and “information overload”. In today’s office with cell phones & e-mail and the blackberry to combine both and make them universally available, the today’s manager and project member is confronted with Information overload (to the point of spaming). Which mail do I read? which one do I answer? which can I delete? Not all our employees are as organised as we are (or we should be).

    I dont want to detract from the compliment that your project memeber made to you about your communication. There are too few PMs or people out there in general who know how to share information correctly. But we need to organise our communication (e-mails) to our project members as much as we do to our project sponsors. Regular, scheduled highlight reports (daily) to the team are often more effective than the multiple 2 liner e-mails. The team knows they are coming, they schedule time (5 Minutes) to read it and sort the information into their daily task lists.

    We will never get rid of the sending single e-mails with pointed and important information immediately when available…nor should we. They are an essential tool. I simply suggest that by limitinig the quantity (not quality) of our “information shots” at our project members, the communication is more effective and the project team is more efficient.

  • Hello Brad – I already left a comment at the PPNMG page but wanted to leave one here as you were kind enough to leave one at my blog.

    Your three part series, now complete, is an excellent resource for project managers and one worthy of printing and sharing with colleagues as a discussion starter for what key characteristics a PM needs to develop. Thanks for sharing!

  • [...] Brad Egeland: Characteristics of a Project Manager [...]

  • Project management certification and accreditation is determined by the passing of two exams. The Foundation exam is a multiple-choice test that lasts for up to one hour. The Practitioner test is a bit more complex, mixing in objective testing with multiple-choice questions, and clocking in at approximately three hours.

  • [...] my article “The Characteristics of the Project Manager,” I began what ended up being a five-part series and still probably needs a final summary article [...]

  • [...] The Characteristics of a Project Manager (that evolved into several parts) [...]

  • My boss has offered me a position as a project manager for an HVAC company. Although I never finished school I am very familiar with construction job sites as I have worked in the trade for the last two years. I am still learning but for the time that I have been in the trade I know as much as others who have been doing it for over 10 years which they have told me. I am a quick learner, research everything that deals with HVAC and do plan on going back to school. My question is should I even try to apply for this position even though I don’t have a degree? I know deep inside I can do it, but I feel that maybe I may not be as qualified as someone else who went to school. I am a fast learner and I love what I do. Im good with computers and totally an organizing freak. Can anyone give me advice on whether or not I should finish my education or just go ahead and throw myself and see what happens???

  • Eddie-

    Thanks for reading and commenting. Here’s my take on your situation. In this economy, if you’re offered a position that you feel you want and can do, then I’d say take it – especially if it represents a move upward. I’m assuming that is the case based on what you wrote.

    As for the degree, I wouldn’t skip this position just because you don’t have the degree. Obviously your boss thinks you can do it. More importantly, you think you can do it. You even stated you’re good with computers (that will help) and your an organization freak (that will also help). I would continue to work on finishing my degree, but this will be good experience, especially if it turns out that you’re successful at it. If PM is the way you want to go, experience will help you actually perform the job better than the degree will. You need the degree at some point for further advancement because will definitely be hard without it – especially if you try to switch companies. But get the experience now in the PM role and make a commitment to yourself to finish the degree on the side within ‘x’ amount of time.

  • I’m glad to have found this series of posts considering the qualities exhibited by a good project manager. Drawing on an interview with a member of project management recruitment organisation Arras People, the training organisation at which I work considered a very similar topic: -

    ‘What Makes a Great Project Manager?’

    It is one in a series of posts about project management careers advice.

  • Elizabeth-

    Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. I’ll check out the series by the Arras People as well – I’m familiar with them as they’ve asked me to post book reviews that they do. Thanks again.

  • Leadership has got to be central to a good project manager, because communication, organization, etc all fall under that umbrella.

    In fact, it would be helpful for ALL managers to have proper leadership skills before running a team.

    If that were the case, there’d probably be less trouble in groups and projects of all types.

    Communication and a good leadership style should be #1. Unfortunately, those are the most difficult traits to train.

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