Article overview

Sometimes being a project manager can be perceived as being popular, since project managers are often the most exposed individuals in the team, always striving to make crucial decisions. Being popular is not the most important factor in achieving the project objectives and project success. That is why being trusted by the team participants and building a productive work environment should be the center of attention in every project manager's job.

Table of Contents

Popularity Contest

Early in my career, I had a department head tell me, “Project Management is not a popularity contest.”  Every project manager wants people to work with them, even volunteer to be on their team. This may be, or often is, perceived as being popular, trusted, and liked.  Being everyone’s friend, making conflict decisions that attempt to make every team member happy, or downplay performance issues, may help be popular, however, it is not good for the project or project team.

Project Management is still about forming a team from a group of individuals and plan and coordinate efforts to deliver a successful project. Besides being popular is subjective, based on feelings, taste, and opinions. Some people are just going to dislike you, your team, and your management.

When we read or talk about project success, the popularity of the project manager is not in the top ten factors. However, we believe there is likely a connection between project success rates (perhaps inverse) and the popularity of the project manager. Any desire by the project manager to be popular will likely impact how they set about doing their job. The project manager’s objectivity is compromised. Additionally, focusing on popularity, is not a focus on the objectives of the project.

Project managers are frequently put in a position to ask uncomfortable questions.  If you are not in that position as a project manager, you should actively seek these uncomfortable discussions and help resolve unpleasant discussions in the team. The outcomes from those discussions are likely to disappoint some of the team members.  This will not likely make you popular but will keep your project on the path to success. The way we approach these discussions should be principled, based on the rules or norms of the company and the team, and clear articulation of the rationale for any decision.

Cult of Personality

Being a project manager is about delivering a successful project .to the project manager works to find the appropriate talent and organize them into a team. The project manager works to create a productive work environment. The project manager with the team plans and executes to the satisfaction of the client and stakeholders while identifying potential risks and taking prudent action.  

Projects must cope with constraints and balance competing priorities. This requires the project manager to operate from some well-articulated set of principles. Moreover, the project manager must do more than articulate the set of principles, but operate in accord with those principles, especially in the time of stress. The proof of our convictions is adhering to our principles when it is uncomfortable to do so.

Working on projects can be fun and friendly but as one of my bosses said,” The work still has to be done.” That is the reason for being here. “Sometimes you have to be a hard ass.” From experience, creating an environment that is fun, can go a long way for a popular project manager. Levity can even help effectively navigate during those dire circumstances, provided we do not lose focus.  

The top personality traits of a project manager that an organization looks for, in no particular order, and review just a few.



Authority – This extends beyond that associated with the Project Manager by dint of title. When we take on a project as a project manager, we own it, we own the resources and accountability to deliver it. Taking this accountability supports our efforts rather than dealing with C-level or contractors. Dealing with others requires friendliness, trust, and the ability to well-placed nudge without damaging the relationship. When that is not successful, we need to be able to escalate and do what it takes to bring things under control.

Strong Communication Skills

We teach certification classes. One of the recurring comments we get, not frequently, from some of the students, is about language, specifically definitions or the lexicon associated with the certification. Language is and communication is fundamental to project success. It should not be a surprise that this skill is required for problem identification and resolution, team building, and resolving conflict that often arises from competing priorities and constraints.


Foresight – Being about to see potential issues forming before they arrive. Singular perspective does not provide the breadth of view required to detect these potentialities before they come in close proximity. Using communication skills to question what others see or do withdraw information to piece together a resolution in advance.

Empathy -Having a high Emotional Intelligence or Quotient is desirable but being emotional is not so much. Being passionate about your work is desirable but raising your voice with excitement is not so much. At least, maybe raising your voice in an angry way. This likely depends upon the team composition, one of us has been a project manager on a team where anger was okay to express, within certain confines, specifically no name-calling. This is up to the project manager to ascertain the limit based upon the team members, and the norms the team has adopted.

Professionalism/Trust - From a project manager’s perspective trust at work facilitates better communication. When you trust someone at work, the likelihood of having easy, open, and honest communication is typically better. You engage more often and can freely discuss and even debate new ideas and innovations with the trust that in return you will receive honest feedback. It also facilitates quicker decision-making as there are fewer hidden agendas within the team. Besides, when you trust a person, chances are you will delegate more responsibility to him/her. The trust factor increases as the relationship develop. The more trust you have in each other, the greater the return will be.1 

All project managers I know are humans. Perhaps as Artificial Intelligence advances, maybe project managers will not be human. For the time being, they are people and have emotions, they express their emotions. They feel joy, happiness, excitement, as well as fear, disappointment, and sadness. All feel anger, most would like to express it; some do. Those emotions come from pressure and stress. Pressure and stress from internal as well as external sources.

Most project managers I know are harder on themselves than anyone they report to could have been on them. They figuratively beat themselves up for negative things that happen out of their control. Some stakeholders react negatively to the outward expression of those under self-induced pressure. Project managers that suffer from this pressuring need to find their own way of dealing with it. Go for a walk, get a coffee & sit down somewhere, and try to discover why you are doing this to yourself. Try to develop a way to receive the negative things, react to the action, if needed, and don’t internalize.


We do not suggest a project manager should be unpopular. Aiming to be unpopular is not going to lead to success. To be sure popularity can help in the planning and execution of the project along with resolving conflicts. We are suggesting, however, that a hyper-focus on being popular rather than working with the team to fulfill the project objectives will not be helpful.

One can be seen as:

“That project manager is sometimes hard to work with and still delivers.” Or “That project manager is well-liked by everyone and very seldom delivers successful projects.” *Actual comments from PMO director making project assignments.

We think project managers should strive to be project managers trusted by all and delivers successful projects.

1 Nutcache: Here’s Why Trust Matters to a Project Manager