As I’ve managed and succeeded and failed my way through about 20 years of IT project management, I’ve made mental – if not always written – notes of what works and what doesn’t and what qualities in a person seem necessary in order to succeed in this career. And while I’ve worked on this list more than once and it’s not the same every time, I can say that what I consider to be key personal traits or characteristics of a good project manager generally boil down to these four qualities. There are definitely more – and I’m open to your arguments, thoughts, and suggestions, but here’s my list…
Communicator. This is the top one for me. In my opinion being an efficient and effective communicator is the number one role the project manager must play. If you can’t communicate well with your project team, your project customer, and your senior management, then you shouldn’t be in this business. You’re going to get weeded out early or eaten alive during your first project kickoff meeting. During one requirements meeting I had a business analyst who was reduced to tears because that person was taking everything personally and not communicating requirements and expectations well or controlling the room. A good BA because of the combo of technical and business skills, but not project manager material. I’m still trying to block that project from my mind.
Negotiator. Issues arise on every project. I think every project I’ve ever run required scope changes and change orders. Negotiation is just part of the PM game. It always will be. So a good project manager must be ready to leverage business practices, technical knowledge, project status, and customer needs to keep the project headed in the right direction. It may require different resources, more money, a phased approach…whatever it takes it will almost always require some give and take…some negotiation. This is a key skill that must be there.
Confident leader. The project manager must exude confidence. I don’t mean an ego trip. But they must be a confident leader. I usually have a bunch of very talented technical people on my project team and they all have big egos. It helps to be technical when leading those resources…no doubt about that. But you must also be confident, take charge, and lead them. Otherwise your team will go over your head with the customer, with your management, etc. to get things done. You must lead them.
Stubborn. This may seem odd, but it is important. It is broad. You must be a good decision maker. But it goes beyond that. You must also be stubborn. Stick to your decisions. Why? Because everyone from the customer paying for the implementation down to the developer building it will question you along the way. If you’re weak and not stubborn, you could end up changing your mind many times and the end result will be a project thrown off track by an indecisive leader who isn’t long for this career path.