Posted by: Craig Harding | September 10, 2009

What makes a good project manager?

What makes a good Project Manager?


The success of a project rests upon the skillfulness of the Project Manager. New project managers, in particular, are prone to certain behaviors that diminish the likelihood of success. If you are aware of these pitfalls you can take action to get feedback and shift your behaviors.

The Inexperienced Project Manager

Unfortunately, many new project managers misunderstand their role—or bring to the role the behaviors and attitudes that worked for them in their old roles. Now those skills and behaviors are sub-optimal. Consider the three following approaches to managing projects and see if you recognize yourself:

The Senior Analyst as Project Manager – Promoted for outstanding performance in a technical role, the senior analyst has little experience leading people. He or she tends to value technical knowledge and wants to retain expertise. He or she likes to be involved in the system design details and favors familiar, technical activities over project management activities. Symptoms include:

  • He/she must personally inspect and approve design decisions
  • Scope is expanded to optimize technical solutions
  • Little attention to project plan maintenance and other controlling activities
  • He/she feels frustrated and overwhelmed and considers many of the PM activities administrative
  • Team doesn’t know scope or status of project

The Administration Manager as Project Manager – This is a common style for a department/functional manager. He or she will spend most of his/her time in meetings and will rely primarily on written reports and status meetings rather than first-hand observation. He/she is reluctant to publicize sensitive issues or problems and is willing to sacrifice short-term progress for long-term career development of subordinates. Symptoms include:

  • Maintenance of project plan delegated to a subordinate
  • He/she continues to focus on departmental activities
  • Problems sanitized when reporting project status
  • Project reported as on-schedule even when metrics point to slippage
  • He/she always in meetings—losing touch with what’s really going on.

Question: Can a project succeed when either the Senior Analyst or Administrative Manager approach is used? Yes, but if the project succeeds, it is usually the result of superhuman effort by the project team. And, if the project manager is credited for success, team members may be resentful and disillusioned. And, if the project fails—Management will tend to blame the project manager or the project team members, but the real reason for the failure may never be recognized or addressed.

    The Project Manager as true Project Manager

  • Sees project management as a professional role
  • Focuses on the project—not personnel administration or system design
  • Provides strong leadership and support to the team
  • Establishes procedures and monitors compliance with those procedures
  • Stays close to project activities, status, and issues
  • Does not shy away from delivering bad news.

 What are the effects of this true Project Management approach?

  • Status and issues are reviewed individually and frequently with each team member
  • Project plan reflects current status of all activities
  • Performance and capacity of each team member measured by objective data
  • Status reports focus on project metrics and identify open issues and changes
  • Team has sense of purpose and direction

The Project Manager must be a leader, organizer, scheduler, manager, planner, communicator, team builder, mediator, decision-maker, delegator, teacher, inspector, appraiser, persuader, and counselor.

How can you develop your ability to be a good project manager? Predisposition and attitude are important. You have to be motivated to develop your skills and to request and get feedback. You also have to take a disciplined approach. Project Management is somewhat of an art, but it is also a set of disciplines which, if learned and practiced, can make you successful.





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