Top Ten Characteristics of Project Managers


Good project managers are hard enough to find, and great project managers are rarer still. Thanks to Andy Crowe (Alpha Project Managers), though, we now have a peek inside the top 2% of project managers, based on a study of 5,000 of them as rated by their peers/clients. Not surprisingly, great project management requires a lot more than the ability to move a milestone.

Here are the top ten traits of project managers who are really making ideas happen:

Qualities of a Great Project Manager

  • Command authority naturally. In other words, they don’t need borrowed power to enlist the help of others--they just know how to do it. They are optimistic leaders who are viewed in a favorable light and are valued by the organization.
  • Possess quick sifting abilities, knowing what to note and what to ignore. The latter is more important since there’s almost always too much data, and rarely too little. Ignoring the right things is better than trying to master extraneous data.
  • Set, observe, and re-evaluate project priorities frequently. They focus and prioritize by handling fewer emails, attending fewer meetings, and generally limiting their data input.
  • Ask good questions and listen to stakeholders. Great project managers don’t just go through the motions. They care about communication and the opinions of the parties involved. They are also sufficiently self-aware to know how their communication is received by those stakeholders.
  • Do not use information as a weapon or a means of control. They communicate clearly, completely, and concisely. All the while giving others real information without fear of what they’ll do with it.
  • Adhere to predictable communication schedules, recognizing that it’s the only deliverable early in a project cycle. All this takes place after very thorough pre-execution planning to eliminate as many variables as possible.
  • Possess domain expertise in project management as applied to a particular field. It’s not just that they have generic project management skills; they have a deep familiarity with one or multiple fields that gives them a natural authority and solid strategic insight.
  • Exercise independent and fair consensus-building skills when conflict arises. But they embrace only as much conflict as is absolutely necessary, neither avoiding nor seeking grounds for control of a particular project segment.
  • Cultivate and rely on extensive informal networks inside and outside the firm to solve problems that arise. They identify any critical issues that threaten projects and handle them resolutely (vs. ignoring them).
  • Look forward to going to work! They believe that project management is an exciting challenge that’s critical to success. The truly great ones view project management as a career and not a job, and they treat it like so by seeking additional training and education.


In summary, great project managers plan, manage, and handle details in a way that lets others relax. Oh, and one last thing: project management is not a stepping stone to account management. The skills and profiles are completely different, and setting up a career path like that diminishes the role of project management, which is one of the most important roles in a firm. Depending on what type of marketing firm you are, project management comprises 12-18% of all the activity at your firm, and quite a bit higher percentage of the billable time at your firm.

Celebrate their impact and make the position an important one.

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