What makes a good project manager?

Ariane von Berg, Thursday 28 November 2013 | Reading time: unknown

What makes a good project manager?

Even if your official title is not project manager, chances are you will be called upon to lead a group at some point. Whether it is initiating procedural changes in your department, optimizing your website or launching a product in a new market, projects come in all shapes and sizes. 

Despite the great difference in project types, the fundamental project related tasks are very similar: Defining and achieving project goals and requirements, as well as managing cost, time and scope. It is critical that the project manager always stays on top of all key figures such as deadlines, expenditures and project quality. In case anything goes awry, it is the project manager’s responsibility to implement counter actions to get the project and team back on track.

Successful project management, however, goes beyond what you do and strongly depends on how you do things. Being a leader, taking charge and guiding a group takes a special set of skills. The project manager needs to know how a business works and take an analytical and conceptual approach. It is important to take a broader view and put any project in perspective, making sure that it integrates with the overall strategic goals.

Visionary project managers are desirable but their vision isn’t worth much if they are unable to communicate it. For team effort to work, everybody needs to have the same idea of where exactly the project is going. This makes it all the more important to clarify details as well as responsibilities and not let them up to the team members’ interpretation. Being vague just leaves more chances for misunderstandings and, in consequence, unnecessary mistakes. Communication is not a one way road. The team leader should create an atmosphere that encourages an exchange of ideas and allows team members to state criticism. That said, it is just as important to acknowledge good work and give honest feedback.

Communication needs to happen with all project stakeholders and this includes clients. At times, this can get tricky and requires strong negotiation skills. Especially when clients have unrealistic expectations regarding project goals or ask for sudden changes in project schedule. The worst situation that project managers can maneuver themselves into is one in which they are doomed to disappoint the client. Therefore, laying out an achievable project plan that includes buffer times will minimize potential problems down the road.

Project managers have to achieve best results, no matter how diverse, difficult and different team members are. Strong team building skills are essential in order to turn the team into one cohesive unit. It helps to give everyone the feeling they have an equal stake in the project. At the same time, different personalities in the team are of great benefit if capitalized on at the right time.

Enthusiasm is contagious and a team is more likely to put more effort into their work if their project manager radiates optimism and confidence. Having a “can-do-attitude” not only sets a positive example for the overall pace in a team but also helps overcoming throwbacks. Just as in real life, projects do not always run smooth. Delays occur, planned events do not take place, and unexpected changes result in resource bottle necks. Good project managers keep their cool even under such pressure. Instead of getting stressed, issues that arise should be considered an opportunity. This is when creativity and quick sorting skills are indispensable. At the same time, project managers should bear in mind that solving problems at times requires delegating tasks to the team’s specialist. 

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