What Makes a Great Project Manager?

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“The single most important attribute of a great project manager is being able to get things done AND be a great leader. Because if you don’t understand the people side of things, you won’t get things done!” — Greg Bair, President of CREDO Technology Solutions

As discussed in my previous article covering the 7 pitfalls to avoid for project success, one big impediment to project success would be the lack of good leadership. The project manager is the focal point for ensuring smooth communications, trouble shooting and keeping everything aligned. Much like draining a swamp, the project manager’s job is to run interference and keep the alligators at bay.

A great project manager must have the best combination of managerial and leadership skills where the total package amounts to more than the sum of its parts. An IT project manager must understand the business processes supported by IT technology and help the client make the connection between the need and the solution.

Once that connection is made, the project team can go to work with assurance that the solutions either meet or exceed the client’s expectations. The project manager keeps the aforementioned alligators under control only when the process operates independently from those in the client’s organization who have some “political stake” in the project.

From a strictly human leadership perspective, however, the project manager must really be a superstar when it comes to handling both the project and the people who must accomplish it. Bring those two elements together, and watch the project succeed.

So what are the ideal attributes of a great project manager? He or she must:

1. Understand people

Those people would be both on the delivery and receiving end of the project. The people working for the project manager must know their role and value in the project and that the project manager appreciates them. The client leadership, likewise, must perceive that the project manager is qualified and empathetic — far in excess of the typical liaison role.

2. Be a good communicator

As previously mentioned, the project manager must be the sole bearer of the message and spokesperson for the project group. Here’s how I put it:

On communicating with the project team:

The project manager needs to be able to communicate the VISION to those who are helping to accomplish it. Many projects go down the crapper because people are griping or speaking out of turn. Have a communication plan; make sure everyone understands it. If you empower your team to do their job, they will respect this.

On managing the message to the client:

Know that leadership doesn’t give a damn about the bumps in the road that you are dealing with every single day. They want assurance that things are getting done and they have the right person as lead.

3. Understand that project management isn’t ONLY about completing tasks

A good PM understands that IT projects are dominated by decisions that need to be made. This calls for both tactical and decision-centric thinking – in tandem. A balance of discipline and enough business knowledge/strategic thinking are the vital attributes of a strong decision maker.

4. Love a challenge

The most successful people are the problem solvers. A strong lead project manager has focus and drive and understands that every problem has a solution. The foundation of that understanding is based on two well-known aphorisms: (1) A problem clearly defined is a problem half-solved; and (2) If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.

5. Always have the best interests of the project in mind

My view on this:

Above all else, the lead PM must OWN the project. Right now this project is the MOST IMPORTANT thing. The ONLY thing. People are betting against you. PROVE THEM WRONG. Get the right resources on the project and the wrong ones OFF the project. ASAP.

6. Have kickass leadership skills

The best leader gains a kind of moral authority from the conviction — by those who are led and those who are hiring the leader — that the leader is the right person for the job. That conviction must be based on experience or observation that the project manager knows how to motivate, inspire, relate to, connect with, beg, borrow — whatever it takes to get the project done on time, within specs.

The residual benefits of team accomplishment and client satisfaction are the direct result of leadership skills based on example, expertise and wrestling alligators — who in the final analysis are the only ones whose asses need to be kicked.

– Best
Greg

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