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6 traits of Great Project Managers

Project Management is both an art and science. It is an art because it involves creativity and perspective. It is a science because there is a process and method to it. The world has hundreds of thousands of Project Managers and many of them have formal certifications in Project Management. Less than 20% of all PM’s are good. Less than 4% of all PM’s are great. This article discusses what makes a great PM and proposes 6 traits that good PM’s should seek to improve and move into the top-4% of the profession. The traits are laid out in the order of difficulty, progressing from baseline to demanding. They can be used for self-evaluation and improvement.

1 Deep domain expertise in Project Management, in one or more fields

5 key Domain areas in Project Management;

  • Managing the Integration of all work elements

  • Managing Project Scope, Cost, Resources, Time and Quality

  • Managing Project Risks and Issues

  • Managing Change

  • Managing Procurement

Great Project Managers tend to specialize in one or more fields by applying all of the above competencies deeply into those fields. As an example, they might specialize as IT Project Managers and within that broader field they might specialize in one or more areas such as ERP, Analytics, Data Management, Infrastructure, etc.

2 Asking good questions, actively listening and communicating clearly, completely and concisely

Great Project Managers know how to ask layers of questions that uncover key and vital information quickly. They can derive insights from listening deeply to the answers, not just glean information. They can talk to multiple stakeholders, often with conflicting interests and discover what is commonly important to them all. They can then convey these insights to the team clearly and compellingly in a manner that everyone understands without ambiguity.

3 Setting, observing and re-evaluating project priorities, regularly and frequently

Great Project Managers develop the ability to sift through what’s important and what’s not and focus all their and their teams’ energies into what’s important. They can separate the noise from the signal. They understand the importance of prioritization and are constantly negotiating, evaluating and clarifying priorities with stakeholders and communicating priorities to the team accordingly. They are always looking to maximise returns on team effort.

4 Managing conflicts effectively

Great Project Managers deal with only as much conflict as is necessary. They neither avoid nor seek control of project segments. They exercise independent and fair consensus-building skills when conflict arises.

5 Cultivating and relying on informal networks inside and outside the organization

The power of informal networks, inside and outside an organization, is significantly stronger than formal networks. While formal networks tend to be based on work functions and roles, informal ones cut across functions, departments and organizations. As an example, being on good terms with a CIO from a different organization may bring in insights and experiences to a project that may not be available internally.

6 Commanding authority naturally

The ability to command authority naturally, does not come quickly or easily. It takes years of credibility and excellence to develop into that ability. At this level, Project Managers don’t need power from “designation”, “title”, “role”, “stated authority”, etc. to enlist help from others. Help is often and regularly offered to them because of the way they are seen and valued favourably and respectfully in the organization. This is a pinnacle trait of great Project Managers.


Good Project Managers fall in love with the project. Great Project Managers fall in love with the art and science of Project Management, not projects. They know that having the ability to manage scope, cost and time only gives them an entry into Project Management. They are constantly learning to improve the other skills mentioned above to be in the elite 4% category of great project managers.

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