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Big Ideas

Top 10 Characteristics of GREAT Project Managers

Managing creatives is a very delicate – and under-appreciated – art. We look at the qualities that empower great project managers to succeed where others fail.

Good project managers are hard enough to find, and great project managers are rarer still. Thanks to Andy Crowe, though, we now have a peek inside the top 2 percent of project managers, based on a study of 860 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 10 traits of project managers who are really making ideas happen:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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).

10. 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. —


What Do You Think?
Are there other key skills that aren’t represented here?
What makes a great project manager in your experience?

More Posts by David C. Baker

Comments (61)
  • mohan37

    Love it. Great tips.

  • Dino Valentini

    Interesting list of traits, although I think that without at least a few of those you wouldn’t be able to function as a PM at all – you would be completely ineffective.

  • Eric Clark

    Some great insight here. I think it’s important to mention that encapsulating all of these traits with stellar communication and interpersonal skills is a must. It’s often said that PM work is 90% communication. If you can’t communicate effectively as a PM, you’ll always be facing an uphill battle.

  • David C. Baker

    Thanks for the kind feedback, folks. I’ve also done personality profiles of the top project managers, and there’s a specific profile that keeps cropping up: middle third D, middle third S, and highest third C. Sort of like a big check mark. In other words, they are driven by data integrity and process.

  • Lori Turec

    Andy, Thanks for this post. I agree with your list. As a technology provider, we’ve compiled our own list of the top reasons IT projects fail. Nearly all can be solved with effective project management.

  • Paul Naybour

    Andy do you think these attributes are limited to great project managers it seems like a good list for all sorts of leaders. What do you think, I am sure this is more generally applicable.

  • Airam

    What should we do to command authority naturally? Is it something inborn or cultivated?

  • Glenn Rogers

    #4 – ‘Ask good questions’ is a great quality.. #1 ‘Commands authority naturally’ stands out to me as the least quantifiable. However within this, agree that ‘optimistic’ is a key word for great PMs.. and a respect built up through consistently leading by example that results in the authority.


  • Zolo

    Great Project Manager = Sci-fi

  • GraphicDesignBoss

    I would add another point:

    A great project manager knows the business and methodology of what they are executing inside out, which will enable them to deliver the project and make any adjustments for completion

  • Cathy Herman

    They cultivate leader in their group and help them succeed.

  • John Osborn

    Surely one of the Top 10 for GREAT Project Managers is using the best Project Management Software? My personal favorite is Dooster a great online tool I’d recommend to all the PM’s out there.

  • Nhosein

    I have a few questions about project management itself. 1) How do I know whether or not I’m not communicating well with an employee, or they are simply incompetent? 2) How much track-keeping is too much?


  • Ian Colle

    Why does the hyperlink for “Andy Crowe”go to!/recourse… (David C. Baker)?

  • jkglei

    Fixed. Thanks for the heads up!


    I think it is all about being 100% organized and on top of things. Certain projects require many steps in order to complete and if steps are not recorded and monitored things can go wrong.

  • Six Sigma Training

    Nice Article. Such a Interesting list of traits. It is very informative post. I like your post.

  • Project Management Certificati

    Great Article. I am very happy to read this.  Thanks for making such a cool post which is really very well written will be referring a lot of friends about this.

    Certification Project Management

  • Robert Mayers

    See characteristic number 7.

  • Christian Guthier

    Even a good project manager can’t make a badly conceived (by committee) project work.

    What also seems to be lacking a lot these days is project managers who listen to the indians, not just the chiefs.

  • Aviel

    # 2 is crucial.

  • karthick

    i want some tips for to how become a good  project manager

  • Debra Lea Wolf, PMP

    Thanks for articulating the details of your well-said summary!!

  • Michael

    I can add another one.  A good project manager knows which software to get.  We’ve got an excellent project manager who insisted that we get collaborative software Dooster and we have been steaming ahead with it.

  • Kristen Moore

    Great Project Managers know, “It is not about them.”  PM is about making other’s jobs easier or how I like to state it…Keeping the talent HAPPY!

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