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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)

    Great PMs have the ability to find and present their business case (cost benefit analysis) of what tools / software they recommend for approval 🙂

  • Hila

    Why not check our blogs out, we have some good tips:

  • Henrik

    Number 11: Don’t forget that you are working with TRANSLATION. Many PMs seem to guard that as an embarrasing secret, presumably hoping that they will be conceived of as equals with PMs in other more prestigeous industries such as finance or tech. Unfortunately, they also tend to look down upon translators whom they regard as less talented because of the fact that they have not made it to a position as attractive as PM.
    I am a production manager, heading several internal teams for years now and I’ve learned one thing: I am the formal superior but it is my job to support the translators in providing the best service to the client. In my opinion they, not me or the PMs, have the real authority.

  • Ryan Louis Sauer

    Awesome Resource! Thank you!

  • Ryan Louis Sauer

    This article came in handy when preparing for a pm interview. Here is another resource I found helpful when preparing for my interview.

  • Lindsay Vella

    Thanks for the informative tips. Please have a look on my Project Management Blog at:

  • Ruby Walters

    Thanks, these are all really great! I am glad that I found this post. I am looking into hiring someone to do program management in eagan mn and I will be using some of these listed qualities to find a good candidate.

  • jp

    Nailed it. This trumps excellent communication, product expertise and any other trait.

  • gumaz

    a good project manager will need a good understanding og the business process flow to be able to lead a project team

  • John Lucas

    Great article, thank you for sharing! Effective program management is definitely a learned trait. My brother-in-law is an executive at his company in Eagan, MN, and has to implement these kind of qualities all the time.

  • Pete

    Disagree: Communication – trait #4 – is absolutely essential to success. If you don’t know what’s going on and if you don’t seek out and deal with negative feedback, you will fail. Period. I do agree that being organized is VERY important, though.

  • Pete

    Paul, I agree. In the end, even running an operation requires good PM skills.

  • Pete

    Trait #4

  • Pete

    Trait #7

  • ChesterReed

    Being project managers, you must possess these qualities. You do need it to gain the trust of your workers so that they could able to serve you in a right way also. In addition to that, you could assure that work productivity can be improved also by these workers.

    online project management

  • Terence Craven

    I agree that communicating with stakeholders has to be up there and that can only be reaffirmed by regular evaluation.

    You briefly touched on minimising data input, but I think that if there is one thing that you’re going to input, that’s gotta be earned value calculations. A simple way to track the progress of your project, many PM’s don’t realise just how easy it is.

    I wrote a concise article for Microsoft Training dot net to show PM’s how easy Earned Value Equations are and that they just require a couple of sums plus an Excel Spreadsheet.

  • Franz

    I am a PM since 15 years and managed construction projects of up to 120 M US$ in very challenging countries. I can tell you what counts is to be smart, fast learning and experienced. I have seen many PMs fail. You need the talent in this job and you can hardly learn it up to a top level. My greatest skill is, that I see a project as a strategic game, and I predict every move of counterparts in order to make my move first. Keep budget. Keep time schedule. These two things are expected from a PM as bottom line.

    • Laszlo Nemedi

      Hi all,

      Franz had a good remark, while we have project management method, which is good, it is far from enough to succeed in the projects. Most of the time you have to handle a very big “game” (conflicting interests), you cannot easily quantify it. You have to have gut feelings in politics, and predict many things in the people game. It cannot be learned it should be felt.

      Methods good but not enough.

      I started a blog about pm reports where the main message is to use the reports to communicate your needs in the project by the reports, not for other reason, because there is no “perfect” (objective) report in general.

      Laszlo Nemedi

  • Atoti

    Hear hear! I wish my boss could read this…

  • Vincy Chan

    Assigning projects to proper resources is another characteristic of a good project manager. At the same time, any thoughts on characteristics of good project management tools?

    I am currently using Replicon( ) and I would like to know reviews of best project management tools and what one should expect from it.

    • Brian Atkins

      Thanks for the informative post. Have a look on Project Management tool . I am currently using it. It is very simple and effective tool for project management. This tool really helps project mangers to manage their projects efficiently.

    • David Turnbull

      If you’re still looking for a good resource planning manager you should check out Resource Guru (, it’s a cloud-based team calendar that we built to be a fast, simple way to schedule people, equipment and other resources online.

  • Bruce Marjoribanks

    Great project managers aren’t “born under a mushroom”! They are normal people who have learned great tips and tricks that are critical to managing successful projects. I found this ebook on how to be a great project manager –

    • Abdur Rahman Project Manager

      I totally agree with you

  • Oliver

    becoming a good project manager will require experience. sometimes, the best solution to a problem is not found in books so this is where maturity and experience play a role. you can visit for qualified professionals

  • Rene Francois

    it can be cultivated. It takes perspective change as well as harnessing relationships with the team. You can look into Leadership related works for more info.

  • StanStandard

    After a few years I’ve taken a lot of my knowledge and put it into a helpful web page. Giving example documents and documented different types of Project Management models that I’ve used. Pleases feel free to visit.

  • Abdur Rahman Project Manager

    I have been working with different clinets by helping them build websites and manege business but what I learned today is exceptional.

    Catch me:

  • Kamile Ko

    In my oppinion great manager should be innovative as well, just because nowadays if you don’t use technologies in your work, you loose. For example I can share with you programme I use in my business- crm
    🙂 try, and you will save not only money but also your time

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