The 8 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers

Do you want to be an evil a successful project manager?

Me too.  I’m actually a bit obsessed with it.

As I work with my project teams, more and more ideas keep coming out to enhance our ability to deliver successful projects.

I also study how the most successful project managers I know in various industries are doing.  I read a lot of blogs, leave a lot of comments, and start a lot of conversations.

If you want to be a great project manager, you should too.

A lot of the top project managers write books and blogs, deliver presentations and training.  They all do things just a little different.  (In some cases, VERY different)

Information Overload

So I would read one book and get completely jazzed about a particular methodology or set of techniques to go try.  The next day I’d talk to someone who told me about something new that blew my mind and I HAD to try with my project teams.

My teams started getting dizzy.  “What’s that crazy project manager going to throw at us this week?” they’d groan.

I needed to focus on the fundamentals.  Not the shiny objects, but what all great project managers had in common.

I spent a lot of time observing, which led to this list of the eight success traits shared by all of the top project managers I’ve found.  Today I want to share it with you.

The good news is that even if you don’t have all these traits already, most of them can be developed over time.  I have even worked them into my own project management training courses as items that can be learned.  Best of all, if you can cultivate these traits, you’ll become more effective in the rest of your life as well.

1.  Effective Project Managers Are Lifelong Learners

If you’re new to project management, you’re probably on a steep learning curve at the moment.

Maybe you tell yourself that things will get better when you’ve been doing it longer. There won’t be so much to learn. You’ll have systems in place soon and everything will run smoothly.

Sadly, I think this is a myth. I’ve been managing projects for many years now, and I can always get better. Just when I’ve got one element sorted out, nagging thoughts come out of the woodwork beckoning me towards working more effectively with my teams.

If you want to be the best project manager you can be, you have to keep learning.  Whether it’s training courses, blogs, books, or podcasts, you have to keep on your toes.

Fortunately, being curious and wanting to learn keeps you young and your brain active. A love of learning doesn’t just set you up for a successful career, but for a successful and happy life.

2.  Effective Project Managers Are Clear Communicators

This one can’t be stressed enough.

Project management is 90% communication, right?  I don’t know about trying to specify a percentage, but it’s a whole lot of what makes you successful or not as a project manager.

Without clear communication, your teams will be stressed, you will be stressed, and your customers and stakeholders will be stressed.  Not good.

Not good at all.

3.  Effective Project Managers Are Analytical

Successful project managers look at their projects as systems.

Systems thinking is one of the best ways to approach a way of doing project work and find the places where it can be improved.

To be a successful project manager, you need to be able to identify the areas for improvement through objective analysis of how you and your teams are working.  How does the work flow?  What is the value stream?  Where are the bottlenecks?

4.  Effective Project Managers Are Focused

Successful project managers keep themselves and their teams focused on the Goal.

When adhoc requests flood in, a successful project manager is able to protect her team from multitasking by using systems like Kanban or other priority mechanisms.

5.  Effective Project Managers Value Planning

Successful project managers understand the value that comes from planning with their teams.

They also realize that plans change, and the process of planning is often much more important than the plan itself.

To get good at this, they practice, try new things, practice some more, attend training on planning to get new perspectives, practice some more…

6.  Effective Project Managers Are Empathetic

I don’t mean getting all emotional, or even sympathetic.  Empathy is just about the ability to get out of your own head for perspective.

Successful project managers are able to simulate the viewpoint of someone else, and thus understand them better.

Managing your team and stakeholders empathetically is critical if you want to really understand what is going on with your project, and how to facilitate all of the various pieces and parts towards a common goal.

7.  Effective Project Managers Are Self-Starters

Absolutely critical.

No one is going to spoon feed you what you need.  You have to get out there and get it.

When a successful project manager senses a miscommunication, he attacks it with a vengance.  It’s HIS job to do so.

Throwing your hands up in the air and saying “OK, but I’m going to set the building on fire” is not acceptable.

Passive-aggressive behavior doesn’t work if you want to be an effective project manager.

8.  Effective Project Managers Are Good Listeners

An effective project manager is a facilitator.

They listen more than they talk, and guide their teams towards sharing their insights and leveraging their talents.  If you want to know what’s REALLY going on with your project, you have to listen to your team, customers, stakeholders.  Listen.

Successful project managers listen.

So, please leave a comment!  I’d love to hear what you think!


2 thoughts on “The 8 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers”

  1. Hello Josh

    I am taking your advise and putting up the first comment here! 🙂

    BTW, all your suggestions are great. However, I think you should one more:

    “Effective project manager is great motivators and leads by example. They motivate their team to take up more and do more!”


    1. User Avatar

      Thanks for the comment Rashmi! Motivation is a funny one…in brief I believe motivation is the culmination of many of these things. When people understand you, trust you, believe you are heading in the right direction, they will follow your lead.

      It’s a continuum, but when you reach a certain point with people most of what you spend your time doing is removing obstacles from their paths and getting out of their way, so they can do great work. The motivation comes from within and is simply allowed expression when the environment allows for it.

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