What makes for a successful Project Manager?

TeamworkMy esteemed colleague Natalie Udo’s post a few weeks ago, “What is a Project Manager?” started me thinking about what are the elements which make us successful in the business. And hopefully, I’m reinforcing Kimberly Wiefling’s recent posts on what are the keys to success as a project leader… and not being too redundant – Thanks, Natalie and Kimberly! You two always set the bar high.

Here are some things I came up with off the top of my head, but I’m certain that there are many more.

Practicing Servant Leadership – If you’ve gotten into Project Management for the power and the glory, think again – being a Project Manager means being at the beck and call of everyone involved in the project, from the project sponsor to the lead developer to the QA tester. It’s being able to remove the obstacles that team members face on a daily basis so they can focus on getting the work done. It’s truly serving the team, and the project’s best interests, not focusing on your own needs.

Becoming a better Strategic Planner – No one can truly predict the future, but as Project Managers, we need to work on anticipating the unknown, mitigating risks, thinking about what could happen. It’s been my experience that the worst can and *will* happen so spending time dreaming up strategies on dealing with the unpleasant “what-ifs” is never time wasted, and can only work in your favor. If possible work on being proactive rather than reactive – two steps ahead, instead of one step behind.

Being a great Communicator– This means not only being able to disseminate information to upper Management, stakeholders, and externally, but being able to talk with the team one-on-one as well as in group settings. Also being able to have the frank, tough discussions when performance is lacking or the overall schedule has slipped; being the bearer of bad news. It’s being able to ask the right questions so you can have as much information as possible in order to make the hard decisions and tradeoffs.

Becoming a better Listener – This is something all Project Managers should aspire to. Encourage an active dialogue with your team, and make sure that everyone is given a chance to be heard. Good listening requires the suspension of our own egos, opinions, and thoughts to make room for someone else’s.

Being Authentic – This means practice what you preach; keeping your word so people know they can count on you; and perhaps, most significantly, not hiding behind that mask of “Super Project Manager.” Be yourself! Own up to your mistakes; say you’re sorry if necessary and mean it. Your team and everyone involved will respond favorably if you’re being genuine.

Being Ethical – This is so intrinsic to good leadership – Setting a credible and ethical example to follow and having integrity is everything. Enough said.

Being tolerant and able to see other perspectives – This means being open to considering a wide range of possible ideas and respectful of divergent points of view, even if they differ from yours. Some of the most valuable contributions I’ve ever had to tackle solving project issues came from the most unlikely sources (difficult and annoying personalities but brilliant minds.) So staying open to others’ ideas can only benefit all concerned – you, the team, and the overall project.

Creating a compelling and collaborative Work Environment – Projects are hard endeavors and there are times when you just want to throw up your hands and be done. Having a good work environment where people feel empowered to be themselves and open up about what’s really going on; where team members aren’t afraid to ask for help; where everyone is treated with respect – all of these are paramount to project success. It’s been my experience that an open forum keeps folks engaged and less likely to jump ship when encountering rough waters. And build team morale by recognizing work-related achievements; everyone will appreciate the heartfelt “thank you.”

Having and keeping the vision alive – This means being the keeper of the flame for projects; the cheerleader and evangelist for the project, particularly important when it’s a long haul and your team members are feeling overwhelmed from a huge workload and multiple competing priorities. It’s the PM’s job to rouse up the troops and get things moving, inching forward ever so slowly if you have to.

Thanks for reading! And always, many happy trails to project success.


Lisa Winter, PMP
Strategic Product Management
Effective Project Management
Business and Systems Analysis
Multilingual & Multicultural
Relationship Building
Small Companies to Fortune 500


8 thoughts on “What makes for a successful Project Manager?”

  1. Excellent article. The same things that you have listed are the same things that can make life – home, business, politics – successful as well.

    Often forgotten is that, in the end, we are dealing with persons. The “human approach” is generally more critical to success than didacticism.

  2. Hi Lisa,
    Yes, a wonderful posting……. But why should this apply to only project managers? What is asset, portfolio and program managers adopted exactly the same philosophy?

    The older I get, the more I seem to be coming full circle to believe Peter Drucker that “management is management is management”- that aside from the constraint of time, and doing something “unique” is there really all that much which separates project management from other incarnations of management?

    Are we deluding ourselves into believing that project management is somehow “special”?

    Just some idle musings on a hot Sunday afternoon in Jakarta…..

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta

    1. User Avatar

      First of all, thanks so much for the kind words to everyone who’s responded to my post! Really appreciate this.

      Dr. PDG, I don’t necessarily think that what I’ve written is specific to project managers per se. Asset, portfolio, and program managers – and anyone managing and working with teams – could definitely consider the points I espouse.

      Perhaps the single most visible difference regarding project management and line management is that as project managers, frequently we don’t have any direct authority over a team member since the environment is matrixed. So we must rely heavily on our relationship management skills to influence and get the work done by others.

      Thanks again for your comments – and for reading.

      Best regards,


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