Four Key Traits of the Successful Project Manager

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I’ve pondered this topic several times before and I’ve come up with certain characteristics that I feel the project manager must possess in order to increase his chances at success.  I’ve read studies on the subject as well – some agree with my initial thoughts and some don’t.  What I’m going to present here is sort of a collaboration of thinking between the two – the studies and articles I’ve read and my own perception.

Here are four key traits that should help the project manager be more successful in his profession:

Be honest and have high integrity. Although obvious virtues, these traits are worthy of specific mention. Whenever studies are performed on the traits that people most admire or desire in leaders, honesty and integrity always rise to the top. One of the best behavioral traits for a project manager is to be known as doing what you say you’ll do. The project manager who practices this will be easier to follow and much easier to take direction from as you move through the engagement.  Closely related is the issue of integrity, having a reputation as someone who will follow principles, even in the face of adversity or temptation. Your project team members are watching you and if they consistently see you displaying these characteristics, they’ll likely follow you anywhere.

Think like a generalist. Project managers must always be thinking in terms of the big picture. This can be a challenge for those who are accustomed to focusing more narrowly. The project manager certainly must possess broad knowledge in different areas, but it is crucial is that you must pay attention and care about everything and everybody.  The project manager can’t focus on all of the minute details, but he needs to be touching everything and be in solid communication with everyone on the project.  To lose touch is to lose control.  The project manager can’t let that happen

Have a high tolerance for ambiguity. This competency will be particularly challenging if the project manager is technically oriented. The project manager will often receive mixed signals or possibly even contradictory data. The project manager needs to develop processes for finding truth and narrowing down inputs without getting overly frustrated. If you’re detailed oriented, this can be difficult.

Have a high tolerance for uncertainty. As with ambiguity, this is particularly challenging if the resource entering project management from the technical arena. Most technically oriented people are accustomed to precision, detail and lots of information.  Things are well planned out – well laid out.  That isn’t always the case for the project manager.  There are many risks, many assumptions that have to be made, and key decisions that have to be made with less than sufficient data. As a project manager, it is often the norm to have to make many decisions on the engagement with less information than you feel you need. You must condition yourself to making decisions that are only acceptable, not perfect.


In reality, a solid combination of hard skills, soft skills, functional competencies, and personal traits compose the raw material for your overall capability as a project manager. I’d like to hear thoughts on these and possibly other key traits from our project management readers.  Please feel free to start a discussion.

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