Identifying a Natural Born Project Manager

Dec 11, 2019

Spotting a great project manager is easier than you think. Some businesses take a relaxed approach to the role. It’s not unusual for resident subject matter experts to find themselves project managing, or for someone with excess capacity to find themselves shoehorned in. Sometimes it works, and sometimes… well, sometimes there’s just no natural aptitude. They’re plain wrong. And as sure as day follows night, a weak PM inevitably means a weak project.

Project disaster

The chain of events is usually predictable. First comes sponsor guilt at picking the wrong person, followed closely by panic at a failing project. Finally the sponsor is sucked into micromanaging and day job distraction, falsely hoping it’ll help get the project back on track.

Sometimes of course, a left field approach works. Over the years we’ve developed a bit of short hand for spotting those winners. Usually they are just born PMs (more on that later), or they’ve had first class coaching, usually in the five characteristics of a great project manager.

Five traits of a great project manager 

Number One : Resilience. Being resilient isn’t about always being right. It’s about flexibility and adapting to challenges.

Number Two : They don’t need to please people. A good project manager knows pleasing everyone is impossible. Concessions are the name of the game, and knowing how a concession can move you on.

Number Three : They are superb planners, but embrace change. Change is your friend in a project, nothing runs like clockwork. How you manage change and keep your stakeholders informed will govern your success.

Number Four : Good enough is good enough. Don’t let perfection get in the way of good. If you’re delivering the business case benefits remember that’s what was asked for.

Number Five : They are not afraid to show vulnerability. ‘I don’t know’, ‘I need help’ or ‘I screwed up’ are all part of their vocabulary. A great PM knows they can’t do it alone, and uses vulnerability to build vital support.

And the one you can’t coach…

Finally, the one they’ll be born with. We don’t put it in our top five because it’s the one thing you can’t coach. You’ll see it when the fires erupt, when everyone’s heading for cover and the fingers start to point. If that’s happening in your project, look for the one running at the fire, showing un-coachable ticker. That’s the guy you need in charge, the one with fire fighting in their DNA. Because you can coach most of the five characteristics into your PM, but everyone knows you can’t coach ticker.