What Makes a Good Project Manager?

Many years ago, project management was not considered a field in its own right. Issues related to planning and directing projects were to be addressed in an almost ad hoc way, as the need arose. But now project management has matured into a field in its own right, and today any well-run company understands how important a project manager is to the health and success of the company.

But what are the qualities that make a person a good project manager? Obviously, given the complex nature of the job, managers need a wide array of skills. Let us look at the traits that make project managers excel—that enable them to take a basic idea and create something concrete out of it, and to transform a team of strangers into a cohesive and productive unit.

Basic Requirements

In this category, we include attributes such as enthusiasm, organization, and the abilities to meet goals and handle pressure. If the manager feels what the Project Management Institute calls the “organized adrenaline” of solving problems and dealing with unexpected challenges, the project stands a much better chance of success. These qualities are foundational, and as a result, if we aren’t careful, they sound like clichés. After all, hopefully all of a company’s employees are enthusiastic about their work. Still, because a project manager has a great deal of responsibility, he or she must have a correspondingly high level of all these traits. Often, qualities like these are infectious, and spread from the manager to the people he or she manages. The same can be said for their absence.


Being a project manager also requires a high degree of competence. Keep in mind that, as we state above, project management has grown to become a field of expertise in itself. Therefore, the skill set a business should look for in a project manager is not identical to that which should be sought in the other team members. Someone can be a superb software programmer, for instance, but that does not necessarily mean that he or she is the best choice to lead a project, no matter how much programming that project might require.

So what skills does a project manager need?

  • The ability to create and maintain a clear overall vision, and to relate this “big picture” to the many “little pictures” that go into completing a project.
  • A level of creativity and flexibility that not everyone has. When problems and complications arise, the project manager should be able to come up with ways of addressing them.
  • Willingness to delegate effectively, so that he or she does not get bogged down in micro-management to the detriment of the project’s progress. Project Smart, a Great Britain-based organization dedicated to providing information on the field of project management, approvingly quotes one student, who says that “a good leader is a little lazy.”

Interpersonal Skills

Last, but far from least, all good managers possess the “personal touch.” If a project is being managed by a person who is brilliant, hard-working, and adaptive, that is all well and good. But if he or she is unable to motivate the other team members, all those traits will go largely to waste.

The manager must lead through inspiration. As Project Smart says, he or she must have “empathy,” not “sympathy”—the latter is more concerned with one’s own feelings, but empathy sees the other person “as a separate individual.” A great manager will stay positive, even in the face of frustrations and doubts. He or she will also know how best to deal with each individual team member, knowing that what works for one person will not necessarily work for all.


A project manager with all the skills listed above is a great asset to any business. Fortunately, as Deborah Bigelow of PM Solutions says, these are traits that one can learn. Experience, business relationships, and education and training are all good ways for people seriously interested in project management to pick up on these skills. Businesses would do well to foster these attributes in their employees. Such attention will reap good dividends in the future.