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What Are the Skills of a Great Project Manager? (2017 Version)

Posted by Deborah Bigelow Crawford

Deborah Bigelow Crawford has more than 20 years of experience in business management and handles the operational and administrative functions of PM Solutions. Ms. Bigelow Crawford also serves as President of the PM College®, PM Solutions' training division, where she is responsible for the fiscal management and quality assurance of all training and professional development programs. Prior to joining PM Solutions, she served as the Executive Director of the Project Management Institute (PMI), and was instrumental in providing the foundation and infrastructure for the exponential growth that the Institute has maintained over the last 10 years. In addition, she served as the Executive Director of the PMI Educational Foundation. Over the last decade, she has authored numerous articles in PM Network, Chief Project Officer, and Optimize magazines. Ms. Bigelow Crawford is also co-author of the book Project Management Essentials. She has presented a variety of papers as a speaker at international symposia and conferences, and is a member of the National Association of Female Executives and the Project Management Institute.

"What makes a good project manager?"  That has been a resounding question over the years!  In fact, in 2000, I wrote an article for PMI’s PM Network magazine with that very same title; it was followed closely by our book of essays on the same topic. I found that good project managers exhibit extraordinary energy levels, phenomenal political skills, and an absolute obsession with results. These appeared to be the most common traits, but after continuing to read more articles and highlights of successful projects, I found other common threads woven into the personalities of successful project managers:

  • Love of their work … and embracing the challenges
  • Clear vision … and communicating this vision
  • Strong team building skills … and setting positive tones
  • Structure and alignment … creating the environment and direction
  • Strong interpersonal skills … listening to and leading their teams
  • Discipline … completing each phase of the project properly
  • Communication skills … knowing when and to whom to communicate.

I found these threads with various nomenclatures --   “enthusiastic, optimistic, self-controlled, direct, team builders,” but the fabric was the same.

Fast forward to 2013, and the same question is being asked … and answered, in a new article: "What makes a GREAT project manager?" Things were changing.  Project management itself had evolved over the years, creeping into the business side of organizations linking projects and strategies, combining a strategic focus with a business process for selecting and prioritizing projects.  The great project manager needed to expand his/her capabilities in this direction.  Thus, we started identifying great project managers with stronger business acumen, who were more strategically focused.   “Analytical, conceptual, and visionary” were becoming key attributes of a great project manager.   Project managers were also taking on a stronger leadership role.

Now, once again this month on TechRepublic,  a new article appears answering the same sought-after question … Alison DeNiscom’s “10 Skills you need to become a great project manager” lists:

  1. Empathy 
  2. Team empowerment
  3. Subject Matter Expertise
  4. Strategy
  5. Risk Management
  6. Communication
  7. Expectations Management
  8. Decision Making Judgement
  9. Tech Savvy
  10. Business Acumen

Most of these skills look familiar. So again, despite the question being asked over and over again, the common core threads seem to be the same, although somewhat expanded with the evolution of project management. 

I think the question keeps being asked because more and more people have entered the profession and want to make sure they understand and fulfill the role they are taking on. As an experienced project or program manager, what are your thoughts … do you feel these skills are representative of the project management profession? Would love to hear your perspective!

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