In any profession where both men and women perform the same roles, they will typically deal with people and problems differently. This is just as true in project management where the style of management can be markedly different between the genders. But are there personality traits in men that make them more successful project managers than their female counterparts? Or is it purely the abilities and personal attributes of the project manager, regardless of gender, that determine their success?
What innate abilities can differentiate male project managers from their female colleagues when it comes to delivering projects successfully?
Men tend to be strong communicators who can deliver their message authoritatively and get the buy-in of other members of a group for their ideas and approach to a project. They are effective at convincing others of the benefits of a project and the benefits of change – all of which are useful skills in a project management role.
When communicating via email or in documentation men are concise and to the point. They do not add unnecessary detail but focus purely on the ultimate business goals and do not become diverted or distracted by side issues. They do not agonise over the options and are quick to make decisions and get projects up and running in the least possible time.
Building Strong Project Teams
Male project managers tend to encourage a sense of competition within a project team which motivates the team and creates a can-do attitude and a working atmosphere in which failure is not considered an option. Men can bring out the best in a team by encouraging individuals to achieve their best and work effectively when under pressure. This approach builds a team that expects to be successful and, consequently, usually does deliver projects successfully.
Valuing a Challenge
So the authoritative and team-building skills of men in a project management environment contribute to their success but the most successful project managers also value a challenge. Since so many projects are complex and demanding, whether due to new technology or by introducing change to a reluctant workforce, dealing with challenge is a necessary attribute for any project manager.
Businesses operate in a competitive environment so in order to succeed a project manager must be competitive and have a determination to succeed. A male project manager’s competitive instinct means they are unlikely to accept that something is not achievable and will have the courage to challenge existing practices in a constructive way.
There have been many studies by psychologists in all areas of life that show that men are more likely to take risks than women (particularly those of Wilson and Daly from 1988, 1993 and 1996). Some studies have also found that men find risky situations less stressful than women (Kerr and Vlaminkx, 1997).
Because men are more risk-inclined than women, when risks occur they deal with them more efficiently and because they are risk-takers men are more likely to deliver a project that exceeds expectations with respect to the business benefits it provides. This can, however, mean that adherence to the budget and schedule is treated as a lower priority.
A 2007 survey of experienced project managers by the Project Management Perspectives research group reported that male project managers were far more likely to deliver maximum business benefits than females, albeit without consideration of budget and schedule, but the economic impact of delivering more than was expected can outweigh the additional costs of the project. (Editor’s Note June 2018: Unfortunately the Project Management Perspectives survey is no longer available online)
Obviously, a project manager can be successful irrespective of gender and that success can also be attributed to the right project management training and experience backed up by professional qualifications such as PMP Certification, PRINCE2 or APM PQ. Male project managers may be authoritative, decisive and risk inclined but they do not possess all the advantages when it comes to project management particularly in the areas of soft skills, budget control and sticking to a schedule but typically masculine traits are major factors in the successful outcome of a project.
It could, of course, be argued that the most successful project managers are not determined by their gender but rather by the balance of masculine and feminine traits within their personality. For another perspective on what traits contribute to success for project managers take a look at this other article “Do Women Make the Best Project Managers“.