What Makes A Project Manager Great?

Paul Naybour

What Makes a Project Manager Great?

Good project managers routinely deliver to agreed objectives in terms of cost, time and scope. But what makes someone a great project manager?

What marks them out as different?

  • They consistently deliver project benefits which enhance organisational success
  • Great project managers enthuse those both within and beyond the project team
  • They inspire the confidence of stakeholders and the team

The basic tools and methodologies you may learn on project management training courses such as PRINCE2 or APMP are important but the differentiating factors relate to personal skills and personality traits. In many ways they are the same qualities that you will see in successful general managers and business leaders.

  1. Natural Authority

    Great project managers are natural leaders. They command authority without reliance upon their organisational position. They inspire a common vision and they build confidence through their ability, integrity and enthusiasm.

  2. Knowledgeable Craftsman
    They have all the necessary tools in their kit bag. However they don’t try to use them all – all of the time. They apply the right tools selectively according to project requirements. Agile might be beneficial for a specific web application; a waterfall approach with strong governance procedures may be right for a high profile construction project.
  3. Eyes of a Hawk
    They see both the big and the small picture. They understand who the real client is. They relate project and programme deliverables to broader organisational objectives. But whilst taking in the overview they have, like a hawk, extreme sensitivity to the detail when required.
  4. Commitment
    If a project manager does not bring personal enthusiasm and passion then there is little chance that this can be expected from the rest of the team. What’s more, they are often adept at broadcasting their commitment to excellence through both their actions and their words.
  5. Organiser
    By nature, great project managers do not go through life leaving things to chance. Their natural inclination is to map out activities which will enable fulfilment of personal or organisational goals. They are then adept at simplifying activities into achievable subsets. Their approach is logical and analytical.
  6. Crystal Clear Communicator

    Regular, concise, jargon free communication of all that the team and stakeholders need to know. From clarity with respect to project goals and deliverables through to accurate and timely financial reports.

  7. Team Builder

    Great project managers understand how effective teams work. They understand how to balance different competencies. They know how to establish commonality of purpose across functional boundaries. They empathise. They build consensus. They know when to delegate – and when to intervene.

  8. Pragmatic Problem Solver

    Shows strong foresight. Is not fazed by problems or pressures. Focuses on those areas which can be controlled and takes a proactive approach. Finds innovative solutions. Always able to prioritise requirements.

  9. Domain Expert
    Many claim that a good project manager can transfer their skills to any type of project environment. That’s true to a degree, but it should be no surprise that great project managers bring their own domain specialisms. They understand regulatory compliance issues associated with launch of a new pharmaceutical product. They appreciate how new technologies and requirements can impact software development projects. They relate to the behavioural challenges when re-structuring an organisation.
  10. Continuous Learner

    Great project managers review the outcomes of their projects and learn the lessons of what went well and what could have been done better. Just as importantly they are self-critical and review their own performance as project manager and learn from that too.



Rex Gibson is Business Development Director at FOCUS on TRAINING which specialises in project management training courses.

He has distilled his personal top 10 list of what it takes to be a Great Project Manager based on a project career which has spanned major business re-structuring and re-location, launch of new business ventures, and manufacture of high output food process plant in Asia.

Rex Gibson on Google







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