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10 Terrific Traits of Exceptional Project Managers
By Harry Hall

Think about the project managers you’ve worked with through the years. Which project managers would you qualify as exceptional? Which ones were unusually good?

What traits caused these individuals to be outstanding? While the list below is not an exhaustive list, here are some of the traits and behaviors of the best project managers I’ve seen.

  1. Persistent

    “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” -Winston Churchill

    Projects are filled with pot-holes. Project managers and their team members make mistakes, create defective products, and stumble. Persistent project managers learn from their failures and lead with renewed enthusiasm.

  2. Opportunistic

    “Opportunities don’t happen; you create them.” -Chris Grosser

    Project managers are risk managers that identify, assess, and manage risks including threats and opportunities. Great project managers have an eye for seeing, exploiting, and enhancing opportunities.

  3. Self-Control

    “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” -Anonymous

    Project conflict is inevitable. Individuals may express strong differences of opinions. Sometimes team members tell project managers what to do and where to go (if you know what I mean). Keep a cool head. Respond softly and with respect to others. Reason and work with your team members to find common ground and solutions.

  4. Selfless

    “Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.” -Anonymous

    The best leaders are generous. They look for opportunities each day to give their time, knowledge, and insights. They give with no expectations of personal gain, only to help others.

  5. Optimistic

    “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” -Oscar Wilde

    Why is that some people face trials and come out the other side bitter while others welcome the difficulties? Optimistic project managers look for the silver lining and discover the lessons learned. They are thankful for the insights gained through the school of hard knocks.

  6. Visionary

    “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

    Individuals want to know where they are going and how they are going to get there. Team members want a mental map. Visionary project managers work with their project sponsors to develop and consistently cast a clear vision.

  7. Diligent

    “I find the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” -Thomas Jefferson

    Don’t you just love this quote? Jefferson knew that luck was not the key to triumph. Successful project managers combine good planning with hard work.

  8. Motivated

    “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.” -Zig Ziglar

    How do you stay motivated day to day? Surround yourself with encouraging individuals both at work and outside of work. Recharge your batteries with rest and hobbies you enjoy. Make quiet times for personal reflection a priority. Keep your eyes on the finish line.

  9. Focused

    “The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” -Bruce Lee

    Don’t focus on your failures or what went wrong. Focus on your next steps. Continuously remind your teams of the goals of each project and why the project is critical to the strategy of your organization.

  10. Enjoyable

    “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” -Dale Carnegie

    Some people think that life is not about fun and games. The Scrooges of the world don’t make good leaders. Exceptional leaders find ways to inject fun into the journey. A good laugh brings sunshine to the difficult and challenging days.

Growing Over Time

Becoming an exceptional project manager doesn’t mean that you possess all of these traits at once. Pick one or two; work on maturing the quality over time. Periodically, pick additional traits to develop.

Question: What other traits would you add to this list?

Harry Hall, PMP, PMI-RMP, is the Director of Enterprise Risk Management at the Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, one of the largest domestic insurance companies in the state of Georgia. You can read more from Harry on his blog.

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