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Characteristics of Great Project Managers
By Johanna Rothman

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting great project managers, and some not-so-great project managers. Here’s my list of necessary skills for great project managers:

Non-technical qualities, preferences, skills

  • Listening skills.
  • Negotiation skills. PMs need to ask for resources, trade resources and information…
  • Writing skills. PMs need to be able to write down a plan, so that everyone understands the plan and the tradeoffs
  • Oriented towards a goal. PMs need to be able to finish a project and keep people focused on the goal
  • Interested in the people who work on the project. The PM doesn’t have to be everyone’s friend, but the PM has to be able to see when people are struggling, when something isn’t working, as well as when things are working
  • Able to manage ambiguity — to live with the ambiguity and make decisions. So far, every project I’ve managed, not just the software projects, has had periods of ambiguity.
  • Able to manage the details. Even if the PM isn’t a detail person, the PM has to find a way to manage the details.
  • Ability to steer the project — to observe the current state, note what’s different from where you want the project to be, and the ability to guide the project to the new state

Technical Skills: Functional skills

  • Understand different lifecycles, and which one(s) is most appropriate to this project
  • Project scheduling
  • Task estimation
  • Risk management
  • How to deal with configuration management. Hmm, that may be too software-specific. Maybe in more general terms this means dealing with assets, earned value.
  • Extracting data from the various tools to see where the project is

Other Technical Skills

  • PMs don’t need to know the details of both the problem to be solved by the project, or how the problem is solved, but without one or the other — some form of domain knowledge — the PM doesn’t know enough to make good project decisions.
  • Either knowledge of a project scheduling tool or an assistant who knows how to use the specific project scheduling tool.

As you can tell, I believe the non-technical, not-easily-assessible skills are most important. And, they’re the ones no certification test can adequately examine.

The original article can be found at:

Johanna Rothman consults, speaks, and writes on managing high-technology product development. Johanna is the author of Manage It!’Your Guide to Modern Pragmatic Project Management’. She is the coauthor of the pragmatic Behind Closed Doors, Secrets of Great Management, and author of the highly acclaimed Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People. And, Johanna is a host and session leader at the Amplifying Your Effectiveness (AYE) conference ( You can see Johanna’s other writings at

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