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What makes a great Project Manager?

Table of Contents

It is often said that Corporate Strategy is implemented through programs and projects [1]. And maybe this is why, over the past few years, many associations have been formed to provide knowledge in the management of projects [2]. With them, different certifications and best practices were born.

Project Managers are responsible for the success of their projects. Nevertheless, regardless of how many certifications or formal education a project manager can have; or how well a project manager applies a methodology or best practice in a project, more is needed to ensure a project’s success [3]. In reality, there is a perception across industries and worldwide that projects continue to fail [4]. For this reason, the characteristics of a project manager are more than relevant in this field.

There are many articles and opinions on the subject, but I will define which characteristics, in my opinion, and experience, define great project managers.  

Strategic mindset

All projects are initiated with an associated business case. They are meant to generate change. Understanding the underlying value of a project, being able to identify what is important for the stakeholders, and knowing the project’s intended impact in the long term; will help project managers make better decisions throughout the duration of the project.

Moving from a traditional perspective (scope, budget, quality) to a more strategic mindset can help project managers to be more successful in their projects.

Emotional Intelligence

Different studies have shown an important correlation between effective leaders and high levels of emotional intelligence [5, 6]. Emotional Intelligence can be defined as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action” [6] 

Project managers that have the ability to manage their own emotions and that can recognize and understand others’ emotions tend to be more objective in their decision-making, they also tend to be recognized as successful leaders on their teams, and they are likely to generate a positive impact among others [5].

Trust and Control

Projects have a limited amount of resources, and project managers are always pressured to achieve expected results within these resources. For this reason, control systems are typically put in place [7]. One example of a control system in project management can be tracking the hours a supplier takes to do a specific activity or deliverable in an “hourly-rate” agreement.
A control system can be necessary to ensure a business achieves its long-term goals [8]. Nevertheless, too much control over people can generate the opposite effect. Some authors even argue that too much control kills creativity [8] and promote an environment based on strategic goals and trust. Great project managers and leaders should have a good balance of trust and control within their projects and teams.

Industry-specific Knowledge and Skills

Often, industry-specific knowledge is disregarded [9]. In practice, it can be a very significant competitive advantage. They can be acquired from academia and experience, and they are relevant to the project manager’s field. Industry Knowledge & skills can make project managers more efficient and effective in their roles because they can facilitate management, decision-making, and communication.

For example, project managers that have industry knowledge will be able to communicate with their teams and experts effectively, they will be able to translate complex problems to stakeholders, and it can make them active participants in decision-making processes. In addition, within their management, industry knowledge can facilitate activities like estimations or planning and can be a powerful tool in negotiations.

Critical Thinking

“Critical thinking is the use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome. It describes thinking that is purposeful, reasoned, and goal-directed” [10]. And in a world where projects are delivered in complex and uncertain environments, project managers must develop critical thinking. This characteristic can be hard to identify, but project managers, as leaders, need to reflect and evaluate the information that they have as a way to improve one’s judgment. One example of critical thinking can be when a project manager tries to select a supplier for a project by analysing different options, discussions, and information.


Several companies worldwide have included ethics and values within their culture [11]. Likewise, project manager associations like the Project Management Institute have “codes of ethics” [12]. Contradictory, a study made to top practitioners in the project management field, when asked about project management, their answer was linked to “objectives”, “outcomes”, “benefits”, “a very specific goal”, and others. None was related to “doing the right thing” [11].

In a world facing climate change, inequalities, racism, and many other issues of global concern, ethics should be a significant responsibility to projects and program managers.

Great project managers not only deliver value, but they also deliver value in the right way.

Continuous self-improvement

Great project managers are always learning. Even though they might already know a couple of PM methodologies, best practices, and tools, they are always on the hunt for self-improvement.

The best project managers I’ve met are the ones who challenge the status quo, try different things on their projects, and never settle on what they already know.

Knowledge transfer & mentoring

A lot of project management comes from experience. Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to find good mentors who helped me become the project manager I am today. Once, I asked one of my mentors why he was teaching me so many things when other professionals tend to be very reserved with their knowledge, and he said, “I am teaching you things because you will be the next generation of project managers, you will shape the future, and it will be way more useful for us if you to learn what I know fast and bring a new perspective to the table. Besides, while you are learning what I already know, I am already learning something new”. That statement has stayed on my mind until today. I relate it to the medical field; when experience doctors teach their pupils without reservations, they know how critical it is for them to learn, and they will be shaping the future.

This last is the reason for this blog. I would like to teach as many people as a can things that I already know so we can all improve.

If you liked this article please leave a comment, share it on your Linkedin.. or maybe both? 🙂


1. Morris, P. and Jamieson, A. (2005). “Moving from Corporate Strategy to Project Strategy”, Project Management Institute, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 5-18.

2. Morris, P. (2013). “The Project Management Knowledge Base”, in Reconstructing Project Management. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., pp. 52-74.

3. Morris, P and Pinto, J. (2004). “Project Success”, in The Wiley Guide to Managing Projects. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 99-122 

4. Morris, P. (2013). Reconstructing Project Management. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., pp. 160.

5. George, J., 2000. Emotions and Leadership: The Role of Emotional Intelligence. Human Relations, 53(8), pp.1027-1055.

6. Cherniss, Cary. (2000). Emotional intelligence: What it is and why it matters. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, New Orleans, LA

7.  Simons, R., 1991. Strategic orientation and top management attention to control systems. Strategic Management Journal, 12(1), pp.49-62.

8. Poskela, J. and Martinsuo, M., 2009. Management Control and Strategic Renewal in the Front End of Innovation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 26(6), pp.671-684.

9. Chipulu, M., Neoh, J.G., Ojiako, U. and Williams, T. (2013) A multidimensional analysis of project manager competences. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 60 (7), 506-517. (doi:10.1109/TEM.2012.2215330).

10. Gerras, s., 2020. Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking: A Fundamental Guide For Strategic Leaders. [online] Academia.edu. Available at: Link [Accessed 5 July 2020].

11. Konstantinou, E., 2015. Professionalism in Project Management: Redefining the Role of the Project Practitioner. Project Management Journal, 46(2), pp.21-35.

12. Us, A. and Management, E., 2020. Code Of Ethics & Professional Conduct. [online] Pmi.org. Available at: PMI [Accessed 10 July 2020].

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