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Traits Shared by Effective Project Professionals

jason orloske pmo professional development project management strategy May 10, 2021

Every project manager knows they need to execute on projects within the constraints of time, cost, scope, and quality. They also know to be successful requires meeting project requirements consistently.

But truly effective project professionals go above and beyond the traditional standards set forth by cookie-cutter HR job postings. They understand how important it is to deliver value to a diverse stakeholder group and customer base. They build dynamic teams who can deal with a constant bombardment of potential changes and distractions. They fearlessly ask questions and aren't afraid to push back when needed. And, they're strategic partners who are committed to organizational success.

Below are 10 traits I believe are shared by effective project management professionals.

Focus on Stakeholders: I've learned the hard way stakeholders can sink your project! First, figure out who your stakeholders are. Once determined, spend time getting to know them up front. Build rapport and a trusting relationship. Follow through on your commitments. Also, remember they have full time jobs and family obligations, so be mindful of their time. Instill confidence in your stakeholder group you can effectively lead!

Culture of Recognition: Project Managers know they need a team to help them deliver organizational value. As Lee Lambert states, "Project managers don't do work. They get work done through others." Recognize your team members and those helping the project. Don't take credit for yourself.

Change Agent: Projects bring about change. Though the sponsor or a change agent may be assigned to help implement the output of the project within a company, the project manager has a huge impact on this. In some instances, the PM is the change leader, also. The PM is able to discuss the change, its importance, and how individual contributors impact success.

Be a Respected Leader Over Being Liked. Humor, easy going, empathy, working as a team, and being agreeable are attributes that are likeable. But, if we focus too much on being liked and don't make "unpopular" decisions based on not wanting to be perceived negatively, we're not being effective leaders. Respected leaders make tough decisions but also explain the why behind it, and work with teams so they understand (even if they don't agree).

Accountability: There's two sides to this coin. First, as a project manager, hold yourself accountable to working with (and sometimes protecting from outside influences and noise) your teams, timely communications, stakeholder commitments, and moving the project forward. If you commit to do something, you make it a priority. You also hold others accountable for what they commit to. Sometimes it's a gentle nudge. Other times it's a direct conversation. But in all instances, you act with good judgement and integrity.

OK With Gray: Given the complexities of projects, there are bound to be issues and gray areas to navigate. A PM must be comfortable dealing with ambiguities and seeking help from others to resolve. There are very few black and white, straight forward projects!

Effective and Influential Communicator: This goes without saying since the majority of a PM's time is spent communicating. But it goes beyond a status report or talking in a meeting (which are very important). Active listening for what is said, and not said, is just as important. Practice empathetic listening, ask good questions, and truly understand what a person is saying.

Understands Strategic Alignment: One of the first questions a project manager asks when being assigned a new project; how does this align with strategy? If a project doesn't deliver strategic value, why is it being done in the first place? It's probably someone's "pet project" that's very limited in its impact. One piece of feedback I've heard from senior leaders is how they wished project managers understood strategy. Don't be afraid to ask.

Results Over Processes: Don't get me wrong, I love processes. I believe they're a corporate asset and competitive advantage. Where you lose me is when there's too much process and bureaucracy instead of leading and delivering. Effective leaders understand what processes and frameworks work in their situation and use the right tools for the job. They want to deliver results, not focus on filling out forms.

They're Comfortable Pushing Back and Asking Questions: You're not working at a drive through taking orders. You're working with a team of skilled professionals delivering value. If someone comes along and says, "Add this to scope now and have it done Friday!", you don't automatically shift gears to do it. Instead, find out why it's important. Let the requester know the impacts. If there is a change board, be insistent it goes through them for approval. Just because someone above you in the hierarchy wants something doesn't mean it makes sense to do it.

One common facet to note on the above list is most of these focus on interpersonal, soft skills. Those "PMBOK-y" processes stay in the technical category. With all the automated software on the market, they will become easier to perform. Whereas the interpersonal and change management skills will continue to be a critical success factor.

Project management goes well beyond the triple constraints. To be effective takes confidence, courage and the ability to communicate effectively across multiple levels. Understand how individual pieces fit into the larger strategic picture and ask tough questions. Being an effective project leader will make you a valuable asset to your company!