What separates a mediocre project manager from a good one?
How do you know if you are a good project manager or not?
Think of a successful project manager this way: they not only have the technical know-how to build a great project; they also know what to do when everything falls apart.
Of course, being a good project manager comes with experience. You have to get your reps in with leadership skills before excelling to the top of project management.
In this post, you’ll see the characteristics and soft skills that make a good project manager.
1. A Good Project Manager Streamlines Communication
No one doubts that communication is important, but oftentimes we do it inefficiently. The Project Management Institute estimates that project managers spend 90% of their time on communication…which is not necessarily a good thing.
That leaves very little time for doing the actual work, reviewing deliverables, tracking resource management and constructing the project plan.
PMI says that if that level of communication continues, “there is a danger of missing the deliverables or other outcomes.”
Ouch. Can too much communication be bad? Yes, when it’s not systemized or clear or when your “communication” consists of a few unthreaded emails. The ability to communicate makes a huge difference in the success or failure of a project.
You would think that effective project managers would know how to do that with good project management tools. That ability is an overlooked communication skill.
A powerful project management tool like ClickUp helps you streamline communication, provides stakeholders/sponsors with updates and clearly delineates when work and tasks are due.
2. A Good Project Manager is Positive About Work
If the project manager feels that the work isn’t reasonable or achievable, how will the rest of the team members feel?
A successful project manager has the ability to understand the organization’s priorities, translate those values to their project team, and connect how they relate to individual projects and tasks. These project managers also work with the team on the strategies to achieve that vision.
To meet the deadlines, due dates and to keep the project on schedule, the project manager should be positive about the work at hand, helping the whole team to achieve.
Balancing positivity with reality about the risk and issues takes intuition and experience, which takes us to the next point:
3. A Good Project Manager Can Solve Problems
This may sound obvious, but a good project manager can solve problems. And better yet, they’re empowered to solve project management challenges. Basic problem solving will involve these five steps.
- Identify the problem
- Determine the causes
- Generate solutions
- Analyze the solutions
- Take action
Those five steps seem simple, but often we don’t take the time to clearly run through these. We may know the problem, but not evaluate from all angles or document the team’s thoughts about what to do next.
This may mean pulling out pen and paper to really focus and think about what happened. Write down each step of the process and jot down ideas about what worked and didn’t work at each stage.
Following this simple problem-solving checklist can elevate a decent project manager into a reliable one.
4. A Good Project Manager is Calm
Is project management a stressful job?
Well, it’s not on a level with being an ER doctor or a policeman. But the project manager has to balance the needs of the project, along with organizational priorities, the team’s output and any personal contributions they must make, too. Not to mention any frustrating elements that may be out of the project manager’s control, like outdated systems or workflows.
This can be stressful.
But a good project manager has the ability to take a step back, analyze the next options and learn lessons even amid the setbacks.
The project manager is the one that must clean up and approach the project again—maybe from a different perspective. But in this case, the project manager has to know what went wrong and not make the same mistake again. A good project manager should be able to pinpoint what went wrong and offer alternative solutions (see point #3).
Maintain your composure and lead well. Collaborate with your team to find the right solution for everyone.
5. A Good Project Manager Delegates Well
Why is delegating well important? A project manager can achieve more. You may be able to slide into the role and contribute for a little while, but eventually, the demands for your time will overwhelm you.
In fact, you will achieve more if you empower people the right away.
“The upper limit of what’s possible will increase only with each collaborator you empower to contribute their best work to your shared priorities. Likewise, your power decreases with every initiative you unnecessarily hold on to,” notes Jesse Sostrin of PwC in the Harvard Business Review.
To that end, a manager will know the strengths and weaknesses of the people they manage and then utilize and deploy their strengths for increased output.
Using a project management tool like ClickUp helps you delegate with its transparency, reporting, details and commenting feature. And its hierarchy is user-friendly–robust enough for cross-functional teams, but with privacy sharings that can be customized for managers or only select contributors.
6. A Good Project Manager Prioritizes Work
Every item can’t be priority number one. By its very definition, something has to fall to number two. A good project manager will understand how to prioritize the work for the team and then make the right choice.
The key here? Understand the urgent vs. important and cut out the noise. A sponsor or stakeholder may yell about ASAP, but a good project manager keeps calm and knows how to prioritize what is most important.
Why is this important? Because important tasks add value. It’s the value of the Eisenhower matrix. The Eisenhower matrix is a quadrant-based system where tasks are separated by their importance and value.
After understanding the importance and value of each task, a good project manager will estimate the time involved for each and then rank them by importance from there.
7. A Good Project Manager Collaborates and Listens
At first, I listed “collaboration” and “listening” as two separate skills, but honestly, these two are inseparable.
Collaborate is working jointly and to do that successfully, active listening is imperative. You can’t collaborate without listening and seeking to understand.
If you’re working with a dev project team and the code is breaking down or can’t pass QA, you will want to evaluate the situation before jumping to a conclusion. The initial question or two may not get you to the exact answer you need–instead, you may have to use different approaches to find the solution.
Working together helps you try new things, experiment and find a solution forward.
A good project manager will encourage this team collaboration and create an uplifting environment, rather than isolating each person in their own silo.
Good tools–like ClickUp and these other online collaboration tools–can help you get that work done.
By having a transparent set of projects and tasks, team members can see what they need to do and the dates that they need to have them done by. Good collaboration tools should foster productivity, not detract from it.
8. Don’t forget personal time management:
In addition to the project management skills listed above, above all else, time management may be of most importance. Personal time management techniques could be the top deciding factor in your project.
How you structure and conduct your own day, your to-do lists and meetings all impact the amount of time you and your team members need to do the project.
Plan your time wisely.
These time management tips and techniques will help:
Effective project managers know what it takes to elevate a ho-hum project to a truly successful project. This takes a mix of soft skills, management, and leadership, along with the right technical skillset to prioritize work and make the right decisions.
Zack is a Client Success Champion at ClickUp, where he supports teams around the world to be more productive. When he’s not helping clients solve the worlds problems he is watching movies and hanging out with friends and family. If you are lucky you might also catch him DJing at your local nightclub.