5 Behaviors of a Good Project Manager

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As a project manager who has been in the software industry for over 15 years, I’ve learned some common key behaviors of top performers. When adopted, these “5 Behaviors of a Good Project Manager” can go a long way towards the success of a project. There’s an abundance of project manager “Tips and Tricks”/“Dos and Don’ts” blogs and articles. However, my personal experiences shape a unique viewpoint. To quote from Baz Luhrmann’s “Sunscreen” song: “The rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience, I will dispense this advice now.

Sometimes, all is not what it seems. Be suspicious. Investigate. People often shy away from asking the “obvious” questions for fear of appearing as if they are not up-to-speed with the project. It’s part of a project manager’s job to ask the whys, whens and hows. It’s not necessary to become ultra paranoid. However, be intentional and regularly assess how your project is/or could be going off-track.

Nothing is ever perfect. Every project manager can do things better. No matter how streamlined you feel you’ve made a process there’s always room for tweaks and improvement. It’s critical for employees to speak candidly about a project’s weak spots to hone the company’s ability to deliver successful projects. This openness is closely tied to an organization’s culture. Celebrating successful projects is good. However, it’s also important for a company to shine a light on why a project got into “tricky” times, and address the root causes. Otherwise, it can become demoralizing and frustrating for all involved when the same issues rear their heads over and over again.

An interesting fact, highlighted in the book Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed, is that, preventable medical error is the cause of 400,000 deaths every year in the U.S.–its third biggest killer. Conversely, the aviation industry has a very impressive safety record. When they do experience a failure, they conduct thorough investigations and the results are shared openly. In the medical world, preventable mistakes are seldom made public due to malpractice settlements with nondisclosure clauses. Perhaps health services could be positively impacted if they were to investigate what went wrong in certain scenarios.

In the world of IT, running a project like a dictatorship doesn’t go down too well. People want to feel like they are part of a team that’s moving forward together to accomplish a common goal. Good project managers usually have the ability to lead without dictating. This, in part, means realizing individual limitations and recognizing when to rely on the expertise of the team. This however doesn’t imply a free for all. It’s obviously important to provide structure and to keep communication flowing between the team so that everyone is clear on what they need to do.

I’m often surprised by optimistic comments like, “Oh, that’s a five minute update.” It’s rare that an update will ever take just five minutes especially if it’s fully thought through. While it’s possible to drop a field on a page layout it’s important to consider the following:

  • Was thought put in to where the field should be placed?
  • Is it clear what the field is going to be used for?
  • Does it really make sense for it to be a text field?
  • Is the field label intuitive?
  • Is the label name consistent with the other labels on the page?

Obviously, people make “five-minute” comments with the best intentions and can make a client momentarily happy. That moment can easily develop into an unhappy ending though when changes cause the project to run out of time and budget. Stay focused on a project’s fundamental deliverables and be wary of any “five-minute” changes.

When things get a little hectic, taking a step back and some “time-out” can help put things into perspective. People make questionable decisions during stressful situations in an attempt to convince others (and sometimes themselves) that they are in control. It’s totally acceptable to take a more strategic approach and mull something over before shooting from the hip. Understandably, business is business and it moves at a rapid pace. Take time to gather your thoughts and consult with your team. It could pay dividends as your project progresses and your confidence increases. Experience can help identify what forks in the road could potentially be highways to the wrong destination.


Implementing some or all of these five behaviors can be the backbone to a project manager’s successes.

So, there you have it; some pretty practical and straightforward advice. Take it or leave it, but trust me on the sunscreen. (NOTE: You’ll only get this reference if you listened to the sunscreen song that I referenced in the introduction!)

Helen Grace

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