The 7 killer traits of a ROCKSTAR Project Manager – a CIO’s checklist

A CIO sprang this on me this week. “David, what makes a great Project Manager?”

It’s one of those questions that you answer instinctively – great organiser, they deliver projects within deadline and budget, good communication skills, etc, etc. All true but I was a little disappointed by my instinctive, off the hip answer – I mean these are all pretty basic role requirements … PM’s who can’t communicate or organise don’t last long!

The thing is, I have had the pleasure of working with some rockstar Project Managers! So, I gave this question some more thought on the drive home and then emailed a more satisfactory response to the CIO who posed it and I thought I’d share it with you too!

I’d love to hear from you … do you agree or disagree? Is there something that I have missed from …


1 – They Have an Entrepreneurial Streak

More and more I am seeing Project Managers with a real entrepreneurial streak who are running projects like micro businesses within their parent organisation. There are of course huge advantages to this trait, not least that projects tend to come in within budget when run they are subject to a business-like level of scrutiny. Beyond this, though great entrepreneurial Project Managers are spotting extra revenue opportunities both within their current projects and in the wider business.

In the same way that Sir Richard Branson surrounded himself with brilliant people, entrepreneurial Project Managers build great teams of complementary talents within your company. Entrepreneurial Project Managers are instinctively driven to build and manage great teams and also to deliver innovative products.

2 – They Are Fabulous People Managers

Actually, I think that this a trait that sets Project Managers and Project Leaders apart. Great managers manage things, great leaders lead people.

Watching Gareth Southgate at the 2018 World Cup perfectly demonstrated the latter, the way he connected with his team as individuals and seemed to know what made them tick should be an inspiration to anyone tasked with building a team.

One of my PM friends who falls neatly into this category has an intense dislike of the term ‘human resources’ and actually successfully campaigned for his firm’s position of HR Director to be rebranded Director Of People.

3 – They Roll Up Their Sleeves/Have Experience Beyond Project Management

A CIO once told me about his favourite Project Manager. This guy didn’t merely manage the project he did his best to live and breathe it by rolling up his sleeves and spending time in the places where the project would have an impact. He observed the processes and working practices, he got to know the typical characteristics of the end users and asked their opinions. Once, he even spent a morning working manually on the factory floor to get a true end to end sense of the effect that a project he was managing would have. This is exceptional and you may not have time to do this but gaining experience beyond Project Management duties gives a manager valuable new perspectives and insights.

4 – They Are The King/Queen of Collaboration

Collaboration may be the single greatest weapon in an effective project manager’s arsenal.

Firstly, there’s collaboration within the team. A great project team leader inspires a sense of togetherness and has the ability to identify points of contention, intervene, find a solution and keep the project running in its intended direction of travel.

Secondly, there are the extended collaborative benefits that an independent project management services partner can bring. Great leaders know when they need talent and resources to complement their in-house team and they know where and how to find them. The Project Management as a Services market has infinite collaborative opportunities and the greatest PMs either know how to choose what’s right or they collaborate with a services provider who will.

5 – They Know How to Eat A Whale!

“How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time”. I love this saying. There was a poem by Shel Silverstein that I read in one of my children’s books years ago that went “Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae, who ate a monstrous whale? She thought she could, She said she would, So she started in right at the tail,” and it goes on, “She took little bites and she chewed very slow.” IT Projects are like this – huge monstrous projects can only be achieved by breaking them down into bite-sized, easy to manage pieces. The best PMs can instinctively reduce complex projects into achievable work units.

6 – They Are Great 360 Degree Communicators

Communication skills is a given, but a major difference between good and great project managers is their ability to communicate with colleagues at all levels. Effective project leadership needs clear communication.

You have to communicate with your team about their responsibilities, the project’s goals, performance expectations, and of course you must be able to give meaningful feedback that can be acted upon.

Beyond this, of course, you also have to communicate UP! The finest Project Managers are great negotiators. They tell stakeholders and project sponsors what they need to hear as opposed to what they think they want to hear – the difference between these can be the difference between success and failure. They are not afraid of rank and have the same confidence communicating with an end user of their delivered project as the organisation’s CEO.

7 – They Are Problem Solving, Decision Making MACHINES!!!

The average IT Project throws out problems to be faced and decisions to be made by the bucket load. Have you noticed how some PMs instinctively know what to do … and they just do it?

The quality of decisions can define the progress of your project, one false move and you can be in real trouble – how often has a single decision, seemingly minor and irrelevant in nature, put an entire project in jeopardy?

So, there you go. The 7 Killer Traits of a ROCKSTAR Project Manager – A CIO’s Checklist. Have I missed anything obvious? Do get in touch with any thoughts and if you need Rockstar project management (as a Service) for your IT projects … I’d love to help you with that too.

I really enjoyed thinking about what makes a great PM – meditating deeply on the question made me feel grateful for the wonderful talent that I get to work with and hugely appreciative of the work I do … and maybe that is the bonus eighth trait of a rock star Project Manager – whatever the ups and downs, whatever the challenges … they LOVE IT!!

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