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Top Ten Project Manager Traits (Part 1)

Top Ten Project Manager Traits
Project Manager

For the next three weeks, we will be deviating slightly from our usual general topic of Risk Management, and will consider instead the topic of: Top Ten Project Manager Traits.

Projects can generally be categorised as either simple or complex but, more often than not, those that start out being relatively simple can rapidly become complex. A good Project Manager knows this and, as such, embraces two key project management principles: Keep it Simple and Adapt to Change. That alone, however, does not make for a good Project Manager, but it will certainly stand them in good stead when it comes to managing most projects.

Over the past 26 years, I have had the pleasure (and occasional displeasure) of working with some of the best and worst Project Managers in the Engineering & Construction industry. One of the best Project Managers I worked with was on one of my more recent assignments where we were challenged to deliver an offshore green-field gas production facility, from Concept to First Gas in 18 months. This was a one-billion-dollar budget project. Needless to say, it was an extremely demanding schedule which, unfortunately, we didn’t quite achieve. But that was not for want of trying! If we had, it would have no-doubt been a new world record but, in the end, we did deliver First Gas in just over 24 months from commencement of FEED and, in doing so, won several achievement recognition awards ranging from various Health and Safety awards to the overall “Marginal Field Development of the Year” award. Drawing on this, and all other projects I have been involved in over the years, I have condensed what I believe to be the top ten character traits that make for a good Project Manager. Due to the length of this article, I have split it into 3 parts. This week we will look at the first three “Good Project Manager” character traits, which are as follows:


Part of being a good Project Manager means needing to have a good understanding, not only of the project they are responsible for, but of everything associated with the project. From understanding the project scope, budget and schedule, to the boundaries of their responsibilities, to the drivers of their clients and contractors, to the requirements from every member of their team. It is essential to have a good understanding of all of this as it will help Project Managers stay in control and separate what they can, and should, be managing from what they can’t, and shouldn’t, be managing. This may seem like an obvious statement, but I have come across many a Project Manager who understands their project scope, budget and schedule extremely well, but does not have a clue what their primary stakeholders’ priorities are. These priorities will normally always include keeping the project within budget, staying on schedule and not incurring any health and safety incidents, but there are often more subtle (and some glaringly obvious) issues that need to be understood and managed as well. These include political agendas, community agreements, internal conflicts, design preferences and vendor bias, to name but a few. When dealing with these issues, it is crucial for the Project Manager to understand:

  1. The boundaries of their responsibilities,
  2. Their contractual, legal and social responsibilities and,
  3. Which issues need to take priority and be managed within their remit.

Whenever there is a lack of clear understanding about a Project Manager’s roles and responsibilities, it becomes very easy for them to get drawn into issues that are outside their remit. This may, on occasion, save the day for someone but, more often than not, it only serves to take the Project Manager’s focus off key issues that are their direct responsibility, and potentially disrupt the project as a whole.


There are many clichés thrown about in Project Management. So much so, one could probably write a book about them. One of the most common I’ve heard is: “Hindsight is 20/20 vision”, and this is normally uttered just after something has gone wrong, which is an indication that either the plan was not followed, or it was flawed to start with. The best Project Managers I have worked with try to anticipate key events in advance, and look for ways to control the threats and exploit the opportunities without jeopardising the overall project plan. They give themselves the best chance of succeeding at this by investing time upfront to ensure they have all of their critical project controls in place prior to kicking a project off. This includes (but is not limited to) having a detailed and approved project schedule, deliverables register, resource plan, cost control register and execution plan. They also always keep their project risk register relevant and up to date. Most importantly, however, they make sure their plan is robust, and stick to the plan as far as possible.


The problem with projects is that they change. Having a plan, and sticking to it, is great. But no plan is perfect and no project is static. Things will change, and good Project Managers know how to adapt to these changes with minimal disruption to their project. This is why it is imperative to have a concise (and not overly complicated) Management of Change procedure in place on every project. Most projects will have one but, time and again, projects will still fail because their changes were not properly managed. This is either because the Management of Change procedure was not followed correctly, or the procedure itself was flawed. I’ve seen MoC procedures that are so complicated you need degrees in law, logic and literature just to follow one. Successful projects will generally have a concise and easy to follow MoC procedure. Not only that, but the process of applying and approving changes will be as straight forward as possible, and the same process will apply for client and contractor alike. How many times have you heard, “Just get on with the changes, and we’ll sort out the paperwork later”? This will inevitably be the case when the MoC procedure is either too complicated, or the approval process too drawn out, to control the changes while executing them in parallel. Good Project Managers keep on top of changes by acting on them quickly and efficiently, with the help of a good Management of Change procedure. In doing so, they ensure their project can adapt to changes with minimal impact to the project’s objectives and Key Performance Indicators.

Next week we will look at the following three “Good Project Manager” character traits, those being: Attention to Detail, Communication and Passion.

In the third week, we will consider the final four of my top 10 character traits, which are: Logic, Discipline, Resolve and Resilience.

For more information about our project risk management services and software, or if you just want to express your own views on the subject, please feel free to get in touch via our “Contact Us” page.

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