Updated: Jan 26
Choosing the right project manager means determining the criteria of traits and skills required for leading the specific project leader. While one school of thought has long considered project management skills and characteristics as universal—easily transferred to any project independent of industry, project type or knowledge of the field—another approach sees the project manager as a facilitator, making sure the process and procedures of the project work smoothly—in other words, the process is more important than any one person, including the project manager.
However, both of these approaches ignore research that matched different skills and traits with projects in different fields—like engineering applications, information systems and business—and different project types. And both approaches “downplay the value of personal characteristics of the project managers themselves, and neither is supported by research,” according to the Project Management Institute, citing its own research and that of business theorists Rodney Turner and Ralf Müller, published in the International Journal of Project Management.
The job of a project manager is similar to that of a Hollywood show runner. Just as the show runner is responsible for managing all the stakeholders in a television production—writers, actors, script editors, production company, financial backers, and so on—a project manager is responsible to every single stakeholder: their team, senior management, their client, financial backers, and the like.
In working with our clients, Boost Midwest has found that while all projects demand specific project manager traits, other skills and traits are specific to a particular kind of project.
Universal traits to look for in Project Managers:
Attention to detail. The project manager is who all stakeholders turn to, whether to troubleshoot a problem or for an affirmation that all is going well. A project manager who pays attention to the multitude of details within a project will have the ability to quickly and knowledgeably respond to positives and negatives as they arise.
Ability to juggle and multi-task. A project manager is the one person who stays on top of all the project deliverables, budgets, stakeholders and processes, so the ability to quickly pivot to the most important piece of the project is essential.
Conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. A strong project manager has the people skills necessary to resolve conflicts and to problem-solve and is able to keep team members motivated when issues arise.
Strong verbal and written communication skills. The ability to convey information to all stakeholders, both in person and in writing, is essential for a project manager, who is the de facto clearing house for internal and external stakeholders.
Emotional competence. In their research and surveys with senior management across different fields, Turner and Müller found that emotional competence was one trait that senior management found significantly contributed to a project’s success no matter what area of business.
Project Management traits appropriate for specific project types:
Different leadership styles and skills match different types of project, and a project manager who has the universal traits described above may still lack skills or traits essential to leading the project—at least that’s what Turner and Müller found in interviews and surveys with senior management across different fields.
Below are certain project types that the two researchers found matched specific characteristics in a project manager:
Complexity of project. For projects that are of medium complexity, senior management found emotional resilience and communication to be important traits in project managers. For high-complexity projects, sensitivity was found of high importance.
Culture. “Seldom was leadership style significant when choosing managers for projects involving other cultures,” Turner and Müller report. However, for firms that regularly contract for such projects, cultural sensitivity was “an entry ticket to join the pool of project managers.” For multicultural projects, motivating and managing resources are important for project managers while having a “strategic perspective” was found to be detrimental.
Project type. Renewal projects will have a greater impact on stakeholders and therefore communication and self-awareness are highly desired project manager traits. However, repositioning projects have a greater need to achieve targets, and so motivation is required as a strong project manager trait.
Contract type. On fixed price contracts, sensitivity and communication are important, whereas on remeasurement contracts influence and communication are important.
Time. Depending on the size of a company and number of employees, project managers may be responsible for multiple projects at the same time. Knowing the size and demands of the project can make all the difference when choosing a project manager that has the bandwidth to successfully lead the project.
Applications. For application-based projects, technical knowledge of the application and the processes involved often makes a big difference in a successful project manager. But apart from the project manager’s knowledge base, these characteristics were found to be important in project management in the fields below:
Engineering. Motivation was found to be an important characteristic in engineering projects, as was conscientiousness. However, vision was found to be detrimental.
Information systems. Self-awareness and communication were found to be particularly important but, as with engineering, vision was detrimental.
Business and organizational. Communication was determined to be of top importance, while motivation was found to also be significant. Again, vision was found to be detrimental.
“Many people may be surprised by our conclusion that strategic perspective and vision are unimportant and even detrimental in project managers,” Turner and Müller concluded. “However, we believe it is understandable. Project managers need to focus on the task to achieve the targets for the project and leave strategic thinking to other project roles.”
They also found that experience with the customer or stakeholders behind the project, familiarity with the proposed solution, expertise in a particular technology, and previous work with the proposed team may all factor in to selecting the appropriate project manager to lead the project.
At Boost Midwest, we understand the specific needs different projects require from project managers and are able to pivot to match those needs as the project requires. We can also help determine what skills and traits your specific project may require in a project manager for a successful outcome.
View the full results of Turner and Müller’s research study at the link here.
To learn more about how we can help, or simply to meet our team, schedule your free consultation with us today.