Project Practitioners > Being a world-class project manager - Part 2 - the hidden traits that matter

Being a world-class project manager - Part 2 - the hidden traits that matter

By Cinda Voegtli

In my previous post on this subject, I started by giving an overview of the book The World Class Project Manager - a Professional Development Guide.  I believe this book approaches the subject of our development in a valuable way.  It acknowledges the multi-faceted landscape of being a PM - including possible variations of PM role and types of projects we may manage, along with the typical lists of skills and abilities you find in books about being a great project manager. But it also goes further than some in its treatment of many PM attributes and focus areas that are NOT about "ability to schedule and track" (and other similar concrete PM skills). 

In this "part 2" article I want to talk further about the competencies they believe are critical for being world-class. In their words, skills are the visible abilities "whose level of mastery can be measured, and which can be acquired through training.  That is the easy part."   "More difficult are those traits (competencies) that lie below the surface, out of visible range.  We can see them in practice, but we cannot directly measure them in the sense of determining whether or not a particular person has them.... [and] are more difficult to develop through training."

The authors go on to discuss the major competency areas of Business, Personal, Interpersonal, Management, and Project Management.    Sounds reasonable!   

But then comes the meatiness that brings out just how many sub-areas the authors believe are involved in being world class!  

Here are some excerpts. (Note:  I'm highlighting these both as a good view world-class traits right in this article, but also because if you find this interesting and insightful, you may well want to get the book to take advantage of its detailed assessment checklists in these areas.)

Business Competencies:  Multiple bullets under each of

Business Awareness:  such as being sure the project is linked to organization's business plan... adapts to changing business conditions... balances technical approachs and scope against project deadlines and priorities...  

Business Partnership:  such as following up with business partners throughout the project...conducting business-oriented walk-throughs... ensuring meaningful business participation during design...

Commitment to quality:  such as pushing for more efficient ways to do things.. setting and enforcing high standards of quality....

Personal Competencies: 

Initiative:  such as taking calculated risks...taking persistent action to overcome obstacles...

Information gathering:  such as getting enough info to support design and implementation with individuals and groups that can expedite project activities

Analytical thinking:  such as translating business goals into project goals and on into a detailed WBS... generating and presenting logical, clearly reasoned alteratives..

Conceptual thinking: such as anticipating and planning for the impact of the project on other systems... considering the project within the contexxt of broader view of coming changes in business and technology

Self-confidence: such as setting a confident and positive attitude to set the tone for the team...controlling own feelings and behavior in stressful situations...

Concern for credibility:  such as answering questions honestly, even if awkward to do so...promptly informing management and the customer of any difficulties

Flexibility: such as adjusting managerial style depending on the people and sistuation

(Feeling tired  yet?!  The list goes on!)

Interpersonal competencies:

interpersonal awareness:  such as trying to know team members and understand their motivations... noticing and interpreting non-verbal behavior

Organizational awareness:  such as taking the time to understand and consider the political dynamics among involved groups

Anticipation of impact:  such as managing expectations...considering short and long term impact of project decisions...

Resourcesful use of influence:  such as developing strategies that address other people's most important concerns...getting cooperation by appealing to people's unique expertise

Management/ Project Management Competencies:

Motivating others: such as ensuring that team members understand the business goals...

Communications: such as not just holding regular meetings, but also tailoring language to the level and perspectives of the audience...

Developing others: such as giving team members assignments or training that will help them growth... providing the right level of supervision to less experienced team members

Planning: not just our normal scheduling responsibilities, but including assessing implementation approach often to make sure the project properly addresses the business goals...

Monitoring and Controlling:  Not just our expected progress tracking, but accepting responsibility for resolving project issues focusing on solutions, recommendations, and actions...

WHEW! (and i've only excerpted a small number of the bullets they provide in each category!)

This DOES all ring true for me. Project managing is about so much more than the "mechanics" of things like scheduling or creating written PM deliverables.  So much to deal with re: the business goals, the people, the complexity of the solution, the cross-impacts...

I love where the authors go RIGHT AFTER the much larger checklist that covers all the items above. It's a self-assessment section that starts with:  "You have some decisions to make.  And now is a good time to take stock of who you are and what you are really interested in doing."  

What they mean is that the PM job, for certain sized or complexity projects, and in certain environments, and at certain levels of project manager scope and responsibility -- may require skills and traits that are "not us" -- or "not how we really want to spend our time" -- or "not a kind of stress we really want to deal with"!  And there's nothing wrong with that.

Conversely, if we DO want to grow to be world class at managing big stuff, high level of responsibilility, business-critical, lots of complexity -- well then, this competency list matters a lot for planning our own development.  (And then remember from my overview post yesterday, the next chapter, chapter 5, gives a ton of info on how to step back and think about who you are, what you like doing, what you're best at, so that you CAN decide just how far you want to go with this whole PMing thing.

So I'll leave this part 2 article with a call to action for each of us.  Where are we as PMs (whether titled or not, whether active PMs or thinking about moving that way.)   Take a first assessment against just my excerpts above.  How does it make you feel about the job?  Excited? Tired? Apprehensive? Validated for what you're currently doing for development?  Accomplished for what you're currently able to do?

There's no wrong answer - this is your career and daily happiness and satisfaction we're talking about.  And if these two articles are raising more questions for you on this score, you may well want to pick up the book and go further.

Update on Feb 5:  I've now added installment #3 on the different levels of maturity and judgment we can progress to in our true PM "know-how".  

My best to you as you think about your career .. and write me any time at if you want to talk!


Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

I'm at the point where I need to ask these questions about Project Management. Thank you Cinda. I bought the book, will let you know where it takes me:)

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