Project Practitioners > The best project manager I ever worked with was great because...

The best project manager I ever worked with was great because...

By Cinda Voegtli

 I had a little fun last week, asking some friends to complete the following sentence:

"The best project manager/project lead I ever worked with was great specifically because they.... [did? said? did not do? never said? etc.]"

Those who answered are involved in projects in some fashion every day at their jobs.  Only one is a project manager herself.  All are from different industries and work on different project types.   I was really curious to see what rose to the top for each person - and whether there would be any commonality.

Before you read the responses, stop and answer this question for yourself. How would you complete the sentence?  And do you think your top criteria for PM greatness would be shared by others?

Now, the answers I received, followed by a few observations and take-aways.

"The best project manager/project lead I ever worked with was great specifically because they....

"...had an outline of the project from the beginning and clear benchmarks. The outline included dates and action items for both of us. She collected the data needed from me to successfully finish the project right at the start. If she didn't know the answer to a question I had, she knew who to go to and was always in contact with me. For context, I rolled out a T&E reporting system to 400 employees in the US, Canada, and the UK."

"...were great leaders. They were able to find the best in people and or situations. People loved working with them."

"...always let us know where we were schedule/budget wise."

".. welcomed my participation on the team and acknowledged my contributions to a successful result."

"...was a fabulous communicator who kept us informed of where we were and what was wanted, but also listened and got others to talk, so that there were no surprises because someone was too shy or afraid to say something.  And she said thank you, recognized team members' work and didn't ask for unnecessary effort after hours or during the weekend to meet false deadlines or to look good to her bosses."

"...had clear objectives, communicated them clearly, openly discussed to ensure understanding and buy-in, gave appropriate authority and responsibility with realistic deadlines. Approached it as a team effort and helped with check-ins and updates along the way to keep everyone in the loop or facilitated their team communication depending on complexity of the project.  And was a positive and supportive cheerleader for the project, recognizing individual and team success."

"...was a great listener, empowered their team, empathized, was a good communicator, thought outside the box, gave positive feedback and stood up for their team no matter what."

Well. I found these answers very interesting! 

When I talk to PMs about what's most challenging on their projects, the answers typically hit on things like  getting better estimates, dealing with resource shortfalls, avoiding scope creep, even overcoming team resistance to project management  - and achieving all this and much more with no authority. 

And yet not a single answer above was about great PMs being perfect at avoiding the stuff we tend to complain loudest about. (E.g. no one said "they were great because they made sure we never lost a resource during the project," or "they were great because they created perfectly accurate schedules" or "they were great because they never let a change disrupt things.") 

Instead, their answers strike me as very people-focused and even personal in a way. They are all about how the person felt about working with this PM -- how the PM related to this person and to the team.  I see these common themes across the answers:

- source of clear goals, plans, and progress info 

- listener, empathizer, communicator, cheerleader

- empowering, delegator, champion

- provider of acknowledgement, recognition, feedback, and thanks

I think this is worth stopping and thinking about - worth our time to do a personal sanity check!  How much time do we spend wrangling the "data and details" of a project, and how much do we put into  strong relating to the individual people? 

Of course both matter; and there's overlap between the two (e.g. some of that appreciated communication is about progress "data").  But a careful read of those answers to the PM greatness question is a great idea for all of us. The people on our teams are eager for a great project experience - and we have the chance to provide it by how we manage and lead.

In future posts, I'll  expand on the items my friends listed. In the meantime ---

How would you complete that sentence? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

"The best project manager/project lead I ever worked with was great specifically because... ?????" 


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