The best PM for the job

The best PM for the job

Effective project managers look beyond the project

As we all know, projects can often fail, end in disaster or are only partially successful. Therefore, having the right project or program manager (PM) is crucial to increasing the chances of a successful project delivery. But how do you find the right PM, and what attributes should the right PM have?

Here are some findings from a CIO Executive Board study on what differentiates a good PM from an average one.

Skills and experience

The first selection criterion many organisations use for candidates for PM positions is project management certification. The study found that mere certification does not predict PM effectiveness. The results also revealed that PMs with a strong technology background do not necessarily make good PMs. This is because PMs with diverse experience across both technology and business areas are typically more effective.

Similarly, the study found that PMs who have expertise in a broad range of technology or other domains were more effective than specialist PMs with expertise in only one field. The implications from these results are that organisations should look to hire PMs who have diverse sets of experience in business and technology, and not rely too heavily on certifications alone.

Knowledge of the business

Effective PMs understand not only ‘how’ but also ‘why’. They know the goals of their projects and also know how these goals fit within the overall goals of the organisation. Effective PMs understand the organisational context within which the project operates. We have all seen too many PMs who are so focused on their own project goals and success that they ignore everything else. In these cases, even if the project meets its goals, the project fails to deliver the benefits expected.

Understanding the organisation’s goals and strategies enables PMs to broker consensus from the conflicting agendas of the various stakeholders. If PMs lack this organisational knowledge, providing them with a mentor who has the right organisational knowledge can help increase PM effectiveness.

High performing PMs become ‘business partners’ and not just ‘order-takers’. Order-takers typically focus on delivering what is specified even if it is incorrect or even if the circumstances change. On the other hand, business partners improve their own credibility and gain the trust of the project sponsor due to their understanding of a variety of project scenarios. As a result, business partners are able to tailor their communications and frame their problems to overcome difficulties or find the correct way forward.

Effective PMs develop relationships across the organisation so that they understand organisational dynamics, conflicting agendas and the different personalities of key stakeholders within the organisation. This enables these PMs to consistently avoid barriers and successfully steer through complex issues.

Smart PMs tailor their communications to suit the needs of the key project stakeholders. Technology projects have both technical and business stakeholders with quite different needs and knowledge. Good PMs can convey the project’s progress and challenges with the right level of jargon and detail to different audiences, while at the same time maintaining their engagement with the project. Technical PMs typically use language that is foreign to business people. When key decisions are not understood or endorsed by key stakeholders, this can lead to costly consequences.

Team leadership ability

The importance of team leadership skills is often underestimated when businesses select PMs. Effective PMs understand what the team needs and tailor their communications with the team to drive the team’s performance. These PMs correctly assess and leverage team members’ skills, and are able to gain the trust of their team members.

Poor PMs, or ‘bullies’, run the team into the ground while the project is delivered. Although PMs with a poor track record of team leadership may achieve some short-term visible gains, these PMs often constrain the long-term success of the project. Team morale is a good indicator of a PM’s effectiveness. Good PMs not only deliver the project outcomes, but build a team’s capabilities throughout the project.

Ownership and commitment

According to the study, two of the top three drivers of PM effectiveness are “passion to succeed”, and an “ability to meet internal deadlines”. When selecting PMs, leaders should seek out potential candidates who demonstrate these attributes.

Good PMs understand and help define the project success criteria. These PMs then become internal project champions by demonstrating passion in delivering the project and holding themselves accountable for the project’s success. Good PMs don’t find excuses for not delivering a project. Rather, they strive to deliver the best outcomes.

Effective PMs follow the standard project processes, but look for ways to improve these processes to remove bottlenecks, time consuming steps and other inefficiencies. CIOs should support and allow effective PMs to suggest process improvements where appropriate.

Managing project risks

Effective PMs are skilled in anticipating the risks that will come up throughout the project life-cycle. These PMs not only identify risks, but are also effective in developing strategies to mitigate them. They also communicate these risks to stakeholders in order to gain their support.

The study found that there was a large difference in the ability to anticipate and manage risks between the top and bottom performers. So it would be advisable to use this as a filter in selecting PMs for critical projects.

Grace under fire

Projects are stressful; a smoothly running project is a rarity. Good PMs maintain their cool in times of crisis. They maintain composure and guide their teams through the myriad of crises and challenges that projects encounter.

Problem solving and quick learning

The best PMs are experts at solving the problems that a project encounters. These PMs deal with insufficient or ambiguous information and are quick learners who rapidly draw lessons from unfamiliar situations and concepts. The best PMs are able to modify their behaviour based on these lessons.

Driven to success

Good PMs are ambitious and success oriented. Organisations need to recognise this and create pathways for PMs to progress to more senior roles. If organisations fail to look after good PMs, they will find challenges and opportunities elsewhere.

Hemant Kogekar is the principal of Kogekar Consulting. He has held CIO/IT director positions with Suncorp, Citigroup and Franklins. Contact him at

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