When I ask CIOs or senior managers to name two great project managers, most struggle to do so. That’s worrying when you consider that, according to Gartner, almost $4 trillion is spent on projects around the world.
Of course becoming a great project manager doesn’t happen overnight. They don’t just wake up, point at themselves in the mirror and say ‘great’ and that’s it.
Similarly it's not something that can be taught from a textbook in a classroom. As with other leadership roles, developing a great project manager starts with the hiring process.
Forget psychometric testing and requesting copies of method certificates. Instead ask candidates how they bounced back from a failure; how they manage project sponsors; or what original ideas they have to create great teams. Future stars will understand these questions and have their answers ready.
A great project manager needs to have experienced failures and successes in order to learn what it takes to build great cultures that deliver consistently well.
They will benefit from a strong mentor who understands the stresses, strains and challenges of the role and can support them in getting better and better at what they do.
Read the signs
So having hired a good project manager and provided access to the right knowledge to help them grow, here are the five signs that they're on the path to greatness.
1. They’re well liked
Remember the old saying ‘being respected is important, being liked isn’t’? Rubbish. Maybe it was true 10 years ago, but not anymore. In order to get anyone to do anything for you, you have to be a nice person.
You have to speak to people in a way that they like to be spoken to, be clear about what needs to be achieved, be interested about their lives outside work and display a little vulnerability every now and again to demonstrate that you're human. A great project manager will do this.
They’ll always start the day with a ‘good morning’, the evening with a ‘good night’ and every question or interaction will be met with a smile and an easy going nature. The project area will be filled with good humour, chocolate biscuits (or fruit) and the table will never thumped.
Remember those projects that you enjoyed? It’s because they were led by nice people who got the job done and who made you feel good about yourself too.
2. They take all the blame and none of the credit
In an ideal world blame wouldn’t exist in our working cultures at all. However, despite my crusade to ensure that projects develop the right cultures in which to deliver, I still see the evil finger of blame pointed like a weather vane in a hurricane.
Great project managers are like umbrellas (I’m going with the full gamut of weather metaphors here). When the criticism is pouring down they ensure that the team is protected from it. They then ensure that the message passed down is presented as an opportunity to improve not a problem to be fixed.
Similarly, when the sun is out and the praise is beaming down, they ensure that the people who do the real work bask in it and are rewarded for it. When they talk about how successful a project has been, they talk about the strengths of the team and the qualities they have shown, never about themselves.
3. They involve everyone in planning
Every great project manager knows that in order for any project to succeed you need a great plan; and every great project manager knows that in order to get a great plan you need to involve everyone in the planning process.
Not everyone obviously, but they take the time identify those people who are impacted and can impact the project they're leading and get them involved, including the CIO.
They create a productive, enjoyable environment. They want to ensure that they get the most out of the three hours because at the end of it they’ll have a plan that the team has built and believe in. With that, they know that they're already halfway to delivering a successful project.
4. They put effort into building teams
Designing great teams takes lots of thought and time and is like completing a jigsaw (stay with me on this). Great project managers look at the team picture, lay out the pieces so that they know what they need to put where, then set about creating that picture over time.
Putting any old pieces together doesn’t work, neither does putting pieces together that create a different picture at the end.
A great project manager doesn’t accept the people who are ‘free’ or ‘on the bench’ unless they’re the right people and they’ll negotiate like a used car salesperson for the people that they really need, going to great lengths to recruit people into the vision that they have. Once the team is in place, they never stop leading it, building it, encouraging it, performance managing it and celebrating it.
5. They manage up well
A project manager can’t become great unless someone has their back. They’re prepared to take responsibility for everything concerned with the delivery of a project providing someone above them is doing all they can to support the project and remove roadblocks that may stand in their way.
As I’ve mentioned before, ensuring that this support and accountability is in a place is a project manager’s job and the great ones do this really well.
You know they’re doing it well because as a CIO you’re always informed, you never doubt the ability of the team to deliver and your peers speak positively about the project and the way it’s being led.
They do all of this because they are great leaders and respect your position and the challenges that brings.
Great project managers are rare. They're great because they love what they do and never stop looking for better ways to do it. Do you have any great project managers? If so, what do they do that sets them apart from others? I’d love to hear your views.
Colin Ellis is a project management expert specialising in people and culture not method and task. He has over 20 years experience in the UK, NZ and Australia and his Conscious Project Management approach ensures that people with consistently great behaviours are at the forefront of project delivery. Find out more at his his website or follow him on Twitter @colindellis