Home > Management, Project Management > (Successful) Project Manager People Characteristics and other commentaries

(Successful) Project Manager People Characteristics and other commentaries

For sharing – 10 Keys to Being a Wildly Successful Project Manager by Alec Satin’s post is a nice look into daily habits and some characteristics that make PM’s successful. One aspect that I like about Satin’s blog is his approach to the soft skills of PM because for most of the corporate world many of us work in, mastery of this area can get us a lot of mileage in projects. PMs in my view are like movie/stage directors getting other people to act in concert to achieve something. Looking at people side of things however, is difficult because it’s not very measureable and often too “vague”. Many professional PMs have backgrounds in science and engineering disciplines which are more rigorous than your average “business major”. Nevertheless, it seems that this aspect of PM is as important as the process-side and technical-side of project management. The reason, IMHO, is that people make projects happen, no amount of process or technical PM know-how ever got projects completed without people. The question might then be, do people come first or does the PM environment (i.e. PM processes and PM knowledge) come first? Is it a chicken and egg question? This seems like another version of the discussion between Jim Stroup and Ben Simonton in Star Systems blog post. Where if I were to summarize simplistically, is a discussion between a systems view of management (i.e. Drucker) vs an individual-focused view of management. (It’s thought-provoking and challenges one to seriously rethink his/her belief system of people, organizations or so-called “people systems”).

My personal take on the intersection of people and systems approach in project management is that we need a “people systems” approach to ensure a predictable set of behaviors and outcomes in project management environments. People if permitted can do wonders and releasing this potential is to me a key management responsibility to achieving organizational success. But, individuals need some direction to channel the energy in a productive and focused manner, and this is where we are back to square one – striking the balance between systems approach and an individual leadership approach (really two sides of the same coin). As an IT project manager, I would prefer more systems approach in our IT PM environments to help structure people’s activities and provide some kind of “predictability” of output/outcomes from PM activities – in other words try to “operationalize” project management work.

We have a much more focus these days on a sytems engineering approach toward PM (i.e. INCOSE), to drive quality PM for businesses. Taking a systems approach to it would make PM more disciplined, rigorous and therefore resulting in (more) successful projects. One such proponent who I know is Dr. Paul Giammalvo who on various PM sites and mailing lists have argued for this. He’s got an interesting set of opinions on Project Management and you can see some from PMFORUM. Paul A. Tedesco is another PM who takes a systems view and he wrote a book called Common Sense in Project Management. The book takes a different view on Project Management than most out there and I would recommend it highly to the serious PM practitioner.

For other high quality reads on Project Management success from the blogosphere, check out:
1. Models of PM Success from Glen B. Alleman’s Herding Cats blog, and
2. Posts on PM Success from Kailash Awati’s eight2late blog.

  1. August 22, 2008 at 7:57 PM

    Hi Lui,

    Honored to be cited on your blog here. Thank you.

    You raise very good points about the value and importance of both people and systems approaches in good PM. To me the challenge in PM shops seems often to be first demonstrating the value of people approaches to IT leadership (including PMs), and then more importantly, helping them to develop these skills for themselves.

    It’s one thing for me as a consultant or individual PM/PMO contributor to come in and instigate change which shows up in better metrics. This is personally gratifying – but does very little of long term benefit. For IT PM to truly move to the next level of demonstrable value to executive management, we must focus more on creating environments that include the proper level of structure and process, and allow people to breathe freely and prosper.

    Long comment – hope it makes some sense.

    Wish you well, Bak Mei.

  2. Lui Sieh
    August 23, 2008 at 4:45 PM

    Hi Alec,

    Thanks for your comments here. I enjoy reading about your perspectives on your blog.

    I tend to agree that demonstrating the value from the people side is highly important. Working with many PMs, the first step I’ve taken is focus on bring up their PM knowledge, including the soft skills that PMs would need to succeed. Without this, it doesn’t matter what kind of framework or methodology there is. I’ve found that story telling, war stories sharing are extremely helpful, because PM can be very abstract but most people can relate to common experiences and stories.

    Hope you come back to share and hope that my readers will check out your blog.


  3. August 24, 2008 at 7:43 AM

    Hi Lui,
    Yes, thanks for citing me as well!!

    I am continuing with my research with Dr. Dan Harrison, Harrison Assessments in defining the behaviors exhibited by successful project managers.

    Preliminary research indicates the following 7 BEHAVIORS which are proving to be valid PREDICTORS of “successful” project managers:

    1) Takes Initiative
    2) Enthusiastic
    3) Finance/Business Sense
    4) Want to lead/be leaders (so much for the “accidental” PM?)
    5) Analytical (but not overly so)
    6) Handle Autonomy
    7) Want challenges…..

    Several others are doing research on this topic as well….. If there is further interest, I will share what they are doing….

    Dr. PDG, from Lille, France

  4. August 25, 2008 at 12:48 AM

    Thanks for the citation and your very interesting post. I think you have highlighted an important dichotomy in project management: people vs. processes. On the one hand, we know that processes are important because they enable control and predictability; on the other, people are equally (if not more) important because they do the actual work. Unfortunately, people aren’t as easy to manage as processes. Further, straitjacketing people into rigid processes can have a negative effect. The trick is to find the right balance. Therein, I believe, lies the big challenge for project managers.



  5. Lui Sieh
    August 25, 2008 at 4:32 AM

    Hi Paul!

    Thanks for looking up my blog! I’m glad you’re doing well in continuing your PM research. I had met the Harrison Assessment folks in KL thanks to your introduction a few years back. I was impressed with their early work on PM competencies and characteristics from a psychometric perspective. The HA stuff seems to be an extremely thorough methodology. Can’t wait for you to publish on this.

    I think this is an area worth exploring more about in a blog posting,

    Be well,

  6. Lui Sieh
    August 25, 2008 at 4:39 AM

    Hi Kailash,

    Thanks for reading and your comments. I agree the key challenge to find a breakthrough is balancing people and processes – and this is the most interesting question to tackle from a general management perspective.

    It seems that looking at environmental (i.e. culture) factors would be an appropriate place to know what is the right balance. Some organizations – processes are more important (perhaps industries where there’s a lot of structure and/or working on mission critical systems that affect lives) vs. people are more important (IT shops where processes are fluid and people operate with imperfect processes and structures).

    Your comments helped spark a future blog post in this area.

    Many thanks!

  7. February 23, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    Hi Lui, hope all is well with you these days? Not sure if you are aware, but John and I have posted an update on our research on behavioral profiling of successful project managers-http://pmworldjournal.net/?article=using-behavioral-profiling-to-identify-successful-project-managers

    Also, I have just updated my on going research benchmarking the various globally recognized certifications against the US Professional Engineer (PE) license and Gladwell’s 10.000 hour rule- http://pmworldjournal.net/article/project-management-credentials-compared-an-update/

    Gong Xi Fa Cai….!!!

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta

  1. December 29, 2008 at 6:19 AM

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