Ten qualities we all want in our PMs

Feb 11, 2024

If you take an honest look at people who are really good project managers, you’ll find they have some specific personality traits and abilities that lead to their success.

The owners of practically every AEC firm we talk to or work with tell us that they are trying to have better project managers. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that if you do projects as your primary source of income for your business, you are going to want to have capable project managers – it’s how you make your money. Plus, you want to end up with a happy repeat client after you work with them, and don’t want any liabilities coming back to bite you in the backside later.

I think if you take an honest look at people who are really good project managers, you’ll find they have some specific personality traits and abilities that lead to their success. Here are some of them (you may have heard some from me before, but some of them you haven’t!):

  1. They aren’t trying necessarily to be firm managers. Sure – they like their discipline and they like project management. But this does not mean that they necessarily aspire to be department managers or be a manager of other project managers. They like being “in the fight” daily, doing work on projects, and dealing with clients, subconsultants, contractors, and other employees. They enjoy solving the problems that come up, and like putting out fires instead of dreading those things.
  2. They don’t procrastinate. They return phone calls and emails promptly. They put out project meeting notes fast. They cry for “extra services” agreements when they need to be called for quickly. They don’t put off ‘til tomorrow whatever would be best done today.
  3. They know how to respond under fire. They will come under attack from contractors and subcontractors, and occasionally clients, and they don’t lose their cool. They also don’t write angry and stupid emails that make whatever they are dealing with worse.
  4. They are good at sizing up people. There’s no substitute for being able to size up people quickly. People who are good at this can predict what their clients will like and won’t like, will know how to please them/impress them, and will know how to communicate effectively with them. They are also good at figuring out who should be in what role on the project. Call it intuition or call it being a real student of human behavior – it makes no difference – some folks have it and others don’t.
  5. They know how to treat people. People don’t say about them, “So-and-so is a real jerk (or worse)!” Maybe they learned some real lessons from their grandmothers or their kindergarten teachers? It’s a skill that really helps you as a project manager, where so many of those on your project team don’t actually report to you.
  6. They are great communicators. This, of course, starts with being a good listener and observer. But it’s more than that. They do things like parrot back what they heard someone tell them to confirm they heard it right. They don’t use terminology that practically no one will understand. They know how to be succinct and clear.
  7. They are just a tiny bit paranoid. A good PM can anticipate where things will go wrong and who won’t do their job properly. That helps keep them (and the project) out of trouble!
  8. They are natural relationship builders. Because people like them and trust them – because they know how to treat other people and are good communicators – because they can keep their cool under fire – they naturally build strong relationships with other people. This makes people WANT to work with them.
  9. They are excellent multitaskers. I know all the LinkedIn “experts” out there will tell us that we shouldn’t multitask. What? Have these people ever really done anything? As a PM, of course you have to multitask! There will always be all kinds of conflicting demands on your time. You typically have many different projects, clients, and other priorities all tugging at you at the same time. You have to be able to juggle all those balls and still get done what needs getting done without upsetting anyone in the process.
  10. They are honest. You have to keep your promises, do what you say you will, and be trustworthy to be an effective PM. You cannot keep a client happy if you are known as someone who speaks empty words and doesn’t follow through. Nor will a PM be able to keep their own team happy if they do things such as artificially shrink the budget or compress the schedule for the project – tools some people who work as PMs use. Sure, it is difficult – especially when you don’t control all the resources – but it’s essential to being an effective PM.

I would guess that few of our readers would disagree with me here on the requisite skills for PMs. Yet, it’s really fascinating to me how little of this stuff is actually addressed in the typical PM training that firms do. 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.