Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with many top-notch project managers. These men and women do what is necessary to meet the objectives of the project. They encounter obstacles along the way, including spending more than budgeted, and falling behind schedule. However, they quickly identify the problem, and take corrective action to keep pressing ahead.


Ability #1: Can Work Under Pressure

For more than 25 years, I officiated Div. I men’s collegiate basketball. Of all the work I’ve done in my lifetime, serving as a referee at this level is the toughest. The players are fast and strong, and we have a split-second to render the right decision. A missed call late in the game allows the referee to become the scapegoat. The pressure to get every call right is bigger today because of the internet. A blown call travels fast via social media, which can negatively affect one’s career, especially an arbiter wishing to climb the ladder.


Like a referee, project managers work in a stress-filled environment. Differently, though, they have the option to think over a problem, and to run it by associates. Unfortunately, many project managers feel they can handle all situations, and may even feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. An excellent trait for those managing projects is to stay calm and cool when working under tight deadlines. It’s imperative to keep an open line of communication with the customer and sponsor, as this will reduce the chances of surprises.


Ability #2: Adaptability

By reading the PMBOK Guide, one learns the importance of following the process groups: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. One knows that all the plans must be created before the work is executed. The management plan become the guiding light. Through the planning process, the cost, schedule, and scope baselines are created, and deviation should be avoided.


What happens if the quality level we expected is not being met? How do we handle the situation where a key team member leaves the project? At this point, the project manager should adapt to the situation. The hope is that a contingency plan is in place, but if one lacking, a workaround is implemented. The approach described here is that of an effective project manager.


Ability #3: Communication

It’s tough to write an article about essential abilities of a project manager without including communication. Communication can take place formally or informally. Formal includes a presentation to the stakeholders, and an executive summary update to the sponsor. The type that is used is based on the needs of the project.


I’ve had success using informal communication, such as coaching a team member regarding a situation. I also take the opportunity to offer specific praise when work is done right. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. The point here is to acknowledge good work immediately. This type of communication is effective when sincere.


Other abilities of excellent project managers include decision-making, time management, and leadership. To successfully lead a project, one must be committed from beginning-to-end. Just as important, it’s necessary to ensure the team members are aware of how the project will benefit the organization. When buy-in takes place, the chances for success skyrocket.