The best of the best project managers are part people-master and part data-head.

Over at the American Management Association, Tom Kendrick, author of 101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them, asked readers how to assess if they have what it takes to be successful project managers. We’ve been talking a lot about certification here, but Tom approached the issue from another angle: what qualities do the best PMs most frequently display? Here are the top ten.


The best project managers are people-oriented and quickly establish effective working relationships with their team members. Introverted PMs, on the other hand, may find their projects wandering out of control because they are insufficiently engaged with the people responsible for the work.


Great PMs have a preference for observable data over intuitive information. Projects are usually best managed using facts that can be verified and tested, and they tend to proceed most smoothly when decisions are based on consistent, data-driven criteria.


The best PMs are detail-oriented and can keep straight many disparate activities at a time. Individuals who are more flexible and spontaneous are important for innovation, but as PMs they may lack a perspective on the big picture and projects may be chaotic and directionless.

“Technical Enough”

Tom commented that for large programs, project managers are seldom masters of every technical detail, but generally are knowledgeable enough to ensure that communications are clear and status can be verified. Unless a project is particularly small and technical, it requires an effective leader who can motivate people and delegate the work to those who understand the nuances.


Great PMs understand that striving for perfection is fruitless. Instead, they focus on how to most efficiently deliver business value, recognizing that there will be trade-offs between time, scope, and cost.


The best PMs are well-liked and trusted by people at all levels of the organization. When a project runs into trouble, they instill confidence in others by maintaining a positive attitude and actively communicating possible solutions.

Ability to Refocus

PMs have to cope with frequent interruptions. As Tom said, project problems, requests, and other imperatives never wait for you to become unbusy, so you need to learn how to drop whatever you are doing, good-naturedly, and refocus your attention. Project leaders who hide behind “do not disturb” signs and lock their doors run the risk of seeing trivial, easily addressed situations escalate into unrecoverable crises.