Technical Projects:

Eating the Elephant One Bite at a Time, pt. II

By Elizabeth English


Published August 26, 2015


No Jitter / SCTC Perspectives




Are great project managers “born” and not “made?”


Given the right tools and processes, can anyone successfully manage projects? Does it take a certain personality type to be an excellent project manager or can the skills needed be learned?


Last month I talked about making meetings more productive. This month's elephant bites will focus on the necessary skills and traits required to be a truly effective project manager.


Many organizations are in the process of making major communications changes to their environment, such as converting multi-location, traditional PBXs to hosted, premises or hybrid VoIP, or converting from legacy to SIP trunks. These types of projects are usually very critical and highly visible. When undergoing these projects, selected vendors will most likely assign a "project manager," who may have come from the ranks of their technical sales, system administration, or technician staff, or may or may not be a certified Professional Project Manager (PMP). 


Correspondingly, the organization that holds the contract may or may not assign an internal project manager to represent the company. And, even if the assigned resources are PMP certified, are they are up to the task? Is someone immediately a good PM just by virtue of the fact that they were able to pass the certification exam? Will they navigate the project to a successful conclusion or allow the project to deteriorate into chaos? How can you tell if you have a great project management team?


Assessing Your Project Management Staff

The following are some of the traits to look for when assessing your project management staff:


  • Leadership and confidence – By setting a positive tone and showing confidence in their project team, managers foster the belief that the project will be successful.

  • Both big picture- and detail-oriented – Many project managers are focused on the tasks and subtasks outlined in the work breakdown structure. While understanding tasks is key, understanding the project scope as a whole is equally important. 

  • Politically astute – A great trait is the ability to recognize and avoid political landmines. By knowing what's most important to the key stakeholders, good project managers instinctively, intuitively deliver projects that meet both the stated and perceived goals. 

  • Forward focus/having the end goal in mind – They focus on correcting and moving forward, rather than assigning blame. When something inevitably goes wrong on a project, a good project manager focuses on what's required to correct and make progress. By focusing on what needs to be done, rather than whose fault it is, the project can continue towards its completion. 

  • Vigilant – In the back of their minds, they are always assessing the impact of task changes. Work break down structures and project plans are critical to allow the team to understand how their deliverables fit into the project, but being flexible, rather than rigid in modifying plans, will help a stuck project avoid delays.

  • Perceptive – They may not have the plan memorized, but they do know what items fall on the critical path and when something needs to be done about it. They inherently recognize when something requires attention.

  • Over-communicators – By communicating constantly upstream, downstream and across teams, they ensure all team members understand the vision, scope and project objectives. They also recognize when and to whom to communicate, rather than blasting everything to everyone, creating noise.

  • Tech savvy – While project managers do not need to be able to engineer a solution, they do need to be able to ask appropriate questions, and recognize when the answers they get don't make sense or require more detailed information.

  • Collaborative – They foster collaboration rather than competition. It's not who's right, but what's right. By looking for ways to move forward together, they ensure everyone "buys in."

  • Prepared – They have backup plans for their backup plans. Having a plan B is good. Having a plan C, D, and E...even better.

  • Timing – They know when to throw the "jeopardy" flag. As mentioned, delays and issues are inevitable. Many of them can be managed by making minor adjustments. A good project manager will recognize when minor adjustments aren't enough, and assistance is needed to provide additional resources or remove roadblocks to success.


While some of these skills can be learned, others may be more inherent in certain personality types. For example, being detail-oriented or big picture-oriented may be learned skills; being bothdetailed-oriented and big picture-oriented is harder to impart if the natural traits are not already present. When engaging a project manager or managers for your next project, looking for traits such as leadership, perceptiveness, timing, and a collaborative approach will improve your odds of success. If some traits are lacking in your PM, consider supplementing the team with members who do have these skills.


While project management training can improve almost anyone's skills, it may not turn an average project manager into an excellent one.


So are project managers born and not made? ...Perhaps it's a little of both.




"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communication technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.