Three Characteristics of the Best Project Managers

by Tom York, Vice President of Strategic Projects

(Editor’s Note: Tom has 4 decades of experience in project engineering, plant engineering and maintenance management, and executive management of system integration and construction implementation for design-build projects.)

One of the major challenges project owners face when selecting a firm to execute their project is judging the key role of project management. The best conceived and designed project will struggle to be successful without excellent project management. I define project management as overseeing and coordinating all aspects of a project. Based on my experience on both sides of projects, here are the characteristics I believe are most important when making that selection.

Communication: This is absolutely the number one most important characteristic when judging project managers. It needs to take place at all levels and with all stakeholders, from project to technicians to senior ownership positions. Look closely at the proposed PM’s list of commitments, responsibilities, processes, and communication activities to assure understanding of, and commitment to, the communication process. Firms submitting proposals should bring their proposed project manager into the selection process as early as possible to begin that communication process and create a level of rapport with the ownership team.

Project Understanding: Top project managers must have an excellent understanding of the project and how all the pieces fit together. This is demonstrated in a couple ways. 

  • First is the project schedule being proposed. It should address all elements of the project and how they relate to each other. During a project, the schedule should be updated daily.
  • Second is the list of action items developed and maintained for the project. This is critical to managing a project. It must apply project wide and identify the item, who is responsible for it, and when it is project to be completed.

Budget: While budget management generally tends to be more important on T&E projects, it nevertheless needs attention on all projects. Budget is also an area where the project manager doesn’t have complete control of all events that may impact costs. Regardless, it is vital for a PM to be able to recognize early possible cost overruns so that mitigation actions may be taken to minimize adverse impacts.

The project management function is vital to the success of a project. A successful project manager will be a great communicator with complete understanding of the project who is also attentive to the budget. Be sure to look for those characteristics when evaluating a firm for your next project.

Read more about our project management approach and see a typical PM plan. You may also find interesting our video describing our typical construction management approach.