6 Project Manager Qualities that Make a More Effective Leader

by Moira Alexander

Want to know what project manager qualities exist in effective leaders? To be a truly great project manager and an effective leader, you must be a strategic business partner fully vested in organizational success — and be able to roll with inevitable setbacks. Here’s how to stand out from the crowd. One could say that there are conversely there are some leadership qualities of project managers that make them more effective.

Every project manager knows how to execute projects on time and on budget. And good project managers also take pains to consistently meet project requirements. But truly great project leaders go above and beyond. Not only do they execute projects within scope, but they are also accountable, strategic business partners fully vested in organizational success.

If you’re looking to stand out and take your project management career to the next level, the following traits of highly effective project managers will show you the way. Coupled with the necessary technical skills, these attributes will place you in higher demand as a project manager, providing a strong foundation that will enable you to adapt to the constantly changing dynamics of a project while putting your stakeholder’s needs first above all else.

6 Project Manager Qualities That Make Effective Leaders


1. A strategic business partner

One of the top project manager qualities involves higher-level strategic leadership skills, not just technical management skills, which provide significant advantages for organizations of all sizes. These days, there are far more factors, both internal and external, that can negatively impact projects of all types. Such factors include triple bottom line (economic, ecological, and social outcomes), legal and legislative restrictions, remote project issues, and international and cultural factors, among others. Factors such as these create additional complexities that a project manager must contend with, and if you don’t have a strong understanding of how your project fits within the overall company-wide strategic goals, you greatly hamper your chances of delivering effective outcomes. Executive Project Management Offices (EPMOs) focus on this connection and help to increase project, program, and portfolio success rates. Strategy is one of the leadership qualities of project managers that are not only nice to have but vital.

2. Encourages and recognizes valuable contributions

The success or failure of a project doesn’t fall on the shoulders of one person.  Effective leadership is strongly impacted by the contributions of others on his or her team. Highly effective project managers share credit for work well done and encourage all members to participate and contribute at their highest levels. Rather than try to be a jack of all trades, leverage the knowledge and skills of others on the team. This simple but effective tactic will greatly increase the likelihood of achieving goals.

3. Respects and motivates all stakeholders

A project manager’s ability to communicate with and influence a variety of stakeholders is paramount to project success. After all, you need to find ways to motivate workers over whom you have no direct influence yet who can make or break a project. Instilling confidence in the minds of stakeholders and sponsors is necessary, particularly if and when there is a need to approach them with changes in the scope of the project. Another of the respected project manager qualities is demonstrating respect for team members, stakeholders, and sponsors at all times if you are to receive their respect in turn. It’s almost impossible for projects to progress in the right direction and on time without respect and motivation, especially from sponsors and stakeholders.

4. Is fully vested in success

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Highly effective project managers believe in the work they do, and they are fully vested in seeing a project from initiation to close. This mindset helps achieve the best results throughout the project. Be completely involved in all professional aspects of the project, its activities, and its people. Avoid overextending yourself if you want to maintain professional integrity and stakeholder satisfaction. John Paul Engel, president of Knowledge Capital Consulting, says engagement, resilience, and the ability to maintain a high level of both client and team satisfaction are the keys to generating results.

5. Exudes integrity and accountability

Not everything on a project will go as planned. Mistakes are to be expected, but it’s important to always accept when you are wrong and to learn from your mistakes. Being accountable for your decisions and actions is vital and sends a strong message to the rest of the team. Paul Dillon, the founder of Dillon Consulting Services LLC, agrees: “Integrity, decisiveness, good judgment, the ability to form a vision and execute it, confidence in your own competence” are hallmarks of highly effective project managers. “Without possessing the project manager qualities like selflessness, which puts the needs and wants of others before your own, you will never get people to ‘follow you to a place where they wouldn’t go to by themselves,’” Dillon says, quoting Joel A. Barker. “And that is why most people fail in leadership positions, I think, or can’t do it at all.” Effective leaders are typically accountable for good or not-so-good outcomes—another one of the leadership qualities of project managers who excel.

6. Works in the gray comfortably

All of the previously mentioned attributes speak for themselves, but what truly sets a project manager apart is his or her ability to work in the gray. Effective leaders possess this must-have skill since the majority of projects, regardless of type, industry, size, or complexity, will have gray areas you will need to navigate at some point. Issues with external constraints and complexities, remote project limitations, conflict, and ambiguity — these and other uncertainties will almost certainly be encountered. Joyce Wilson-Sanford, an executive coach, consultant, and writer at JWS Consulting and Read Joyce, says the ability to approach change in an organization, to see when a project is in trouble or can cause trouble, and to not get rattled by delay or crisis or budget cuts is key. Project managers with high technical and high people skills is a tough combination to find, she says. And when you combine those with the ability to work in the gray, you are a very effective project manager indeed.

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