Essential Advice for a Project Manager

Project Managers
Many people aspire to become a project manager early in their career. There may also be a scenario where their company needs a project to be managed and therefore an opportunity presents itself. What normally happens is some training in the organization’s project management procedures followed by some formal training by a third party to receive a project management qualification. Although all training and certification in project management is important – is it enough to become a successful project manager?

What about the practical hands on mentoring and coaching required to master any skill or discipline? This is particularly important when it comes to project management. What about the person? Is the person suited to the rigours of a project management role.

Before you embark on the journey to be a project manager or before you recommend one of your colleagues here are some useful points and some soft skills that aren’t covered in any conventional project management training. These are focused on the practical side of delivering projects effectively and being a better project manager.

Choose the right team

Like any manager the ability to select the right team around you is very important. Working with people that you respect and trust can be the single most important element in effective management of any type. This only happens by understanding people, reading people and getting to know what makes people tick. Everyone is different and it is often beneficial to have a good mix of youth, experience and personalities in a project team. Above all they must respect and support each other. This may take some time to achieve but it can be a very effective culture if you get it right. The objective here is to encourage openness and transparency. A team that continually supports each other will become very effective and work well as a single unit.

Delegate everything that you can

Delegation is key to being an effective leader and project manager. You are not washing your hands of everything but you are ensuring that it gets done. Remain focused on the big picture in driving the project forward. Delegating tasks to individuals in the project team is a great way of testing people and proving that they can do the job. This is a development opportunity.
On occasion the project manager is required to roll up their sleeves. However, if this becomes a habit or the norm, it can be detrimental to the project and to your own development as a project manager.
Delegate where possible. It will keep your workload clear and provide you with the space to handle unplanned events which are commonplace on software projects.

Avoid meetings

There is a common trend in industry today where meetings take up a huge part of your working week, leaving a project manager with little time to actually get the work done. Think about the process. You attend a meeting and take an action.The more meetings you attend, the more the actions you acquire. At the end of the week, time is limited in which you can actually complete those actions. One week runs into the next and so on. The “To Do” list gets bigger and your time remains limited.

In an operational environment this can be manageable but in a project environment where you have a fixed time to complete the job, this can be a serious distraction particularly for the project manager. Meetings can drain your time and your energy and become a huge distraction from the objectives of a project.

At the beginning of a project set out the required governance and touch points. Be as practical as possible here. Why arrange a 1 hour meeting when you can give an update in 15 minutes?

There will always be a need for meetings but they should be brief, to the point and useful. If asked to attend a meeting that is not part of the regular project schedule, always challenge. When the invite arrives in, ask the questions – What is the objective of the meeting? What do you need from me? As the project manager am I needed for the full duration? Can I send a delegate in my place?

Avoid falling into the trap of multiple meetings that often go over the same ground. You must continually assess each meeting by asking – how will the project benefit from this meeting? Is it a priority over my time now?

Be good to your team

As the project manager one of your main functions is to protect your team. Protect them from politics, noise and distractions. Communication is key here. Insist on knowing all risks and challenges and assess these risks at the earliest convenience. (There is a fine line here between doing the right thing and encouraging whiners that can cry wolf on a project)

Ensure that your team are confident that if all issues are made transparent and there is no attempt to hide anything then you will support and protect the team through thick and thin. (Moving back to the delegation point here – you will not have the capacity to protect your team if you are continually bogged down in tasks that you could delegate.)

As project manager avoid being petty as a leader. If you spot a potential trap coming down the line, inform them discretely. Never take anyone on or vehemently challenge anyone in front of their peers. If you have an issue to discuss, always do this on a one to one basis. You will both appreciate it in the long run. They will learn to trust you more because of this.

A project manager should also ensure that each member of the team understands the contribution that they make to the project is valuable. Project teams are bound together by understanding that they have a contribution to make to a bigger goal than their own work. See our recent article on project team motivation Here

Talk like there is someone watching and listening

When discussing anything project or work related always talk like there is another person watching and listening. If your meeting was played back you, how do you want to perceived?
You must always come across as a professional. You should become disciplined in speaking like this in all professional discussions. It helps to build a very positive habit, one you will only acquire with practice.

Keep the ship on course

Avoid getting bogged down with every detail of the project. Leave the detail to the experts, the technical gurus and the business analysts. A project manager needs to stay focused on the key performance indicators of the project and the end game. The captain of a ship does not keep the ship on course by working in the engine room. The captain does most of his work on the bridge where he or she can maintain a clear view of the entire operation.

Over the course of my career I have observed that the most effective leaders and project managers generally only have 1 item on their desk at a time. Their workspace is uncluttered so they focus on the issue at hand. Each issue will have his or her undivided attention.


In summary an effective project manager will do the following:

1. Choose the right team around them
2. Avoid unnecessary meetings
3. Protect your team
4. Talk like there is someone else listening
5. Maintain a long term view to keep the ship on course

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: with some background on your specific issue and we’ll be in touch.


2 replies
  1. Barry Curry
    Barry Curry says:

    Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to read the article. The project manager can only develop these skills by using them with their team and reviewing how the soft skills are working. I have found that you need to adjust the approach for each team and each project. In terms of the team culture, you must lead by example. In my experience, people do not respond well to micro management. The best way to know if you can trust someone is to trust them with a task and responsibility. Most people will appreciate the autonomy. Also encourage the team to ask for help and help each other. People tend to be motivated by being allowed to work autonomously, by being encouraged to suggest improvements and working as part of an inclusive team towards a common goal.


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