How to Pick the Best Project Managers


I have been recruiting project managers for around twenty years now and I still make mistakes in recruiting.   There are no guarantees that the person you pick is going to cut the mustard, but there are things you can do to improve your chances in finding the right fit.  Below are the main ten things that I look for when I hire for a project manager position:

  1. Impeccable: this word carries two important traits: honesty and conciseness.  Someone who is impeccable is very careful about every word he says.  If he is not sure of something he will say so.  He is less likely to give you wrong information which is very important to build credibility.
  2. Emotionally Intelligent: Emotionally intelligent individuals understand where the stakeholders are coming from; their way of thinking, likes, dislikes, best way of communication, and can interpret actions and statements of stakeholders into understanding their true wants and needs.  This is important for project management and for successful delivery.  He knows how to manage the stakeholders.  He is able to switch his style and demeanor based on the environment, project phase, and person he or she is working with.  This trait is relative, so no one has either absolutely no emotional intelligence (well, some do not but rarely) and no one is perfect.  So you need to measure how much your project needs such a person and determine what is the minimum of this trait you can get by with.  Some projects need emotional intelligence more than others.  Projects that are vague, risky, involve many influential and “difficult” stakeholders require a high level of emotional intelligence, but not all projects are like that.
  3. Flexible: This means that the project manager knows that she needs to yield on smaller stuff, to get concessions on the bigger stuff.  She knows that nothing is perfect and he needs to work with people, who are also not perfect, to get the necessary outcome.  So instead of getting bent over small stuff, she focuses more on the business value and benefits she is after, and willing to deal with workarounds if that gets her to her ultimate goal.
  4. Leader: You do not want a project manager who keeps getting back to you for direction on every single decision she has to make.  You need a project manager who understands when to seek direction and when to make decisions on her own.  Leadership also means that she is original in her methods and finding new solutions to problems and to think outside the box.
  5. Strong conviction: Main themes of project management include rules like:  plan first, work with people, check frequently, look for creative ways to do work, organize work, etc.  All project management processes at the detail level are there to serve these purposes towards project success.  So, you do not want someone to plan because your project management process says “plan” but because he knows how important planning is and he is sure that planning will add value to the project.
  6.  Positive outlook: the project environment carries its challenges.  Sometimes the head office is not cooperative.  Sometimes the client is being difficult, sometimes the tools are not sufficient, sometimes you need more work force.  A good project manager works through these difficulties, instead of using them as excuse for poor execution.
  7. Pleasant: it is as simple as it wounds.  Some people are pleasant.  You like to be around them, work with them, regardless of how tough the situation is.  Others on the contrary, you prefer not to come close to them as they make you feel negative or uncomfortable.  Pleasant project managers are not afraid to smile, or to get a bit closer at times to their constituents and stakeholders, even personally.
  8. Faith: They have faith that things will work out eventually and that everything turns out for the best.
  9. Poised: They can take the ups and downs of projects in stride.  Project Management can be very stressful.  Stress leads to mistakes and burnout.  You want project managers who figured out a way to keep their spirit lifted, most of the time, and not be easily shaken by project challenges.
  10. Learner: Since no one person can be perfect in all the above aspects and since all of them are relative not absolute, you need a project manager who puts himself on the path of self-learning, where every day something new that builds him in one or all the traits mentioned above.  He believes he still has a lot to learn even if he is a veteran of project management.

If you know anyone who fits these qualifications HIRE HIM or HER.  People who have mastered all the above traits are very rare, and if they exist, they are already in demand, so you will face lots of competition in getting them.  My advice is to determine which of the above traits are most important on your projects.  Then, look for talent as close as possible to your needs.  More importantly, if you have someone who possesses a good level of some of the traits above, please hold on to them.

Because finding such talent is tough, try to build it internally.  Work with your HR manager to have a training plan that helps your team build these traits.  Coach your team personally to build these abilities.  Be an example if you can to help them see how these traits are applied in real life.

Comments (3)

  1. Hi Ammar,
    I wandered over to check out your blog and really enjoyed this post. I think you have a really good list here. Now…what is the best way to find a project manager with these qualities?

    1. Hi Melissa,
      Thank you for your encouraging words.
      As far as your excellent question, the best way I know to find them is to make looking for them an ongoing task; even when you are not hiring. Keep looking for the talent and screen for select resumes and bring them in for interview. I log my notes from interviews and file them in my personal “hit list” so to speak.
      Then, when I have an opening, my hit list becomes the first place I look. When I need to staff a project, I need to do so promptly to meet client deadlines. The hit list has been great help so far.
      Please visit again and your comments are always welcome here.

  2. Hi Ammar,

    I really enjoyed this article and I’ve known of your work and received training with your team I’ve 10 years ago and you have created the greatest impact.

    The last project I worked on required exactly the above. A national project with great impact, stakeholders with different requirements and interests. As well as many influencing external factors.

    I am currently looking to catch the next wave of project management. With. Twist if AI.

    I would highly appreciate your advice on whether you know of any companies in the UAE that are hiring projects managers. I am more interested in the experience than merely the salary.

    Best regards and thank you again for such a great article.

    Rawan Shukri

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