When I reflect back on the skills that top, cream of the crop, project managers have in common, it comes down to three. I’m talking about the top 5%, the handful of project managers that I’d trust to lead the largest organizational projects out there. These project managers would be on the Mount Rushmore of project management, if there were such a monument.


Leadership needs to come naturally to them and they have to love leading. They have to be able to naturally motivate people about the large-scale change that may be coming in the project. All organization-wide projects involve change, whether it’s a new system or new processes that are coming into play or a new product that’s being developed. The top project managers need to be self-starting leaders that understand quickly what’s needed to lead. They also have to motivate the other team players who are going to be involved.

They have to command authority naturally and have people want to get in line to follow them. When making a strategic decision about the project, they have to be comfortable and have an innate confidence in order to have people follow. And they have to be prepared to defend what they are doing.

This is critical since much of the work will impact executives. An effective project manager running an organization-wide project may find themselves in a situation where they may not agree with the executives and they have to know how to be able to get them to see the light. The project leaders on Mount Rushmore do not say yes to everything the CIO says, for example. But, at the same time, you have to know how to lead them to getting on board with what decision you’ve made. And they have to trust you with that decision because you’ve talked to the right people, you’ve talked to the right departments, and you have to be able to get their confidence and trust so that you can lead them.


They have to have the experience to know what to look for in every situation. Whether it’s an issue, whether it’s a risk, whatever the situation is, they have to quickly think through what questions to ask and what they need to know. Somebody may come in and say that if we can’t get a particular contractor by a certain time the deadlines are going to be missed. The effective project manager needs to know what to ask because this may not actually be an issue.

Or somebody may come in with a seemingly small issue such as not being able to get network cables in line by a certain date. It may seem small but actually it’s not good because it may involve time, unplanned costs and resources. There are positives and negatives in every situation and good project managers have to know what to look for and the questions to ask. A lot of this is going to come with experience, but they have to look at a situation and really know what questions to ask.


Related to this is continuous enthusiastic and positive communication about the project. Good project managers need to also be very strong communicators across all departments. And they need to be enthusiastic about change since most projects are about bringing change. To lead, they have to believe in the project. They have to believe in the end goal and the service that they’re providing. If they’re not enthusiastic about it, the people that are part of the project aren’t going to care and the project may be doomed from the start.

And they have to really believe in project management and see project management as a challenge that leads to a stronger organization in the future. It may get tough because they need to do communications, quality assurance, risk management, and issues management plans. The strong project manager that’s leading the organization-wide project wants to do them because they know it will make their project successful.

Of course you also need to be cool under pressure, communicate well, and be a good problem solver. But I’m sure you already knew that. If you agree with the above, send me an email.