PM-Foundations – 10 Capabilities of an Effective Project Manager

When interviewing potential project management candidates there are certain qualities, skills, and experiences you are looking for that are part of the DNA of a successful project manager. These qualities, skills, and experiences define the capabilities of a project manager, and their ability to consistently deliver positive project outcomes. These capabilities represent a point in time “snapshot” of where they currently are in their career. I try to look at the “real” potential of a project manager by assessing the impact additional experience and professional development can have on some of their capability shortfalls. You need to consider the candidate’s current capabilities, potential capabilities, and the perceived desire to achieve their potential when making hiring decisions. In this blog I touch on what I consider to be the key capabilities of an effective project manager.

10 Capabilities of an Effective Project Manager

Below are the top 10 things that I believe that project managers must demonstrate or perform well to consistently drive positive project outcomes. As with most of my lists, these are not necessarily in ranked order.

1. Facilitation – Much of what a project manager does involves facilitation – enabling project teams to collaborate to get work done. Project managers facilitate meetings, decision making, and issue resolution (to name a few). Effective facilitators understand the impartial role of the facilitator, ask good questions to promote meaningful discussions, and leverage facilitation tools to achieve the desire results.

2. Attention to Detail – Project managers must “roll their sleeves up” to understand and manage the details associated with the project. Activities like creating/updating a project schedule, tracking the project budget, and managing project risks & issues require the project manager to be comfortable and efficient working with very detailed information. Part of paying attention to details is identifying the details that are important to the success of the project – too many project managers get “lost in the details”.

3. Credibility – It is almost impossible to effectively lead a project if the project manager has not established credibility with the team and key stakeholders. Establishing credibility involves showing you have the confidence, knowledge, and experience to lead the project team. Credibility is established by “saying the right” things during interactions with the team, and more importantly “doing the right” things to drive project results.

4. Financial Aptitude – My major in college was accounting, so I am probably a bit biased on this point. In order to create and manage a project budget, as well as manage key project metrics (e.g., earned value, variance analysis), the project manager must have a strong aptitude to perform financial analysis related activities. Based upon my experience, project managers that do not have a strong financial aptitude try to ignore these aspects of the project, with not so successful results.

5. Technical Understanding – Even if you are not working on software development projects, most projects today involve some sort of technology. Project managers must be able to talk to technical resources and at a minimum understand the essence of their message and the implications on the project. I always cringe when I hear a project manager say, “I am not a technical person.” In my opinion this type of statement has a negative impact on the project manager’s credibility with the technical resources on the team.

6. Tools Savvy – Tools are a significant element of managing projects in most project environments, and the project manager needs to demonstrate the ability to use them effectively to manage the project. This includes project scheduling tools (e.g., MS Project) to manage the schedule, spreadsheets (e.g., Excel) to manage the budget and other project metrics, and presentation tools (e.g., PowerPoint) to facilitate project meetings. In addition, collaboration tools (e.g. SharePoint) are rapidly expanding in the project delivery space to provide a platform for easy access to project information/artifacts.

7. Embrace Conflict – Many people go through life trying to avoid conflict – conflict is unpleasant and stressful. In the context of project management, conflict is often required to get things “out in the open” and resolve issues. Embracing conflict does not mean that you go to project meetings seeking to “pick a fight”. It means that project manager must ensure that the difficult topics get discussed by the team in a timely manner. Project managers must rely on their facilitation skills to bring these difficult discussions to a positive conclusion. Potential problems left unattended do nothing but get bigger over time.

8. Continuous Learning – Every project I work on introduces me to something new. It may be a new tool, a new client industry, a new business process or a new technology. It is this opportunity to learn new things that fuels much of my passion for project management. Lou Holtz’s statement, “If you are not growing, you are dying” is very applicable to the world of project management. Our project environments are ever changing and therefore a project manager must enjoy and seek the opportunities to learn in order to sustain their effectiveness as a project manager.

9. Active Listening – I find that my most effective contributions on the team are achieved by listening to what the team members have to say. Active listening is required to understand what people are doing, identify challenges team members have encountered, and capture ideas to improve project performance. Active listening also provides the project manager with better “peripheral vision” (things that are not in the project manager’s direct line of sight) to identify potential problems or risks. Many project managers feel that leading involves a lot of talking, and I would argue that leading involves much more listening.

10. Flexible – Very rarely does the execution of the project turn out to be exactly as the project has been planned. Therefore the project manager must be able to respond to a “change in plans” and quickly adjust the plan in a manner that keeps the project on-track. The other important aspect of flexibility is the ability to accommodate the needs of your team and key stakeholders. There are many times that a project manager must lead by being a “servant” to the team – happy team members are productive team members.





About Steve Hart
Practice Manager responsible for project leadership & delivery services for the Cardinal Solutions Group in the RTP area. I am a PMP with 25 years of project management and technical leadership roles, have developed an extensive practical knowledge that spans a wide variety of industries, and project delivery approaches. As a practicing PMP, I am a member of the North Carolina PMI chapter. I am an avid sports fan, particularly the Miami RedHawks, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns, and most recently the NC State Wolfpack.

6 Responses to PM-Foundations – 10 Capabilities of an Effective Project Manager

  1. Pingback: PM-Foundations – 10 Capabilities of an Effective Project Manager

  2. Paul Slater says:


    This is a great post as applicable far more widely than Project Management. The themes you have discussed here are equally valid for Managers in many different disciplines and for those who describe themselves as Leaders.


  3. Steve Hart says:

    I totally agree. I appreciate your feedback!

  4. Amelia Barney says:

    Great post! I think all 10 points you have made here can and should be applied to any person that is in a manager position. I really like the points of listening to team members and implementing ideas that may make a project go smoother or faster. Also the point of being flexible so as to keep a project on track when things come up while working a project.

  5. Pingback: Software Development Project Problems: The Never Ending Story | The Public Safety PM

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