October 15

10 Terrific Traits of Exceptional Project Managers

Leadership, Personal Development


Think about the project managers you've worked with through the years. Which ones were unusually good? Which ones qualify as exceptional project managers?

I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of project managers in my career. Here are some of the traits and behaviors that made them stand out. How many of these traits do you possess?


"Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." -Winston Churchill

1. Persistent

“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” -Winston Churchill

Projects are filled with pot-holes. Project managers and their team members make mistakes, create defective products, and stumble. Persistent project managers learn from their failures and lead with renewed enthusiasm.

2. Opportunistic

“Opportunities don’t happen; you create them.” -Chris Grosser

Project managers are risk managers that identify, assess, and manage risks including threats and opportunities. Great project managers have an eye for seeing, exploiting, and enhancing opportunities.

3. Self-Control

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” -Anonymous

Project conflict is inevitable. Individuals may express strong differences of opinions. Sometimes team members tell project managers what to do and where to go (if you know what I mean). Keep a cool head. Respond softly and respect others. Reason and work with your team members to find common ground and solutions.

4. Selfless

“Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.” -Anonymous

The best leaders are generous. They look for opportunities each day to give their time, knowledge, and insights. They give with no expectations of personal gain, only to help others.

5. Optimistic

“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” -Oscar Wilde

Why is that some people face trials and come out the other side bitter while others welcome the difficulties? Optimistic project managers look for the silver lining and discover the lessons learned. They are thankful for the insights gained through the school of hard knocks.

6. Visionary

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

Your team members want to know where they are going and how they are going to get there. Individuals want a mental map. Visionary project managers work with their project sponsors to develop and consistently cast a clear vision.

7. Diligent

“I find the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” -Thomas Jefferson

Don’t you just love this quote? Jefferson knew that luck was not the key to triumph. Successful project managers combine good planning with hard work.

8. Motivated

"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing -- that's why we recommend it daily." -Zig Ziglar

How do you stay motivated day to day? Surround yourself with encouraging individuals both at work and outside of work. Recharge your batteries with rest and hobbies you enjoy. Make quiet times for personal reflection a priority. Keep your eyes on the finish line.

9. Focused

"The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus." -Bruce Lee

Don't focus on your failures or what went wrong. Focus on your next steps. Continuously remind your teams of the goals of each project and why the project is critical to the strategy of your organization.

10. Enjoyable

"People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing." -Dale Carnegie

Some people think that life is not about fun and games. The Scrooges of the world don't make good leaders. Exceptional leaders find ways to inject fun into the journey. A good laugh brings sunshine to the difficult and challenging days.

Growing Over Time

Becoming an exceptional project manager doesn't mean that you possess all of these traits at once. Pick one or two; work on maturing the quality over time. Find a friend or coach who can help you grow in that area. Periodically, pick additional traits to develop.

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