Villing & Company

The Five Qualities of a Great Project Manager

During my 14 years at Villing & Company, I've had the opportunity to work with a number of great project managers and account executives. As anyone at an agency will tell you, a great project manager can mean the difference between a successful, enjoyable project and an unmitigated disaster. Probably due to recently losing one of our best account executives, I've been reflecting a lot recently on what makes a project manager great.

Here are five qualities that the best project managers possess:

1. A great project manager knows when (and how) to say "no."
One of the hardest parts of managing a project is keeping it on track. That often means recognizing when to say "no" -- both to the client and to the team. Without this skill, the scope, timeline and cost of the project will likely expand unchecked. But merely recognizing this isn't sufficient; a great project manager also knows how to say "no" in a way that minimizes conflict and improves client/agency teamwork, rather than increasing conflict and souring attitudes.

2. A great project manager takes ownership of each project.
A sure sign of inexperienced, or incompetent project managers is when they're quick to shift responsibility for the project elsewhere--either blaming the client or the team for problems rather than working toward finding solutions. Granted, the project manager is almost always correct in the assessment of blame, but that's what separates the "great" ones from the pack. Knowing full well that they aren't the source of the problem, the best project managers roll up their sleeves and get the job back on track.

3. A great project manager becomes the "customer advocate" to clients and the "client advocate" to the team.
Everyone involved in a project brings a unique perspective. Though we all try, it's sometimes difficult to overcome our own biases and preferences when tackling a new challenge. The best project managers I know make it a point to get into the head of the target audience. It's their job to understand and advocate for the customer point-of-view when they're in meetings with the client. Likewise for internal meetings, it's just as important to embody the perspective of the client. By becoming deeply familiar with the needs, desires and aspirations of these two critical groups, great project managers dramatically improve the end result.

4. A great project manager empowers clients and energizes the team.
Poor project managers may inadvertently leave both their clients and their team feeling powerless and frustrated rather than motivated and valued. Often, both clients and team members have the same experience. Both may leave a meeting feeling like their opinions aren't taken seriously and their point-of-view isn't important. On the other hand, an experienced project manager is able to communicate criticism in a way that inspires and motivates--pulling the very best out of clients and team members so that everyone feels like an important part of the process.

5. A great project manager knows when to abandon a project.
It's not often, but sometimes the best course of action for the agency and the client is to abandon a project. A great temptation is to avoid failure at all costs, and certainly failure isn't something to be accepted lightly. However, whether it's choosing to turn down potential new business, dramatically changing the direction of a campaign or pulling the plug on a toxic project, a great project manager has the discernment and courage to make the exceedingly difficult decision to walk away.

Like I said, I've been fortunate to work at a company that's employed exemplary project managers and account executives over the years. Knowing that projects are in good hands has enabled me to concentrate on what I do best, and for that I'm very thankful.

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