Certification is not a guarantee your project will succeed. Project manager intangibles are critical success factors.

13 January

You are armed with your PMP certification and you can plan, organize and direct strategic initiatives to meet organizational goals but to be successful there are intangibles that a PM needs to lead their teams across the goal line.

After being called in to rescue and turnaround various projects, I have found that while a PMP certification is important, it alone is not sufficient for successful project management. When meeting with teams who are assigned to the projects going south I find a common link; there is no leadership. Many project managers may be focusing on what needs to be done and may even know how to do it but he or she my not be acting as a leader to move the team in a forward direction.

At a basic level project managers must be able to set the vision, define success and determine the measurements of success. But even with certification in hand it takes true leadership to drive complex projects to successful conclusions. The following are some intangible characteristics that it takes to be an effective project leader.

First and foremost you need to show results. Project management is the art and science of getting things done. When you improve your project management skills you know how to get things done quickly and even more important, you learn how to document the results to show progress is being made.  In sports you are only as good as your last game and in our careers we are often only as good as our last project. We can’t be a one hit wonder. We must show results and project success year after year. Hard workers are common, finishers are rare. Of all the intangibles desirable in a project manager having the drive toward task completion is the most important.

Being a leader and manager of teams rather than a doer condemns the project manager to getting things done through people. It is not as if the project manager has a choice, she or he must manage and lead. Having almost no authority of position, the project manager must depend on interpersonal skill and the power of persuasion to get cooperation from the managers of functional units that supply the people, resources and technical assistance to the project. Ask yourself: Do you play well with others? Do other people want to be on your project team? Do you listen actively to what others have to say?

As with any group of people rivalries, friendships, hostilities and competition are sure to exist. The project manager must influence team members and management to set aside differences and work together to accomplish project tasks. The ability to communicate mediate and negotiate are key skills for a change agent. A common mistake made by project managers is not challenging senior and executive management on issues that could jeopardize project success. As the project manager you are accountable for the decisions you make and the ones you don’t make. There is no room for indecision. Do your homework. Find out where the project risks are and develop plans to mitigate those risks. Risks can occur at anytime within a project and your experience in other projects will trigger when a risk is imminent and when corrective action is required. Risks that require executive management intervention must be communicated and assigned to key leaders with project manager follow up to ensure risks are addressed in a timely manner.

Political sensitivity is a requirement of all project managers especially when decisions are needed from executive management to mitigate risks. Plan for contingencies, ensure you have your documentation in order and communicate frequently so your executive stakeholders understand what is happening when risks are not addressed. Be ready to defend your project team’s performance and explain why more time, resources or capital is required.

Without leadership skills to deal effectively with executive management you will not be able to overcome the challenges facing your project and by not addressing risk issues with key leaders you are setting your team up to fail.

Project managers have a tendency to rely on weekly conference calls to communicate progress and discuss the obstacles the project is currently facing. Unfortunately team members who are facing these obstacles have a tendency to not address them until the weekly call. As a project manager you need to be out and about to ensure team members are addressing project issues and completing assigned tasks on a timely basis. An effective project manager can not drive a desk. When there’s one meeting and everyone goes away the communication typically ends and somehow everyone expects that everything is still going to magically get done. Communication skills are not about flowery status reports to display your vocabulary. They are about how you manage your communication. Are you communicating frequently enough? Are you clear in setting expectations? Are you communicating what is most important at this time? Are you communicating upward, downward and sideways? It is paramount that communication is constant, open and honest and gets the results needed to move the project forward.

While a PMP certification is a great step towards proving you have a set of critical management skills it’s the intangible attributes that make a project manager a leader that can set and keep a project on the right path.


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