Are great project managers “born” and not “made?

Writing on NoJitter Elizabeth English examines whether great project managers are just born that way or whether the skills to become one can be learnt.


English, the founder and lead consultant of EE and Associates, makes the case that it is a combination of the two and while some top personality traits which go into making a great project manager can be learnt, others are inherent.

She writes: “Is someone immediately a good PM just by virtue of the fact they were able to pass the certification exam? Will they navigate the project to a successful conclusion or allow the project to deteriorate into chaos? How can you tell if you have a good project management team?”

Assessing Your Project Management Staff

The following are some of the traits to look for when assessing your project management staff:

  • Leadership and confidence — By setting a positive tone and showing confidence in their project team, managers foster the belief that the project will be successful.
  • Both big picture and detail-oriented — Many project managers are focused on the tasks and subtasks outlined in the work breakdown structure. While understanding tasks is key, understanding the project scope as a whole is equally important.
  • Forward focus/having the end goal in mind — They focus on correcting and moving forward, rather than assigning blame. When something inevitably goes wrong on a project, a good project manager focuses on what’s required to correct and make progress. By focusing on what needs to be done, rather than whose fault it is, the project can continue towards its completion.
  • Vigilant — In the back of their minds, they are always assessing the impact of task changes. Work break down structures and project plans are critical to allow the team to understand how their deliverables fit into the project, but being flexible, rather than rigid in modifying plans, will help a stuck project avoid delays.
  • Perceptive — They may not have the plan memorized, but they do know what items fall on the critical path and when something needs to be done about it. They inherently recognize when something requires attention.

English added: “While some of these skills can be learned, others may be more inherent in certain personality types. For example, being detail-oriented or big picture-oriented may be learned skills; being both detailed-oriented and big picture-oriented is harder to impart if the natural traits are not already present.

“When engaging a project manager or managers for your next project, looking for traits such as leadership, perceptiveness, timing, and a collaborative approach will improve your odds of success. If some traits are lacking in your PM, consider supplementing the team with members who do have these skills.”

While project management training can improve almost anyone’s skills, it may not turn an average project manager into an excellent one. So are project managers born and not made?

“Perhaps it’s a little of both,” says English.

*At Off Peak Training our project management training is designed specifically to offer a wide range of flexible delivery methods, including on-site training, weekday and weekend training, as well as a full suite of web-based and self-paced training.

Our training professionals are proven Project Management, Security and IT industry experts, equipped with knowledge of the latest technologies and best practices to help our clients meet any and all regulatory requirements.

For more information about how we can help you become a great project manager and to find out more about our courses please click here.

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