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What Are the Attributes of a Strong Project Leader?

written by: lisalisatong • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 4/6/2013

Do you know what it takes to be a good project manager? Here are a few guidelines on honing your personal skills or looking out for skills when you're hiring a project manager or lead.

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    Characteristics of a Strong Project Manager

    Finding the right project manager or project leader is not an easy task. It’s difficult enough to find the right project team profile, much less someone who can step up to the plate and lead a team to success. That's not to say that these individuals aren’t out there, but you need to sift carefully to ensure you’re putting the project into capable hands.

    Characteristics of a strong project manager can be cross referenced with characteristics of most good employees if they have the basics, like communication and time management skills. However what’s the difference between a good project team member and a good project manager?

    Thinking Outside of the Box

    Good project managers are always thinking beyond the scope of the project. They are able to think far ahead and map out potential risks. They create and seek opportunities--whether for efficiency gains, increased team spirit, or cost reduction--to improve themselves, the team, the project or the outcome.

    Know How to Say “NO” and Be Realistic

    Strong project managers can say “NO.” This is particularly applicable to potential scope creep, resource struggles or expectation management. Projects are not immune to power struggles and politics, and strong project managers not only have the technical skills, but the negotiation and soft skills that can protect the project and its members from political fallout. More often than not, project managers climb to where they are from technical backgrounds, and obtaining soft skills during their careers is a bonus. Though the scope can change throughout the project, they must be realistic in communicating deliverables and work closely with all parties to ensure transparency.

    They Know the Project Inside and Out

    At any time, a great project manager is able to give an update about the status of the project.They know percentage of completion, projected delivery dates, problems and the status of the problems (investigation, solution available, solution delivered, etc.), costs (to go or already spent) and other high level details. The expectation isn’t that they have it memorized, but they either know where to go to provide it immediately or readily have it on hand. This individual is aware and on top of the vitals of the project and can make educated and informed decisions when required.

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    Interview Questions for Project Managers

    There are characteristics that define good employees that range from good team player to punctuality and follow through, but the above really try to focus on project specifics. What happens when you want to hire someone though? Aside from the practical experience and basic interview questions, try these questions on for size:

    1. Explain your method and approach for obtaining project updates from the team. What would you ask, how and why?
    2. What is your strategy for team motivation and cohesion?
    3. As a project manager, what can you bring to the project other than the basics?
    4. What defines a strong project manager? How in the past have you demonstrated these characteristics?
    5. How do you evaluate the performance of your team? And how does that translate in terms of an action plan?
    6. What was your worst project? In what way and what was learned from it?

    Here is a good starter to getting your team (or yourself) in the right direction in terms of people profile to manage projects. It is a combination of both experience and attitude--not necessarily in that order-- that contributes to a strong and successful project manager.