The perfect project manager needs to be an autocrat and a delegator.
When the chips are down, the project manager must issue the orders, fast – for example, when the lights go out in the conference centre with 5,000 people streaming in!
On the other hand, she or he needs to be a masterful delegator: in that crisis (when the lights go out), lighting experts should own the problem and take the initiative to deal with the situation before the chief ever becomes aware of it.
The perfect project manager needs to be a leader and a manager.
Today’s project managers, more so than in traditional settings, are only as good as their teammates’ commitment, energy and diverse skills.
So project managers must be leaders – visionaries and invigorators.
On the other hand, ‘management’ means being expert at the mechanics.
Stellar project bosses match a passion for inspiring others with a love for the nuts and bolts of the job.
The perfect project manager needs to tolerate ambiguity and pursue perfection.
After all, the essence of complex projects is ambiguity – the only constant is change.
Effective project managers handle uncertainty with cool and a sense of humour.
But they must have equal zeal for the tidy.
The downfall of botched projects is often caused by something trivial.
The perfect project manager needs well developed oral and written communication skills.
Most people have either a verbal or a ‘put it in writing’ bias – top project managers must have both.
They are wrong to insist on an ‘audit trail’ of memos to document every this or that; dealing orally, on the fly, must come easily.
However, project managers must also be compulsive about the written master plan and the daily to-do list.
The perfect project manager needs to acknowledge complexity and champion simplicity. Nothing is more complex than a sophisticated, multi-organisation project. Effective project managers must juggle a thousand balls of differing (and ever changing!) shapes and sizes.
On the other hand, they must be 'Keep It Simple, Stupid' champions, making sure that a few, essential values dominate the delivery (for example, nobody misses the 7am Monday meeting).
The perfect project manager needs to think big and think small. Project managers must appreciate both the forests and the trees. Those fixated with the ‘big picture’ will trip up over the particulars.
Yet project managers obsessed with excessive attention to detail may miss the main point. Success means seeing the relationship of the tiny to the large, and the large to the tiny at every moment.
Finally, the perfect project manager needs to be impatient and patient. Project managers must be action fanatics: get on with it; don’t dwell on yesterday’s hiccups. At the same time, they run a network with fragile egos, multiple cultures and complex relationships.
But of course, project managers don’t 'run' networks at all – they are, at most, first among equals. Forget the word 'sub-contractor' and think co-contractor. When one deals with equals, devoting lots of time to relationship building becomes as important as impatiently pushing for action.