What to Look for in a Project Manager

You can find the intangibles of being a quarterback in almost every profession in the world. There’s nothing like it.
-Brady Quinn, 2007 NFL first-round draft pick for the Cleveland Browns

Just like a football quarterback, a project manager’s ability to lead a team can mean the success or failure of a project. Before the team ever heads to the jobsite, a project manager must be fully prepared. They must have an understanding of each step of the project and what personnel or equipment will be required to complete each phase. Like a quarterback, a project manager must always be on the lookout for pitfalls or snags. Project managers act as a point person for the team. They need to communicate effectively with not only their teammates, but also the owners/operators or managers who entrusted them to execute the project.
Greenfield and expansion projects require large investments of time, resources and capital. Consequently, you want a proven leader who will keep your project on schedule and within budget. Energy, power or infrastructure projects may have vastly different technical elements in their design and construction. However, the skills needed to lead many of these projects are the same. Next, we will look at five important skills that will help the project run smoothly and ensure that the different work-groups collaborate efficiently.

Effective Communication & Meeting Management
It comes as no surprise that a project manager must be able to communicate well. Project managers need to keep everyone up to date on changes, delegate action items and manage expectations. It’s important that they are responsive and easy to reach via email or phone. Email is especially important as it can also serve as documentation for change orders or other important decisions.

Complex projects often require many meetings. An effective project manager knows how to make meetings a productive use of everyone’s time with agendas and action items. When presenting a plan or proposal, a good project manager anticipates questions and comes armed with solutions and information.

Another component of meeting management is accountability. Project managers hold team members accountable to deadlines and make sure that deliverables are on track. If a deadline can’t be met, they help find alternative solutions and work through issues.

Optimal Organization
There are many moving parts in a large project. Keeping track of every detail is essential. A smart project manager is well organized.
The Gantt chart is one of the most commonly used organizational charts for project planning. It lays out dependencies, start and end times for project tasks and creates a visual frame of reference for everyone on the team. It also tracks project constraints. Timelines and other similar resources can be an important reference guide in the planning and execution of a project. They help map out complicated schedules and deadlines and also serve as an additional form of accountability.

A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is another chart that can help keep things on track, particularly in the planning stages of a project. A WBS chart shows the hierarchy of tasks to be completed. Each level represents a project milestone. A WBS chart also provides a framework for cost estimating and controls.

As you can see, there are a variety of tools and charts project managers can utilize to run their projects more efficiently. The needs of the project and your organization will determine which methods and charts work best.
With all of the new organizational resources available today, it’s easy to overlook simple note taking. Project managers need to be excellent note takers. They are responsible for documenting questions, action items and discussion points that require follow up. Well organized notes make it possible to refer back to conference calls and important meetings. The ability to actively participate in a meeting and simultaneously take notes is not necessarily an easy task, but it is a skill that will serve the project manager well.

Project or Industry Experience/ PMP certification
An experienced project manager is an asset to any organization. A project manager with previous experience can draw from past projects to problem solve and identify potential snags.
Another way to gain experience is through professional associations and certifications. The most widely recognized certification is the Project Manager Professional (PMP) designation offered through the Project Management Institute. This course extensively covers the five stages of project management (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & closing) and the PMP Code of Ethics. The course also addresses many of the specific tools and tactics used in project management. PMPs must pass a rigorous examination and complete continuing education to keep their credentials.

Experience in Budgeting & Tracking Expenses
With increasingly tight margins in many industries, cost management remains one of the most critical components of project management. Cost management has two components: estimating what different project components will cost and then tracking the actual cost of each element. Both functions require attention to detail and high levels of accuracy. Part of building an accurate estimate is estimating variable costs such as labor. Big surprises in variable costs can cause a project to go over budget quickly. It’s important to accurately estimate the labor resources required and build in contingency.

Proactive Problem Solving
Finally, the most important skill for project management is proactive problem solving. A project manager who is initiating communication, meetings and project direction will have more positive results than a project manager who is simply responding to the needs of the project. Anticipating potential issues and scenarios means you have time to think through alternative plans and prepare to pivot, if needed. A proactive approach puts the project manager in control instead of allowing the circumstances to dictate the situation. Creative problem solving finds solutions instead of excuses.

Project Management Takes Leadership
Project management takes leadership and drive. Just like a quarterback must focus all four quarters, a project manager must perform through every phrase of the project. A good project manager, like a good quarterback, remains cool under pressure. After it’s all said and done, a project manager gives credit to their team and the team’s hard work and dedication that made the project possible.