According to the second law of thermodynamics, randomness and disorder do not naturally decrease in a system. This is why project managers are needed. It can be extremely challenging to bring order and order into the chaos surrounding most projects.
Project managers who are successful have a unique balance between nurture and nature. It is possible to be a great project manager, but it takes a combination of natural skills and temperament.
We’ll be looking at four traits natural-born project managers have.
Trait #1: Being able to identify and focus on what is important
Gary Cooper played the role of a war hero and a skilled marksman in the film Sargent York. This was achieved by his strange ritual of wiping the rifle’s front sights. He claimed that this “cut down on the fog.” He was able to identify and prioritize targets, which was a rare skill. This ability is what makes a good project manager.
PMs born naturally are highly attuned and sensitive to their environment. This helps reduce the noise that can often surround project success and finds the signals that are hidden in the noise. It’s not hard for the best.
Consider Man of Steel, in which Superman struggles to harness his powers as a child. He can see, hear and experience so much of the world that he has trouble functioning. This is something that most project managers can relate to. This is not because we hear or see more than others, but that everyone has to compete for our attention and resources. The volume of information can be overwhelming. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned psychologist, discusses how to avoid distractions in his book Flow. The Psychology of Optimal Experience. According to him, we are exposed to approximately 40,000,000 sensory “bits” that compete for our attention every day.
People who are naturally skilled in project management have the ability to work efficiently despite distractions. While some people might not have this natural talent, they can still achieve it through hard work, discipline, and training.
Trait 2: The ability to create consensus and lead
There are many similarities between leadership abilities and athletic abilities. Our potentials and capacities are all-natural, but it is our habits and actions that make the difference.
When members of a group agree that they will support the group’s decision, even if it is not their choice, then consensus is reached. It can be difficult to get stakeholders to agree on any topic, and it can prove challenging for even the most influential leaders. It is not easy to build consensus. This is contrary to how most people view leadership.
Leadership is more about molding people than teaching techniques. Steven Covey described this as the “character ethic,” which begins with your character and then translates into the behavior you display. My most outstanding leaders were authentic and emotionally mature. While much other behavior can be faked or imitated, authenticity and emotional maturity are not. At least not for long. Then, leadership can take many forms: visionary, servant charismatic, directing, and so on. However, it must come from an authentic and genuine place.
The ability to bring out the best in others and themselves can define great leaders. This area is where the best PMs are born.
Trait #3: Domain expertise
The topic of domain expertise, also known as subject matter expertise, is a controversial one in project management. To be fair, no one is born with it. There is a long-running debate within project management about whether PMs are strong enough to manage all types of projects or whether they need to be experts in their field. What I know is that I have been able to navigate projects much more quickly when I understand the nuances and how the work is done than when I was new to the field. Why? Why? Because you will be better able to measure and evaluate the work of others, as well as navigate the project decisions in your favor.
A counterargument is that great PMs don’t need to be domain experts. If there are experts on the team and the PM can trust them, this can be true. However, all things being equal, the greater the PM’s knowledge, the higher his or her chances of success.
Trait #4: Ability to adapt to changes
All great project managers have the ability to adapt to changes. This is a crucial skill that many of their most outstanding leaders lack. While PMs are known for their ability to plan, they may have a better skill in project management: the ability to recognize when it is time to change and abandon plans.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was the thirty-fourth U.S. president, planned Operation Overlord. It included the most significant amphibious invading force ever recorded. Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander, but despite having a complex set of plans, he said, “The plan itself is nothing.” Planning is everything. Planning is everything. The importance of a plan diminishes over time as the ability to adapt and improvise becomes more critical.
It turns out that even the skills that are essential for creating a plan can often be detrimental when it comes time to embrace change. While plans are about controlling and anticipating uncertainty, change can cause tension and upend the plan. This makes many people uncomfortable.
The PMs who are naturally born expect change and make necessary course corrections. However, they keep the critical success factors in mind. It is much easier to talk about this than to do it.
What if I don’t have any of these?
These PMs are not necessarily list-makers and hyper-organizers. They help others succeed by keeping their eyes on success.
You don’t have to be a project manager by nature if you are reading this. These skills are quickly learned, and those who succeed never stop learning. Kevin Durant stated, “Hard work beats talent if talent fails to work hard.”