The Top 10 Characteristics of a Perfect Project Manager

Written By: Bill Bastian II

Having been in the trenches executing complex automated material handling systems for the last 23 years certain “lessons learned” become etched into my mind. The difference between a great project manager and a mediocre project manager directly impacts: the ability to complete the project on time, overall profitability, and most important customer goodwill… which translates to the future revenue stream with that customer. I would offer the following 10 characteristics of a perfect project manager for your consideration:

1) Ability to Develop a Great Relationship with the Customer.
Inevitably there will be give and take between the project manager and the customer throughout the project. A relationship based on trust, open communications, and shared goals will be critical to the overall success of the project.

2) Energy, Work Ethic, and a “Can do” Attitude.
Project Management for integrated material handling systems is a tough job. With mechanical, electrical, controls, software, and operational processes coming together, Murphy can visit from multiple directions. To endure the problem solving and testing takes resilience and energy. This “Can do” attitude becomes clearly evident in a project manager when under the stress of a multiple shift start-up with a complex system.

3) Experience.
There is no doubt that if you have done similar processes several times before you are going to be much more efficient in the required activity steps and the ability to anticipate what could go wrong. With experience you are also much better able to judge the severity of an error and the potential consequences.

4) Rugged Determination and Problem Solving.
Because companies in different vertical markets have different business drivers (operational processes) and typically each automated material handling system is different, each project will have a unique set of problem solving challenges. A great project manager realizes that there will be many levels of problem solving, similar to peeling an onion. The great project manager expedites the testing whether at the unit level or the system level. In general the more volume testing performed, the quicker you can peel the onion to debug the system. Those project managers that take a “happy path” approach to testing and hope that everything will work out alright are usually disappointed when order volumes ramp up.

5) Ability to Organize and Sequence Activities.
Managing all of the subcontractors, internal resources, and the customer can be like herding cats. A great project manager is able to break down the complex tasks and give each resource a specific sequenced list of their individual activities. Typically there is a weekly meeting that later on goes to daily meetings as the project prepares for going live. A daily huddle is critical to make sure all of the resources are aligned. Along with these activities comes well written weekly logs and project documentation.

6) Motivation and a Sense of Humor.
Typically you will have a disparate cast of characters working together, eating together, and going to and from the hotel together. You are under pressure to perform and almost always are struggling to not fall behind on the schedule. A project manager that can inject a little humor and find out the individual motivational drivers for each person on the team will work wonders. A good laugh from time to time is a beautiful elixir to help everyone relax so they can focus on the task at hand.

7) Demand for Excellence (Accountability).
Inevitably the project manger will be tested by the team on what they can get away with. A great project manager sets their standards very high and demands excellence from all those they work with. You can certainly be nice and professional, but being a great project manager means getting the job done, which often requires pushing your team hard to meet the customer’s expectations.

8 ) Sticking with the Project through Full Throughput Volume Levels.
Project management can be exhausting, particularly with all of the testing prior to going “live” with the system. The inexperienced project manager will assume that after the testing is complete all that needs to be done is just to sit back and watch the system while it runs. Unfortunately unit testing and integrated testing are just the first few layers of the onion. The seasoned project manager knows that “Murphy” will continue to arrive as the system ramps up in volume. This is why for most complex integrated material handling systems you will need resources on site for several months after the start-up.

9) Celebration of Success.
Often times it can take 6 to 12 months to implement a large integrated system. That is a long time to keep all of the resources motivated and engaged in the project. A great project manager is well versed in providing encouragement and celebrating small successes along the way. The closer the celebration is to the actual activity or good deed the better.

10) Fiscal Responsibility (Attention to Detail).
A great project manager is comfortable putting the original financial budget together for the project and then tracking the detailed financials through the execution of the project. Typically there will be administrative assistance, but the project manager is still responsible for the project financials. Well written purchase orders and contracts help eliminate misunderstandings. Maintaining neutral to positive cash flow on the project demands excellent project execution and financial discipline.

Hopefully these 10 characteristics of a perfect project manager will serve you well as you execute your future projects. Remember it all begins with the hiring process and getting the right person on the bus to begin with.

I began my career at Bastian Solutions back in 1987. As an engineer and entrepreneur, I have always enjoyed the growth of our family-based business. With over 26 years of experience in the industry, I have been involved with most all material handling technologies: robotics, AS/RS, sortation, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), Warehouse Control Systems (WCS), RFID, Pick to Light, Pick to Display, etc. I have also worked in most vertical industries. What I like most about my job is working with the great team at Bastian Solutions and creating innovative new products and services. As CEO of Bastian Solutions, it is my responsibility to provide the vision on where the company should go in the future, so we provide value to our customers and a great working environment for our employees.

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  1. Chris Brumm says:

    As you know, the Project Management Institute certifies Project Managers with a Project Manager Professional stamp of approval if the Project Manager meets certain criteria. In addition to experience and education one must pass their test on their Project Manager Body of Knowledge. If you have ever read the PMBOK book it basically expands upon your fifth point about organizing and sequencing. Your other nine points are largely missing from the PMP certification. Your compilation of Project Manager characteristics goes beyond mere management and addresses leadership characteristics. In my experience PMs that are good leaders go beyond merely attempting to repeat past success with management of tasks, schedules and budgets. They also look for new ways to be successful by customizing the approach or use of your other nine points to each project. Thanks for capturing these great characteristics for us!

    Chris Brumm
    Engineering Manager Applicant

  2. Chris,

    Thank you for your response and the reference to the PMBOK book. A PMP certification forms an excellent foundation of knowledge and process framework for executing projects. As pointed out though I am a fan of the leadership characteristics. In a perfect world the PM would be talented in both the mechanics of project execution and in leadership skills. In a less than perfect world I would bet on the PM with excellent leadership skills who is still developing on the mechanics of project management.

    Thank you,

    Bill II

  3. Chris Brumm says:

    Of course, an underlying foundational factor is that any leader needs to be morally grounded so that all decisions are ethically sound. Although we tend to assume this is the case it is interesting how many leaders in business are missing this. I am referring to the Presidents, CEOs and CFOs that end up in jail after breaking laws just to make this quarter’s numbers look good (and to get their bonus). How does one test another’s moral foundation though? I’ve been involved with firings of employees who, after many years of putting up a good front, surprised me when they were caught in unethical behavior. As leaders we should take the initiative to be transparent and authentic so that others know our moral foundation and can trust us.

    Just more thoughts on a fascinating subject.


  4. Hi Bill,

    Nice post and found great tips for those who want to be a perfect project manager.

    Thanks Again

  5. Niyazuddin says:

    Dear Bill,

    Thanks for sharing your 23 years of certain lesson learned translated into 10 charecterstics of a perfect manager.

    I will use these as 10 commandments to become a perfect project manager.

    It also makes me feel good that I can still get connected to you and have a knowledge sharing.

    Thanks Bill


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