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5 Characteristics of the Best Project Leaders

By Brad Egeland.

Certain qualities across the board make the best leaders in many professions. In order to deliver consistent success in the project management world, our project leaders need to bring specific skills and characteristics to the table. Success on any given project can be luck, but success on a consistent basis on project engagements is far more than just luck – it’s what the project manager consistently brings to each project they are managing.

What I want to consider here are what characteristics make up the top performing project leaders based on my experience and the opinions of a few other trusted leaders. What sets them apart from less successful PMs?

Excellent communicators

Job One for the successful project manager is efficient and effective communication. The PM is the pipeline of project status for the entire project team – delivery side, customer side and all stakeholders. Failure in communication can lead to bad requirements, huge re-work, missed deadlines, poorly run meetings – it’s a recipe for project disaster. In my findings, it is the number one cause of project failures. In fact, a survey that I personally conducted with hundreds of project managers participating resulted in this feedback:

What do you consider to be the most important characteristic of a good Project Manager?

  • Good communicator – 52%
  • Experienced leader – 22%
  • Wise decision-maker – 12%
  • Organized professional – 11%
  • High integrity – 3%

From your experience, what is the primary cause of project failure?

  • Poor communication – 40%
  • Poor requirements/planning – 26%
  • Poor project leadership – 15%
  • Lack of senior management support – 11%
  • Untracked issues/risks – 6%
  • Poor governance and/or role definition – 2%

As this survey clearly shows, communication is high on everyone’s list as a project success ingredient.

Confident decision makers

Project managers often must make quick decisions to keep project momentum moving forward. Projects delayed by outstanding key decisions can frustrate the project customer, delay deliverables and milestones, and lead to budget overruns and timeline issues. Sometimes the project manager needs to make important decisions that are critical to project progress with less information than they would like to have, but they must move forward with their best decision based on the information available to aid in the decision.

Connected in the organization

Based on my experience, being connected within your organization makes leading successful projects easier. I’m not saying you manipulate anything or anyone.  It’s about access to key people, key decision makers, and key information on a timely basis. You look at your projects and consider what connections are going to serve you, your team, your project, and your project client the best, and you work to make those connections happen. For me it’s always someone in accounting to get the best financial information for my project – good connections can make that happen effortlessly on a weekly basis. It’s also important to have good connections on the development leadership team when dealing with technical projects because you want to get the best technical resources available whenever possible. Preferential treatment happens to those who work for it. And never forget the old adage… “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Be kind…be nice…be honest…but be strategic as well. And be selfish for your projects and project clients.

Solid reputation

If the project manager is to have collaboration, team member respect and accountability, and cooperation from all involved in the project, it is necessary to have a solid reputation, be above reproach and be of high integrity. I am able to tell any client, employer and team members that I can pass all background checks with flying colors. I have had dozens of background checks for critical projects, gaming projects, adoptions and youth leadership positions over the years. They can also search me far and wide on the internet and not find skeletons in my closet, which is important in order to gain partnerships, clients, and team member cooperation. If you are going to lead a customer’s $10 million project or his $50,000 project, he needs to know he can trust you as a proven leader of high integrity.

Great negotiator

In the project management world, PMs often have to negotiate dates, resources, changes, dollars and other items on projects with anyone from the customer to their own team members to members of their own executive management teams. Sometimes we’re negotiating and we don’t even realize it. We must be skilled negotiators who are always looking to better our position and project to successfully deliver on the project. Negotiation is just part of the game, but learn to be a better negotiator and you’ll be more successful at delivering solutions.


Bottom line – the best project leaders have key connections and common leadership qualities that lead to project success.

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