Be an Effective Project Manager

Good project managers can be the difference between a successful project and a failed one. They need to have common sense, organizational skills, and people skills to be able to tackle complex projects. If you’ve just become a project manager, there are a number of things you can do to ensure a positive work environment and a successful outcome.


Leading a Project Team Toward a Goal

  1. Identify and communicate a goal. With larger projects, there will be many smaller steps along the way. No matter how many people or steps are involved, make sure to stay focused on the final outcome. The ability to keep one’s eye on the prize is a hallmark of successful project managers.[1]
    • By focusing on the big picture, you keep your team focused on a shared goal, rather than individual whims or interests. For example, if the goal is opening a new retail location downtown, the team can stay focused on that. If a team member suggests that they'd actually be interested in a series of pop-ups at the mall, you can keep the team on track by reminding people that you've already established a clear goal.
    • Make the goal clear. Communicate it verbally (as in a meeting) and in writing (as in an email or memo). This way, team members can always look back at the stated goal for reference.
  2. Prioritize important tasks. Every project has certain things that are the most important or most impactful for success. Do these things first. If you don’t prioritize the most important parts of the project, you can get bogged down in small details or distractions.[1]
    • As the project manager, your tasks might involve checking on team members' progress or following up on meetings. Remember that your team may be waiting for you to approve certain decisions or sign off on things before they can move forward.
    • One way to do this is by completing all important tasks first thing each morning. Don’t move on to the rest of your workday until they are done.
    • You might need to turn off email notifications or your phone to prevent getting distracted by external alerts.
    • Once you’re done with your high priority items, take a quick break and move onto things lower on your list.
  3. Maximize efficiency. As the project manager, it’s your responsibility to keep track of all the moving parts. If there is something that you see as a potential obstacle or speed bump, take the steps to deal with that before it slows down the entire project.[1]
    • Remember that “a stitch in time saves nine.” For example, if your computer system hasn’t been updated in a while, it may be tempting to keep the system working as it is. Updating the system and training employees on new technology may take up time and slow things down initially. However, the time spent transitioning may turn out to be well spent when it actually makes the office more efficient and productive once implemented.
    • Ask your team members if there are things you haven’t noticed that could improve efficiency.
  4. Communicate the plan effectively. Being a manager is all about communication. Every step of the way, make sure that the people on your team understand what is expected of them, and what the timeline is.[2]
    • Use a variety of methods for communication. Speak to people in person, use bulletin boards, send individual and group emails.
    • Always seek to understand as well as to be understood. This means that you need to ask questions and listen, which are important aspects of effective communication.

Demonstrating Project Leadership

  1. Be an extrovert. This may be difficult if you’re not naturally extroverted. However, managing people and projects require that you be able to communicate and make people feel engaged in the project. The best way to do this is to demonstrate your appreciation of them and their contributions. You can do this by:[3]
    • Smiling and making eye contact with people you’re working with
    • Asking team members how their work is going and how you can be of assistance
    • Creating opportunities for discussion and group problem solving
    • Appearing accessible. Don’t spend all day locked inside your office out of sight.
  2. Display personal courage. A large project can be daunting to even the most experienced project manager. Make sure you “lead from the front.” This means putting yourself in a position to take risks, make mistakes, and figure out decisions.[3]
    • If you’re always asking others to stick their necks out and take personal risks, they may lose trust in you as a leader.
    • Remember that it’s okay to mess up. If you make a mistake or a poor decision, let others know that you take responsibility, and apologize if appropriate.
  3. Show charisma. Many people think that charisma is something people are born with, not something that can be learned. However, there are many ways to cultivate and demonstrate charisma. People are drawn to charismatic leaders and usually find them pleasurable to work for.[3]
    • Show your emotions. Charismatic people let others know when they’re pleased, upset, excited, or nervous. You may think you need to hide how you’re feeling in order to appear professional. However, there’s a happy medium that charismatic people know how to strike.
    • Show your interest in others as well as the things that are interesting about you. Don’t be afraid to tell an interesting story about yourself if it will help people engage with you.
    • Show your smarts. Don’t try to hide your own intelligence or skills. They’re part of what has gotten you to where you are.
    • Be detail oriented when dealing with other people. Notice small things about your interactions, such as body language, facial expressions and language.
  4. Be optimistic. Other people on your team may lose faith in the project at times. They may feel overwhelmed or unsure of the eventual outcome. As the manager, maintain an optimistic attitude so that everyone knows you are confident about meeting the final goal.[3]
    • Employ a “can do” attitude. If someone on your team is floundering, step in to support their efforts.
    • Be willing to make adjustments to the plan if things seem to not be working.
  5. Have a strong sense of teamwork. As a project manager, you must appreciate the value of the team. Even if everyone involved is working individually on disparate aspects of the project, it’s your responsibility to make sure people understand how the parts fit together and are dependent on one another.[3]
    • You can hold project meetings or get togethers to help team members see how their work fits together and get to know others on the team.
    • Remember that every role is important. Don’t treat some team members as though their contributions are more important than others’.
  6. Delegate. You can’t do it all alone. You may have many skills that have brought you to the point of being the project manager; however, you need to make sure that the rest of your team has ample responsibility as well.[3]
    • Assign tasks based on people’s strengths. There’s no reason to give people jobs they aren’t prepared for.
    • If you’re unsure about someone’s capacity to carry out a role, give them a buddy or a team. Check in on them periodically to see how they’re doing.
  7. Be careful not to "micromanage" team members. This stifles creativity and smothers motivation. Keep a pulse on the progress of the various project functions at timed intervals that are reasonable and allow team members the freedom to work productively.

Managing Risks and Problems for a Project

  1. Identify potential risks. Every project has some risks attached to it. These might be financial risks to the company, or other kinds of risks. At the outset of any project, make a list of things that seem like they could be risks and keep that list handy.[4]
    • Risks may be very concrete, such as, “We’re paying for a larger workspace, but we might not get enough orders to make it worth the increase in rent.”
    • Risks may also have to do with personnel, such as, “We hired a new department head, but he’s very young and inexperienced in this field.”
    • There may be personal risks to you, such as, “If I don’t meet the quota set by the board, I could lose my position.”
  2. Perform risk analysis, if necessary. Some projects or companies will require a risk analysis before a project begins. This can be a great tool for helping you as the manager know which risks make sense to take and how risk can be avoided or lessened.[4]
    • You may be able to perform a risk analysis yourself, or there may be someone at your company whose job it is to do that.
  3. Assess risks continuously. It’s great to make a list of risks at the outset of a project. However, as the project evolves, the risks will likely change. New ones will appear and others may dissolve. Keep your eyes open for potential risks at all times.[5]
    • You can add new risks to your original list and cross out ones that are no longer present.
    • Ask your team members if they’ve noticed anything along the way that may pose a new risk.
  4. Prepare for the unknown. No matter how much you try to plan, there will always be surprises and things you can’t prepare for. However, you can do your best to make sure that you’ll be ready for a curveball, should one come your way.[4]
    • For example, make sure there’s extra money in any budget for contingencies. You may come across unexpected costs and you want to be able to cover them easily.
    • Make sure you’ve got ample personnel. If someone gets sick or has to leave the project, you don’t want to feel severely understaffed.
    • Back up all files and relevant information.
    • Run plans by upper management to make sure there aren’t things you’ve overlooked or important factors you’re unaware of.
  5. Address risks as quickly as possible. Once you’ve identified a risk, take action. You may not be able to completely solve the problem or make the risk go away, but you can probably find a way to minimize the risk or mitigate whatever fallout might occur.[5]
    • If you notice that a person on your team is a liability for any reason, keep an eye on them and make sure they have the support and oversight they need to pose as little risk to the project as possible.
    • If the project is risky due to its scope and timeline, ask for an extension or talk to upper management about what a more realistic goal might be.
    • If there are risks to people’s personal safety, address them immediately. No one should be working in a situation that is dangerous to their physical or mental health.


  • At the outset of a project, reflect on your own work in past projects to identify some of the most important things you did.

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Sources and Citations