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Part of the series “The Accidental Project Manager”

By Surya Ganduri, Ph.D. Rutgers University Executive Education

Management is a learnable skill. It’s a shame that too few people are given the chance to learn it. According to an article1 in HBR, a shocking 82% of companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job. For us in the Project Management discipline, this percentage reflects the rise of accidental Project Manager  – members of staff who didn’t choose the management route yet still find themselves responsible for teams.

In an earlier article, I have defined what an accidental Project Manager is [if you missed it, here it is for you to take a look.] In this current article, I am going to elaborate and provide some tips on how to become a good project manager.

These days, it is difficult to define a “good” project manager. Every organization defines the role, and often the title, differently. Project Manager  are needed in many industries. And, most often, if you are good at what you do professionally or technically then chances are that you will be ‘promoted’ to be the manager of a team or project – and you become an accidental project manager!

Maybe you are not even a project “manager” by title or you work on your own, but you are responsible for managing work. No matter where you stand, there are things you will need and want to learn as you jump in to managing all of these things.

Hopefully, you are in the right place to:

  • Develop a financial spreadsheet your own way
  • Estimate time and effort
  • Create realistic project plans (which, by the way is NOT what you get from Microsoft Project – we will talk more on this in another future article)

Those are all things you MUST do as a good Project Manager and those skills are easily learned. In fact, there are some great programs and instructors (such as the ones here at Rutgers) who teach and certify those skills. But, central to the role is the skill to keep your work organized and your teams informed and happy.

The core competencies of a good Project Manager are rooted in one’s ability to navigate rough and still waters with the same level of effort and ease. It is one part technical expertise and three parts emotional intelligence. Either way, it’s not easy to navigate. This article highlights 10 ways to be a good project manager.


If there isn’t documentation to back up the project request, create it. Not every work environment is formal enough to create scopes for every project. That’s okay.

But some semblance of a scope will help to provide you and your team guidelines or expectations of what the team will deliver. Every team should use a scope document to set the stage for what you will deliver on a project.

It’s a good practice to sit down with your team and clients at the beginning of a project to review the scope in conjunction with the project timeline. This will mean that you have to explain levels of effort attached to tasks. Having this type of conversation before the project begins will keep your clients informed of the level of effort. It will also keep them engaged in your process.


Between deadlines, check in on the upcoming document or delivery and chat with the team about what each step will entail. Are your deliverables changing based on previous work? Will that impact the scope and the timeline?

Explain the benefits of check-ins and how their constructive, helpful feedback will make the end deliverable stronger. Remember when it comes to setting expectations,there is nothing wrong with repeating yourself as long as your repetition is meaningful and timed just right.


It is universally accepted that good Project Manager  are easy-going communicators who do not flinch at the thought of communicating with others. This means speaking to people in person about a variety of topics  that are both easy and difficult in nature. And, not being bashful about open communications but recognizing the fact that an entire team might not communicate the same way.


It’s a fact:

  • Any project will fail without effective communications.
  • Being clear, concise, and honest in outward communications is just as important as taking queues on how to communicate with others.
  • Getting to know the people you work with and understand how they work and communicate is important when trying to motivate a team and accomplish deadlines or even simple goals. Many times a Project Manager needs to be a project chameleon to make this happen.
  • Devising a communications plan for your team can be helpful, but forcing a communications structure won’t always work for everyone. And that can get tough.  Remember, it’s not all about you and your process as the PROJECT MANAGER .

It is all about you working with the team to come up with a structure that works for everyone.

You may ask, why change your communication strategy from project to project?

This approach could get confusing for you. Particularly if you are part of a Project Management Office or are working on several projects with many team members.

That’s okay. Maybe it won’t work for you and you need to follow company-wide standards. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a personal approach.

Think about this: if you put the time and effort into getting to know your team and creating a plan with them, everyone will buy in. In effect, they will communicate in a way that makes them comfortable and deliver on your projects with less effort, confusion, and fear.


So what are the foundations of good communications?

  • Use a weekly status report to stay transparent about budget and process and you’ll never have that awkward conversation about needing more time or money to complete your project.
  • Status meetings and reports can be invaluable, because you are keeping track of next steps, action items and project risks.
  • There is value in regrouping on a regular basis to talk about what’s happening and what the team is accountable for at any time.
  • If you are working with clients, it’s a good practice to communicate project details in writing on a weekly basis in a status report.
  • And, if time allows, picking up the phone to talk through the report will help to reinforce the message and build rapport. It’s never a bad thing to pick up the phone.

No matter what you are doing, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that we are all humans. Everyone has their hang-ups and everyone communicates differently. That said, we are naturally built to be communicators.

Whether you are communicating in writing or spoken through email, phone, instant message, mail, carrier pigeon, you will find a way to make your point known. As the project manager, you have to figure out how to communicate with the various personality types on your team.


Setting and managing expectations is one of the most difficult things a PROJECT MANAGER  has to do as a part of the role. Many Project Manager  start projects with several unknowns about goals, budgets, timelines, and most of all level of effort. When you are setting communications expectations with your team, it is a good idea to also cover scope, timelines, and any other details that may play into how you will make a project successful. And, when you are working with a client, it’s good to set the same expectations early on.


Being a part of a project team can be fun and creative, even on the managerial side of the team. You have got to regularly check in on progress so phone calls or meetings will happen sometimes when the entire team is not present. After all, your team needs time at their desks or in the field to work. Inevitably, there will be times in any project where left-field ideas arise, new requirements, and questions that will come to you. Proceed with caution, Project Manager!

If a client, partner or team member approaches you about any of these things, it’s best to make sure the ideas check against your project requirements. The documentation isn’t always the bottom line, but it’s best to be open about any idea or a conversation. Know when to involve the team to help the conversation and the decision making process.

That’s where things can get tricky. Don’t think of yourself as ‘just the Project Manager,’ but recognize that you are only the Project Manager, not the Project Manager, Design Director and Consultant. It’s more about owning your role and being honest about your expertise.


A Project Manager should never answer project issues completely alone unless they were previously documented or are specific to budget, scope, and a pre-determined guideline.

After all, your team should staff the experts who are responsible for answering questions that fall well within their realm. Your job is to know when to farm questions to them without getting in the way of their work.

Ideally, if you don’t know the answer and you can’t pull someone in the room at that moment, take good notes and follow-up. There’s nothing wrong with following-up on a conversation when the time is right. That’s when you become “The Good Project Manager” and not “Just the Project Manager .”


You may not be a peppy cheerleader by nature, but Every project needs a leader who owns and supports the process. A good Project Manager will enforce process and keep everyone on the team in-sync. Juggling timelines, deadlines, and deliverables is key, but a Project Manager who also supports the process, the team, and the client, brings true value to a project.


Be the one who says, “Wow, this is really nice. Good work”. Celebrate the wins and encourage the team to do the same. At the same time, don’t be afraid to be the one to say, “Did you think about X?” to look out for the best of the project and your team. If you are the Project Manager and you are really doing a good job, you will know and understand every aspect of the project and potentially be able to anticipate questions or concerns the client might have.

This type of behavior not only supports your team and your project, but shows everyone involved that you are genuinely engaged, and not just worried about the Project Manager  basics.

There is no doubt that project management is one of the most challenging and rewarding career paths one can take. A good Project Manager can help a business clarify goals, streamline processes, and increase revenue.

It’s no surprise that Project Manager  are highly sought after in many industries. But no matter where you take your project management  skills, you have to hang on to the core skills that will make you “good.” At the heart of it, you must be highly organized and process driven, but being an easygoing, adaptable person who genuinely likes a good challenge will make you the best Project Manager.


  1. Why Good Managers Are So Rare, by Randall Beck and James Harter in Harvard Business Review. Posted March 13, 2014 @ URL: