Five Traits of a Great Project Manager: #1 – Problem Solver

Updated: Apr 21

All project managers are not created equal.

Some are good, some are just okay, and some are top-notch in their field.

Which category do your project managers fall into?

Of course, we want our project managers to be top-notch.

Through my years working as a project manager and mentoring project managers, I have found five key traits that make for an effective project manager.

Trait #1: Great project managers are problem solvers.

Anyone can point out a problem. But an effective project manager understands the need to roll up their sleeves, investigate, and work towards the best solution to a problem and then approach leadership with a solution.

What is problem solving?

Every project has problems. Whether it’s technical problems, schedule problems, or interpersonal problems, they will happen. Addressing those problems requires analyzing the problem and making a decision on the best course of action to address the problem.

Problem solving is almost always, try, fail and adjust.

Scenario: Addressing an abrasive team member

Your current project, the Alpha project requires strong technical skill sets to meet the requirements and tight deadlines. Just as you are packing up for the evening, Chloe, one of the technical leads on Alpha, rushes up to your desk, obviously quite upset, explaining that one of the other project team members, Sam, just blew up in a working group meeting over a disagreement on handling a test scenario. This is only one of many examples of bad behavior and outbursts from Sam. The guy knows his stuff and his work is excellent. However, he does have an abrasive personality and he frequently delivers unsolicited technical input and feedback to others, which creates drama on the team. Chloe insists, “I can’t work with Sam anymore. I need to work on another project immediately.” As you listen to Chloe’s complaints about Sam, it occurs to you that Sam still has two critical tasks to complete, as does Chloe. If you reassign one resource, there is the potential to be behind in the project.

However, keeping them both and not addressing the issue may just end up being a detriment to the project overall.

Developing the skill

The above scenario is probably something many project leads have encountered. Too often, we have a knee-jerk reaction to problems and try to map out the quickest path to a solution. Is the quick fix in your mind to remove Sam from the project? Here are quick tips on developing the skill of problem solving:

Analyze the problem and its cause. Analyze the problem first. Why is this occurring? The first step in solving a problem is trying to discover the root cause. What is the reason for Sam’s outbursts? Did Chloe or any other team member address their concerns directly with Sam? Are team members always coming to you for the solution?

Compile alternative solutions to address the problem. Every solution that is crafted will not be perfect. But the process has to begin by casting a wide net and narrowing the focus as more information is gathered. After analyzing the problem, a few options should be narrowed down.

Is it really that simple to remove Sam? Should Chloe be reassigned to another project—will that resolve things overall? Have all options been considered to keep both team members and address the issue with Sam’s behavior?

Evaluate the best solutions from the list. Now we have something to work with. We have a list of potential solutions but we’re only looking for one answer. This is where we go through the process of elimination to determine which solution will best resolve the problem.

Implement a plan. A plan will outline all of the necessary steps to take to solve the problem. This is the proposed solution that will be presented to leadership.

Assess the effectiveness of the plan. This is the step in the problem-solving process that many people forget. They are ready to walk away after a plan is developed, assuming the problem is solved. The final step in problem solving requires that we evaluate the plan and measure its success to ensure that the problem has been addressed. If the plan does not work, be prepared to make the necessary adjustments to reach success. If the problem is almost solved, take the time to research the holes in your plan and revise it to reach 100% success. Problem solving is almost always, try, fail and adjust.

Project managers should be prepared to go through ALL the stages of problem solving to deliver the highest results to their clients and their teams.

“Your ability to solve problems and make good decisions is the true measure of your skill as a leader.” – Brian Tracy

What would you do with the scenario described in this article? Please share your comments below. And be on the lookout for articles on the other 4 traits of great project managers!


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