10 Project Manager Traits – 11 – Conclusion

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When I started this series I mentioned that none of the traits explored were either right or wrong. It is clear that they all have their benefits and can have serious negative consequences if not understood and managed. It is obvious that this list is incomplete.  It is also true that no one has just one of these traits and indeed we do display each of them under different circumstances. 

By understanding that these traits exist and can have beneficial or deleterious effects on the outcome of the project, it helps to understand when the trait should be purposefully employed and when it would be wise to quell the need to engage it.

There are key roles and key moments in the life of a project where the traits described above can benefit the outcome.


Starters are an obvious positive influence in the creation of a new project. They can see the need for a “thing” to be created and they have enough energy to overcome inertia and bring a project to life.

Obfuscators can help expand ideas producing both wise and slightly mad ideas from which a core theme can be identified and honed in on.

Starter Finishers can help refine the idea and from their knowledge of project delivery can see what ideas are just overly complex or are not essential in the early stages of design. Get them to unify the project to ensure that the goals and objectives are relevant, aligned and meet the original objectives.


Specialists need to be consulted on what is essential for each aspect of the project. They will quickly identify what is really needed, what has been missed and what is just “fluff”

Perfectionists can identify where current systems or designs fail and could be improved.

Get the Starter Finishers to keep things moving and not let things get overly complex or bogged down in detail. 


As the project evolves, get the Obfuscators back in to check the scope of the project  – they will have ideas that are outside of the box. Some of these ideas will be brilliant. 

Then get the Specialists back in to refocus on what is still the core of what is needed.

Deployment and Follow-up

This is the time of the Completers. They are good at picking up on lagging energy and willpower. They will produce the checklists that wrap up loose ends and sort out the snagging list until the project is done.

Some projects have a clearly defined conclusion, an end point. Some fade out. Fading out is the nature of software development. It rarely ends with a big party – it ends when the snagging list has been completed. Snagging lists can also become the start of the next project as the previous one hints at what else could be done. This is the start of a new project phase and so back to the initiation phase.

The four missing traits

Saboteur – the reason for the need to sabotage can be illuminating. There is an issue that is not in the open and this may hint at personal issues, personnel issues, at conflicts on strategic decisions and maybe even about morality. They are are worth bringing out into the open as, if they are not seen or handled, the sabotage may succeed.

Procrastinator – here the fear may be legitimate. Maybe the reason for holding back reveals a significant risk or, at the very least, a need for further training or counselling. Not handling this situation means the project will result in a loss to all parties.

Confrontation – This can range from passive aggression to outright open warfare. It will not go away. The circumstances that create the conflict need to be explored and handled. If the situation is handled just by removing one side of the conflict, it may well reappear when new team members are recruited. 

Swap outs – this is about the best use of scarce and valuable resources or the mishandling of poor resources. When this is about good people who are needed in several places at once, the goal has to be to find more people that have similar traits to the valued staff member and as a matter of urgency. Be clear what those traits are and deliberately seek them in new recruits. 

Where a staff member is under-performing then the situation will not be resolved by moving them from one location to another. The manager becomes the saboteur by not handling the personnel issue. 

10 Project Manager Traits – 10 – Swap outs

10 - Swap outs


This is a situation arising from an 

– absent or

– disinterested or 

– distracted or

– overloaded boss. 

The project brief is created and the goals are set. As the project moves forward, the project manager is suddenly needed elsewhere or the boss decides that another manager who was not previously available would be better suited to the task. When this swap out is repeated several times the project disintegrates and/or goes way off track.

The intention

To make the best use of the staff available to manage a crisis of growth, collapse or poor recruiting systems.

The Good

Where a project lasts for years it is inevitable that mangers will come and go. New managers can revive the energy of the project and bring fresh ideas and new ambition.

Where a project is new it can be that by swapping out managers you are able to establish who is best suited to be involved with the project and this may not always be immediately apparent. However in this situation the swap outs need to come to an end pretty quickly.

The Bad

If this situation is allowed to persist, the project is likely to go way off track or veer from one aspect to another with previous objectives left incomplete as each new manager steers the project towards their own vision. 

The original scope of the project will be lost. Other parties involved with the project may lose momentum and focus and in turn they move their attention to other projects. The project is likely to have spiralling costs and could be so fragmented as to lead to it being abandoned.

The Story

I have seen this situation arise under two conditions:

1. The company is expanding rapidly and the project manager originally assigned to the project is considered too valuable and so is moved on to more important tasks. Then, either another staff member is asked to take over or worse a new staff member is brought in to run the project. 

2. The company is failing and staff members need to be laid off. The project may be part of the recovery process but the attention is clearly stretched or elsewhere. Or it may be too late.

In both instances the importance of the project has diminished and its purpose (and the expected benefits) need to be re-quantified. 

Remedial action

If this situation is occurring, the project is at risk and all investments made to date are likely to be wasted. The ideal is to review the objectives of the project, determine how important it is and what are the beneficial consequences of it continuing are, as opposed to either it being abandoned or having the project put on hold.

If the project is important and swapping out the manager is also considered vital, then it is essential that the new project manager understands the scope of the project and the reasons why the project was developed as described in the brief. If the new manager brings fresh ideas then these need to be be inserted into the brief and work may need to be halted until this has been done. Any new ideas are best run past the original project manger in case the ideas were considered but rejected for reasons that remain valid but which have been forgotten.

If the new manager is a new recruit, even with near identical past experience in another company, they need to adopt and adapt to the culture and ethos of the company they have joined. With new companies this may be harder to define, but the risk is that the new manager attempts to re-create the style of their previous place of work which may not be desirable.

This situation is created by the boss and therefore it needs some of their attention to resolve the priorities.

10 Project Manager Traits – 9 – Confrontation

9 - Confrontation


A confrontational project manager has a disagreement with 

– the purpose of the project or 

– does not have the skills required to see it through or 

– has a personal dislike of one or all of the members of the team working on the project. 

They need not necessarily be the lead project manager. What they do is stop everything by withholding their labour, attention, information or approvals. They may postpone meetings, block the purchase of key resources and they can undermine your reputation with the boss.

This person can be the boss of the company. If this is the case then they have reached their ceiling of competence and the new project, though necessary, is beyond their current abilities to implement and there is a risk that it will expose a fear of having a perceived flaw in their character. 

The intention

Stop this at any cost and blame the circumstances or others.

The Good

This is a cry for help. This person is successful and they have a need for the project, but they do not have the knowledge needed to carry it through. Given the right support and help this can be turned around and this can create a friend for life.

The Bad

If the person is not willing to discuss the situation or accept help there is no future for the project and if this is the boss the whole company is in jeopardy. At a personal level this is a high risk to be a part of. When the project fails, it may be hard to discern why it went wrong and you may be tempted to take on the blame. You might get stuck in the loop of “if only I had…” It may be that the project manager deflects blame onto you.

If you are the person creating the confrontation – seek help – if you do not you will either be forever avoiding this type of situation which will hold you back or you will be forced to endure similar situations over and over again.

The Story

For the most part I work with non IT people. They are managers and designers, accountants and administrators. They know that they do not know how to create a system and so they are willing to hand over control to me to get the work done. 

In the case of one project, my “client” was the head of IT and he felt that he needed to know how things worked to the extent that if he chose to, he could do the work himself. He was a very busy guy and managed a network of over 100 PC computers on his own. He did not have time to learn database development and as the project moved forward he felt more and more out of control. Even though I was the person responsible for the work, he was worried that if the system failed it would fall back on him to take over. A thing he could not do.

It took a while for me to work out why the project was so hard to move forward, it seemed to be thwarted at every stage and the attitude of the other staff members changed in unexpected ways. I finally managed to have a one to one meeting with the manager and I managed to bite my tongue, stay quiet and listen to his concerns.  Then, and with the essential agreement of the manager, I arranged a three way meeting between the IT manager and his boss  and myself. We clarified what aspects of the system each person would be responsible for and produced a document stating the conclusions. Having this open discussion with the boss, the IT manager could be absolved of any responsibility that he felt unable or unwilling to assume. The blocks were removed and the project was delivered.

Remedial action

Find out who is blocking the project, find out gently what the fear is. It could be fear of exposure of absent skills or abilities, fear of being made redundant, fear of being overworked or replaced. Talk it through – privately! If you get this right you are unlikely to be thanked, as this needs to be very much behind the scenes, but all parties will benefit.

10 Project Manager Traits – 8 – The Procrastinator

8 - The Procrastinator


The project is complete, amendments have been carried out, user feed back has been obtained, but somehow the project does not go live. The procrastinator always finds a reason for further delays.

The intention

Don’t press the button!

The Good

It is important that the project works and, if a delay is legitimate, then it makes sense to delay the push of the button until the project is ready to go “live”. 

The Bad

The procrastinator project manager or boss is worried but cannot express their concern. They have had a great idea but now it means testing it in the real world. Once it is out there then it is harder to withdraw it. These concerns could be well founded, in which case more research and feedback may allay the fears but sometimes there is no way of knowing if the project works until it is put to the test. 

The Story

I created a system in partnership with a client, it was a sophisticated marketing tool connecting precisely defined marketing material with customer profiles based on the very latest downloaded data. There were to modes of operation – spam or targeted e-mails. The targeted version matched a product with a specific client type based on time sensitive data. We are now used to having adds pop up on LinkedIn and facebook after visiting a non-related web site – this system served this function before facebook had really taken off. At the time if felt very intrusive and “big brotherish”. Now we take it for granted. It also had a campaign feature where the prospective client would be fed a series of emails over a period of days building a story of the services on offer.

When the system was ready the client never quite used the targeted version and so the real benefit and head start we had over the competition was never put to use. The fear was that the prospective clients would be alienated by the degree of perceived intrusion and insider knowledge even though the data was in the public domain. The button never got pressed.

Remedial action

With a custom solution the idea is that nothing like it exists, making it go live is exposing yourself to criticism and judgement. There is no avoiding it and no matter how hard you work you will always be criticised. It goes with the territory of the new. My clients are used to the exposure of their own work and can counter any criticism or objections thanks to their expertise. But when they involve me then they are being judged by the work I have done. This is unfamiliar territory and requires one further step of “letting go”.

Where procrastination is discovered, explore with the manager the reasons why the project should not go ahead. Use past experience to run through all the the possible reasons why a project of this type might want to be delayed. R remember that this may expose a fundamental vulnerability or sensitivity within the manager or company. Do this in a one to one meeting and tread lightly.

10 Project Manager Traits – 7 – Saboteur

7 - Saboteur


A saboteur has been handed, or is involved in, a project that they dislike or 

– they feel it is beneath them, or 

– they do not understand it or 

– they have bad intentions for the company. 

What happens in each of these cases is that the manager redirects the project towards another purpose either in direct conflict with the original purpose or a purpose which they consider to be better. The key element is that it has not been pre-agreed with the boss.

The intention

I know better or 

I need to hide my in-abilities or 

They will suffer!

The Good

The only good option here is where it just so happens that the saboteur project manager does know better than the boss, they proceed with the project without being stopped and when complete the boss sees that they were right all along. This is a very high risk strategy. 

The Bad

With a saboteur, the fall out can be widespread. If you are involved with a person who you suspect is running this agenda you need to alert the boss as soon as you can be confident of your assessment. If you do not, and the conflicting agenda is eventually exposed, it will be assumed that you agreed to be a part of it and you will be equally held accountable for it.

The Story

I saw this situation arise with one client where a new recruit was brought in to complete a recently started project. The company was growing fast and the boss needed to be managing other parts of the business. The new recruit reviewed the brief and decided that he knew better and redirected the work to meet his perception of what should be created. Thinking that this new agenda had been approved by the boss I complied with the new instructions. When the boss found out that he system had gone down a new path which he did not like,he sacked the project manager and I was instructed to bin all the work and return to the original brief. Since that was what was in the contract that is what I was compelled to do.

Remedial action

Remember, the project manager can only be labelled a saboteur if they are not revealing their agenda to the full team. 

If you are working on a project and a new project manager takes over you need to review the entire brief with them. If they propose to take the project in a new direction you need to ensure that the previous project manager and the boss are made aware of the proposed changes and that the changes get signed off. If there is a contract, the old one needs to be cancelled and a new one created. You cannot allow yourself to be fobbed off with the “too busy” block. You also need to review the timeline and the budget as these will have changed substantially.

If you decide to continue without these new instructions being agreed you are likely to suffer a financial loss and a loss to your reputation.

10 Project Manager Traits – 6 – Specialist

6 - Specialist


A specialist is highly skilled in their aspect of a proposed project. They may have been asked to oversee a large project of which their department will be the major user, but other departments will also benefit from and therefore need to be involved.

However it soon becomes clear that they are less than interested in the parts that do not directly affect them. They concentrate all their attention on their own elements and the other sections get ignored. It can be that they spend enough attention on the part of the project that does not directly concern to them but is needed in order for them to be able to perform their duties.

This results in a highly developed core but with withered extremities.

The intention

What do I need?

The Good

A specialist project manger is likely to be very precise in what they need for their area. They will have thought it through and know what works and what does not. They will have a clear idea on what needs to happen before they get involved but little about what happens after they have done their part. It is likely, but not certain, that their part will be one of the best parts of the total design.

The Bad

If the specialist is the project manager for the whole system then it will not work. The part that they care about will be excellent but, as they have not allowed for the needs of others to be addressed, these other parts will most likely be deficient or not even addressed. Since this is the case the project will most likely not be used or will be seen as a failure by the others users/departments and rightly so.

The Story

In my experience in software development this happens most often when the accounts department are the project managers. Sorry – but that has been the case in at least three projects. The accounts department sometimes believe that they know about everything that goes on in a business. But there is, of course, a lot that happens that does not relate to the movement of money.

In one case, a lot of time was spent getting the data arriving in the accounts department to be accurate, timely and ensuring that the producer of the data could be clearly identified. This meant that if the data was wrong the accounts department knew who to seek out. 

They had little or no interest in how the income was generated and very jealous and questioning of any expenditure. Accounts departments are usually very busy and so they had very little interest in knowing more. They were very happy with the system but the sales, marketing and fulfilment departments wondered why the system existed as they were not getting much benefit from it. When the project manager was replaced with another from one of the other departments the same was repeated in their area of expertise.

Remedial action

Specialists are gold dust. As I have mentioned, they are most likely to know immediately if an idea is good or bad and they know if the idea, once implemented, will be used or  just be “fluff”. However, they will only know one aspect of the business and so they cannot be allowed to be the lead project manager. There is need for a generalist to project manage a number of specialists, each of which can contribute ideas for their area of the project and, essentially, the interface between their area and the preceding steps and consequential steps.

If you have a specialist in charge of a project, and their skill set covers only one aspect of the project, you need to find a new lead. The lead project manager needs to understand the purpose of the project and make use of the refined knowledge of a specialist from each department involved with the project. 

10 Project Manager Traits – 4 – Perfectionist

4 - Perfectionist


Perfectionists will be heard saying:

“Nothing is complete until every aspect is just right.” 

 “We cannot move forward until it is flawless.” 

“Give in one more go”

Getting a project to be functional, great looking, intuitive but within a budget and within time constraints, means that it will not be perfect.

If time constraints and budget were not an issue there would still be a moment in time where removing any more flaws would be so expensive for the marginal gain that everyone, even the perfectionist, calls it quits. 

The issue is: when is the right time to compromise and when to push for a better result?

The intention

This has to be perfect

The Good

If a project is full of bugs the users will either reject it or the functionality will not provide the benefits that were described in the brief. The project does need to achieve the objectives of the brief and this person will make sure that happens.

The Bad

A determined perfectionist is a major obstruction to progress. If your project is to get a crew to the moon and back safely then there is no option but to get things to be as near to perfect as is humanly possible. 

If the objective is less sensitive, then there needs to be level of perfectionism that allows for progress, for refinement over time and that allows concepts to get ironed out. 

If the perfectionist stops a project moving forward until all aspects of the first stage are perfect then there is a risk that later stages undo this hard won perfection. As each stage is created there can be impacts on previous stages and so with a strict perfectionist in charge a project can get into a tighter and tighter loop of change and corrections that brings the project to a standstill.

The Story

In my early days as a software developer I worked with a perfectionist. He worked for an architectural firm and the work they produced was exquisite. It could only be that way because of their attention to detail. 

In those says I also had quite a lot of attention to things being just so and together we spent hours on refining the layouts of the system being created to manage all of the administrative tasks of the company. We spend more than hours, we spent days. Then finally we were able to move onto the next stage. We then found that some new requirement had to break the carefully set up rules from the previous stage and so we went back to and reworked the layouts. This would happen with each new administrative subject. 

A second requirement was that the whole system had to be ready and it was to be implement over the whole company in one overnight procedure. So all parts had to be perfect.

We never got there. The re-workings went on for months and then it was realised that the whole company could not risk one, over night, switch-over. What if it went wrong. The cost of making all parts perfect killed the project,

Remedial action

Perfectionists are needed – they see things that others do not and they make things not only function better but look better. A full time perfectionist project manager will cause projects to overrun or get abandoned. If, however, a perfectionist is asked to contribute to a project, cast their eyes over what has been done and add their comments, then the project can be improved without grinding it to a standstill.

Plan to bring in your perfectionist to pre-set and time constrained meetings. Accept that a lot of what you have done will not meet their standards and when they leave (a kindness as they being present as you purposefully decide not to be perfect may upset them) decide which of their suggestions will be addressed and which ones you are willing to live with.

Do not let them be the ones to decide when the project is complete. It is unlikely to get there.

10 Project Manager Traits – 3 – Completers

3 - Completers


Completers are concerned with wrapping projects up. Usually, completers are not very good at getting things started but they are great at coming in and sorting out a mess, getting it back on track and getting it completed. 

The intention

Get this done.

The Good

Having a completer on the team is essential to getting to he end of a project. As a project proceeds they tend to get more diffuse and with software new ideas, implementation, training and user engagement are all essential. There is a need for an attention to detail and the tracking of minutiae. This type love all that. They love making lists and ticking things off.

They often are great diplomats as any project that goes on for some time brings out the character traits of all involved and can lead to conflict. People who appeared to work well together cease to do so. This type is good at settling disputes and smoothing operations whilst keeping their eye on project completion.

The Bad

Depending on when the project is taken over by a completer they can put up considerable obstruction to any changes that become obvious and beneficial as these will lead to the delay in completion. Since the focus is on completion and not necessarily on relevance and functionality some of these desired and required changes may not be “allowed” to be implemented. This may lead to issues later when the boss asks where the desired feature is, or by the end users who indicate that they cannot do their job without the feature or function.

With an obsession to complete these types may not be “available” to consider the next project until this one has been done. This can lead to long lag times between one project and the next. 

The Story

I was in a meeting where the final version of a software project was being presented to the company and the boss asked where a belatedly added key feature was.  I replied that it had not been implemented on the instructions of the project manger, as it would have delayed the project. He was not best pleased and  there was upset by the end-users who then demonstrated just why the absence of the feature meant that continuing the presentation was pointless. 

We met again 2 weeks later when the function had been added. The delay meant that some staff who had been employed to run the system needed to be found other duties whilst the function was inserted. The costs were considerable.

Remedial action

With a strict completer, and one who is not the intended end user, it is important to have an enduser test the system and ensure that it not only meets the brief but also does what they need it to do. The brief should always be carefully constructed and reviewed but, despite that, there will be some issues that only become apparent as the project is worked on. Having an enduser try it out just makes sense. If suggestions for changes are made (and they will be as all endusers love to contribute ideas) any decision to implement or delay the suggestion should be run past the users so that the impact of the include/postpone/exclude decision can be determined. 


10 Project Manager Traits – 2 – Starters

2 - Starters


Starter project managers have great ideas and a sense of urgency to get on with the project. They cannot wait to get started but as the project moves forward (or drags on, as they would describe it) they tend to get bored. Since they are overflowing with ideas, a new more exciting project can result in them tputting the current project on hold and for the next project to become the priority.

The intention

“Let’s get on with it.”

 Progress, movement and excitement. 

Thrill of the new, with a touch of: “I want it all now!”

The Good

Project managers of this type generate great ideas and make sure that they get started in very short time spans. They are very unlikely to spend weeks or months discussing possible projects – they already know which one they want to do next out of long list of pending ideas.

The Bad

Boredom takes hold if the project takes too long. If the project is a big one and one that will take years to create and implement then they will most likely leave after a short while leaving the boss with a problem. However, this usually is the boss and the problem is that they may well have many incomplete projects that cause them heavy financial losses and frustration with their junior staff and/or consultants. There is likely to be a history of sackings and firings of people who failed to deliver completed projects. Projects that have made it through, may well be fragmented with many half implemented concepts.

The Story

I love working with starters, I love the abundance of ideas and the sheer energy of their style but where I have failed to encourage the introduction or inclusion of junior managers I have seen the boss lose interest and get annoyed with the apparent lack of progress. It is often much harder to resist the temptation of following them down the path of the next exciting idea and much more self-discipline is required to keep everything on track.

Failing to get junior manager support or helping to keep this type on track has led to being sacked. After all, working with such a project manger, will lead to a series of incomplete, or rather, “failed” projects. All of them could have worked, they just never got done. When the totality is reviewed the Starter will be able to demonstrate that “nothing works” and they will be right.

If you succeed with getting help to ensure that both the new idea and the original idea get completed there will never be a shortage of work. 

Remedial action

The value of starters cannot be underestimated, These are the entrepreneurs overflowing with ideas. They will start things and get things moving fast. However they need a great team around them to take over when the energy wanes. The ideas are still good so the project is worth completing but they need a new project manger to step in and run it through to completion. When a project is completed there is likely to be quite a lot of fanfare as the Starter loves the success of seeing one of thier ideas come to fruition.

If there is no possibility to have another manager take over, then the project needs to be broken up into smaller steps that allow for quick results of parts of the project. This ensures that the momentum is maintained and that there are visible signs of progress.

The manager also needs to create a great evaluative method to ensure that the focus is on essential aspects of the project first. Define what is essential! Keep a log of the other ideas and when there is more time determine which of these should be worked on next.

10 Project Manager Traits – 1 – Starter Finishers

1_Starter Finishers


The focus of Starter Finishers  is continuous, a project is started and carried through to completion. Little or no attention is paid to distractions. 

The intention

Get the job done on time and on budget. Demonstrate how efficient I am.

The Good

A project run by this person will be started and run through to completion. They will ensure that it is created according to the brief and usually have it done on time.

The Bad

Being this focussed means that it is hard for the project to adapt to changing circumstances and to new data. Resistance to change can mean that the project, whilst meeting the original brief, is not fit for purpose as that purpose gets refined. The manager may pass over brilliant additions or modifications which could dramatically affect the outcome. The project may need updating almost immediately (where this is an option) and maybe even before the project can be put to use, causing an inadvertent delay.

A second issue is that project manager of this type tends to be so focussed on the current project they are unwilling, or unable, to look at (or look for) the next project to move onto once this one is over. This can lead to long lag times between the end of one project and the next. It requires either that the boss ensures that the next project is lined up and ready or ideally the project manger books in time to find and prepare the next project as part of the current project timetable so that the lag time is avoided.

The Story

I have seen this happen where the project manager is not the boss and where they are not going to be the ultimate user of the system being created. By blocking out feedback from the users the system matched the brief but failed when put to use. Further work needed to be carried out to adapt to the actual user’s needs. This resulted in brilliant staff members leaving and costing thousands in fresh recruitment and training costs.

I have also seen the consequences of this trait where the project manager was also the end user but was so determined not to stray from the brief that all suggestions where logged with the idea that they would be introduced later. This effectively sabotaged the system. The boss, knowing that their staff member was good at completing projects was not prepared for this second further period of development and this caused their plans to be delayed when the system failed to function as needed on the completion date. In this case the boss needed to delay other projects and divert funds to get this one done.

It can be very costly to finish a project that matched the brief but fails to meet the requirements. It may well be that the budget is spent and there are no additional funds for changes at this late stage. This can result in all of the investment being lost or the system being put on ice. When it is revived the business model will have evolved and more work is required to bring it up to date.

Remedial action

Discovering or knowing that the project manager has the trait of being a starter finisher, and where this is not the boss, it is important to bring the issue to the boss’ attention and spell out what might occur if the controls are not eased slightly. It may be necessary to build into the brief a number of project reviews that not only track progress but review suggestions for changes to establish their worth. If the project manager is not the boss then the boss needs to be the person who chairs this meeting. 

If the boss is the project manager then they need to bring on board one of the end users to provide feedback and insight on what might need to be changed or adapted.