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Do you have what it takes to manage projects?

Do You Have What it Takes to Manage Your Projects?

Do you have the personal characteristics that are relevant to successfully manage the types of projects you manage?  What’s that, you say you didn’t know that personal characteristics mattered to the success of specific types of projects?  Recent research in this area reveals that the personal characteristics of the PM, in particular their leadership style, is directly related to the success of the project.  Further, the important competencies vary by the type of project being managed. Choosing_appropriate_pmsbook

Research on Project Success

Early this year I wrote about an article by J. Rodney Turner and Ralf Mueller about what made projects successful.  I was thrilled to receive an email from Ralf Mueller and to receive their book on the topic called Choosing Appropriate Project Managers.  I have had the book for a couple of months now and have been digesting it slowly.  It is rich reading for those interested in what makes projects successful, for those who are interested in excelling at particular types of projects, and for those whose job it is to assign project managers to projects.  (FYI this post isn’t meant to be a review of the book.  For an excellent review of the book, see Ken Rose’s Cover to Cover article in the March 2007 Project Management Journal.)

In the book, the authors set out to dispel two myths:

  1. That PM competence is not a project success factor.
  2. That any PM can manage any type of project

The research model is shown below in a diagram taken from Turner and Mueller’s presentation at the Project Management Challenge 2007.  They tested 15 independent variables representing intellectual competence (IQ), managerial competence (MQ), and emotional competence (EQ).  They measured the contribution of those independent variables to project sucess as measured by 10 dependent variables.  They also had a series of 19 moderating variables based on different types of projects (application, strategic importance, lifecycle stage, complexity, and culture).


By conducting 14 personal interviews and a web survey of 400 project managers, the mythbusters were able to handily dispel the two myths.  It turns out that the project manager’s personal competence is indeed very much linked to the success of the project.  In particular, emotional intelligence is a key competency.

“Project managers must be emotionally intelligent.”
– J. Rodney Turner and Ralf Mueller

What They Found

Here is a summary of the findings of the study:

  1. The personal characteristics of the project manager do matter.
  2. Of those personal characteristics, emotional competency (EQ) dominates over IQ and managerial competence.
  3. Different personal characteristics are important for different types of projects and even different phases of the same project.
  4. Organizations need to understand and build the capabilities of the PMs for the types of projects they perform.

What does all of this mean to you as a project manager?  Well, it seems that it would pay to understand the competencies you have, compare that to the competencies for the types of projects you manage, and close any gaps that exist.

For all project types, the PM competencies that correlated with success were conscientiousness, sensitivity, and communication.  Strategic perspective was negatively correlated, that is, PMs with strategic perspective would be more likely to fail.

For three common types of projects, here are the competencies that were statistically correlated with successful projects:

  • Information Technology Projects – Important competencies for successful IT projects include:  self-awareness, engaging communication, and developing.  Having vision was negatively correlated with success (that is, PMs with vision failed).
  • Engineering Projects – Important competencies for successful Engineering Projects include conscientiousness and sensitivity.  Again, having vision was a negative.
  • Organizational Change Projects – Important competencies for successful Organizational Change Projects include motivation and engaging communications.  Again vision was negative.

What You Need to do Next

What do you need to do with this information as a project manager?  I think the relevant question is how do you stack up as a PM?  Do you have emotional intelligence?  If you lead IT projects, do you have self-awareness, communications and developing as competencies?  (Note:  developing is defined as “Encouraging others to take on ever more-demanding tasks, roles, and accountabilities.  Develops others’s competencies and invests time and effort in coaching them.”)

If you don’t know what your personal competencies are, there are many ways to find out.  The fastet would be to take an online emotional intelligence self-assessment like the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal Me edition from TalentSmart.  If you don’t have the $35, you can download a simple and free mini self-assessment from my website to use as a starting point (my simple tool only looks at self-awareness and control).

It seems clear to me that if 1) PMs need to be emotionally intelligent and 2) Specific project types require specific emotional competencies, THEN PMs should determine their own EQ strengths and weaknesses relative to the job and address any gaps.

What do you think?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Pamela Brown

    This is very interesting, Anthony. Thank you for sharing.
    Since I don’t have ready access to Turner and Mueller’s work, I’m wondering how they define strategic perspective. I suspect it’s closely associated with vision, and I find it most interesting that vision is a negative.
    This strikes me personally, because I rarely approach a project without vision. Perhaps the point is that vision can make it harder to stay within scope?
    Another response I had is that vision is essential to leaders. There seems to be a division here between leaders who set the direction and the PM’s who make it happen.
    I’ll have to add Turner and Mueller to my reading list.

  2. Anthony Mersino

    Hi Pamela, thanks for your comments. The work from Turner and Mueller is extensive and I plan to post more in the near future. In particular, I will post about the 15 different competencies that they tested in the categories of IQ, MQ, and EQ.
    I think you are entirely correct about the vision making it difficult to complete the project on scope. Vision is important at the beginning or for the sponsor, but not very effective for the project managers who needs to successfully deliver the project. Here is what Turner and Mueller said about Vision:
    “A contentious finding is that vision in the project manager is negatively correlated with project success…the project manager must be focused on delivering the project as designed…It is the responsibility of other governance roles, such as the project sponsor, to make sure the project is linked to the strategy of the parent organization. It is the project manager’s responsibility to focus on delivering the project, and not get distracted by the bright lights of vision.”
    AS for buying Turner and Mueller’s book, it is $39 from the PMI bookstore. Perhaps you can get that from your library?

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