Personality Traits that Make a Good Project Manager

I believe anyone can be ‘good’ at anything, as long as there’s enough motivation. If a shy, soft-spoken individual wants to be an inspirational speaker, she can still make a great one, though her work may be cut out for her.

That being said, there are some traits that naturally lend themselves to certain occupations.

Many of us are familiar with this concept from elementary school aptitude or Myers-Briggs personality tests, with results that include dramatic titles such as, “The Scientist” (INTJ, if you’re wondering). Around 60- 70% of Americans come across one of these tests during the interview process, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Though the field of project management spans diverse industries, the job description remains fairly similar. As a PM, you’re responsible for timelines, budget, scope, and quality. You often work with project stakeholders as well as your internal execution team. I’ve found that a person in their element as an effective project manager typically have a few common traits.


This is the number one trait that project managers must have and cultivate. Empathy allows us to feel what the client will, and in turn, cut down on time spent in additional feedback loops. Empathy for the team is equally crucial. Team motivation and energy goes a long way in delivering a quality product that everyone can be proud of. One of the hardest interview questions I’ve been posed was, “Pick one: Team happiness or client happiness?” I think the answer is always case by case- but keep in mind that you can only ask your team for a favor so many times until motivation starts to suffer. If you do need team members to work extra, you should stay as well, to make sure everyone is taken care of. 


On the flip side, project managers can’t be overly soft-hearted. Having good clients and a good team cuts down on the danger tremendously, but we have all seen how ugly it can get when clients smell blood in the water. Some will ruthlessly pick fights to get free work, or maybe even worse, lose confidence in you (and by extension, the team and project). Don’t allow your judgement and fairness meter to be clouded by being too much on either the client’s or team’s side. Remain calm, stable, and hold your ground. You have to do what’s right for the project, and that includes balancing both team and client needs. Take a look at the facts, and don’t be afraid to make the hard call for the good of the project.


As a project manager, the buck stops with you. When the project goes well, all credit goes to the execution team. When the project has a delay, or a requirement was missed, it’s on you. It’s the project manager’s job to make sure everyone has what they need at any given time. If parties are uncommunicative, you have how they prefer to communicate. Most individuals in the workforce are pretty reasonable and you must strive to discover the root cause of the issue/hesitation and resolve it.  


At larger organizations, project managers often don’t produce any of their own work or directly help create the deliverable. Because of this, PMs sometimes get the reputation of being out of touch, and not really understanding the task at hand.

I urge any project manager to get into the weeds a bit, and learn what it is that your team does. Have them explain their decisions, and ask their opinion early (project planning, etc.). Having a natural curiosity and genuinely wanting to understand how the cake is baked goes a long way in both helping in traditional PM duties (scoping, estimating), as well as earning the respect of your team.

There are dozens of effective project management styles, but I've found these traits in common between the best project managers I've had the pleasure of working with.