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The Complete Project Manager

Part one: Building the Right Set of Skills for Greater Project Success


Success in any environment largely depends upon completing successful projects, and successful projects get done by skilled project managers and teams, supported by effective project sponsors. Integration of knowledge and skills makes the difference in who achieves greater optimized outcomes. A Complete Project Manager integrates key people, team, business, organizational, and technical skills. Part One poses an organic analog from molecular chemistry and shares insights, experiences, and examples intended to motivate action towards embracing an integrated approach to the complete project manager. We begin the process of identifying key skills. Part Two continues the quest to identify and apply additional skills.


While many professionals develop their craft through advanced education and on the job experiences, there comes a time when an enhanced skill set and a new perspective about working with people is necessary in order to advance to the next level of performance. How do you move beyond this plateau? We believe in an holistic approach to open eyes, minds, … and doors, so that changed thinking can be applied immediately within each organizational environment. The “right” set of skills to achieve “completeness” depends on individual starting points, aptitude, attitude, desires, and supporting context.

Many people are not aware of the need for them to change their thinking and of how this mindset inhibits their performance. The complete project manager adopts, adapts, and applies a different approach, leading to more consistent, timely, and quality results. This can happen because project managers apply necessary leadership, influence, sales, and negotiating skills that had previously been overlooked or under applied. With conscious application of these skills, project managers get recognized through achieving business outcomes that had heretofore eluded them. The goal is to achieve greater levels of personal satisfaction and professional advancement.

Learning Objectives:

  • Change thinking about necessary skills to enhance on the job performance
  • Apply an organic approach to leading and managing projects
  • Realize what needs to be done to achieve better results and how to do it
  • Further develop project or program management professional careers

You may embrace the concept of becoming more “complete”…but also harbor many “enemies of change”—such as not invented here, too busy, not enough time, cognitive blindness, natural reactive processes—that inhibit you from adopting better leadership and management practices. Some of these enemies might be ingrained beliefs, harbored over a lifetime of experiences. We cannot change those beliefs; we can only change the believer. The way to do this is to provide enough evidence and examples that tap the internal motivational drives within you. The next step is for you to implement a complete systems approach that achieves greater results, and is simple yet powerfully—and universally—effective.


We use a complex molecule as a metaphoric graphic for the complete project manager. The intent is to apply our own form of bio mimicry to highlight key concepts.

Our visualization is molecular structure as an organic analogy for the complete project manager. With thanks to and with apologies to the chemical discipline, we map lessons from organic chemistry to the project management profession:

Organic chemistry is a sub discipline within chemistry involving the scientific study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation of carbon-based compounds, hydrocarbons, and their derivatives.

Organic compounds are structurally diverse. The range of application of organic compounds is enormous. They form the basis of, or are important constituents of, many products and almost all earthly life processes.

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. It is a strategic competency for organizations, enabling them to tie project results to business goals and better compete in their markets. Project management brings a unique focus shaped by the goals, resources and schedule of each project. The value of that focus is proved by the rapid, worldwide growth of project management as a recognized and strategic organizational competence in all industries and organizations, as a subject for training and education, and as a career path.

Organic molecules often contain a higher level of complexity compared to purely inorganic compounds, so the synthesis of organic compounds has developed into one of the most important branches of chemistry. Biochemistry—the chemistry of living organisms, their structure and interactions in a controlled environment and inside living systems—opened up a new chapter of organic chemistry with enormous scope. Biochemistry, like organic chemistry, primarily focuses on compounds containing carbon.

Upon realizing that project management is all about people, we are struck by the enormous complexity of interests, styles, approaches, and interactive dynamics that get unleashed when attempting cross-organizational project work. Each day brings new challenges, unheralded actions, and innovations.  Behind it all, we must never forget that we are carbon-based creatures, enormously capable but seldom perfect.

The crucial breakthrough for organic chemistry was the concept of chemical structure, wherein carbon atoms could link to each other to form a carbon lattice, and that the detailed patterns of atomic bonding could be discerned by skillful interpretations of appropriate chemical reactions.

Project management has always been practiced informally, and it began to emerge as a distinct profession in the mid-20th century. The Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) identifies the recurring elements:  the five process groups and the nine knowledge areas. While this guide provides a basic structure for projects, linking to other disciplines is crucial for breakthrough performances.

Early examples of organic reactions and applications were often serendipitous. Then came systematic studies of organic compounds, followed by the synthesis of highly complex molecules via multistep procedures. Total synthesis of complex natural compounds increased in complexity and finally reached commercialization. Pharmaceutical benefits have been substantial. Complexity of total syntheses has been increasing.

Accidental project managers were, and often still are, common—coming into the profession with little knowledge of processes and procedures. The PMBOK® Guide advanced the profession and provides the foundation to build myriad structures capable of producing various outcomes. An ever expanding number of professions and industries are embracing project management, recognizing the benefits of a disciplined approach to create new outcomes. This expansion brings the need for creating new ways to apply established processes…along with the need for practitioners possessing varied skillsets. A robust set of skills provides the leadership to fuse disparate groups into new organizations, through organic growth or mergers, and provide novel or innovative solutions. No longer will one job description suffice for managing projects, programs, and portfolios.

In contrast to many inorganic materials, organic compounds typically melt and many boil. The melting and boiling points correlate with the polarity of the molecules and their molecular weight. Organic compounds are usually not very stable at temperatures above 300 °C.

Such is life. People have their limits, such that they totally disengage and melt away, or they boil over with emotional outbursts. When these occur correlate both to natural personality inclinations and to a set of developed skills. Complete project managers achieve enhanced levels of stability.

New possibilities for achievement and personal advancement can emerge with concentrated intent and research. As in life itself, unlimited combinations are possible for the molecule surrounding complete project managers. There are many ways to assemble successful outcomes. New possibilities will emerge by various combinations of skills.

We offer the picture in Figure 1 as a starting point and assessment tool. Use this picture as a guideline, metric, or outline, and as a journey to build your own “molecules.”

TCPM Fig 1

Leadership and Management Skills

Leadership and management skills are those vital visionary and “can do” competencies so necessary when in a position to influence colleagues, team members, upper managers, clients, and so forth. The complete project manager possesses the lead by example, delegation, charisma, teachability, respect, qualities of leadership, courage, listening, and relationship building skills to interact with people and achieve results.

The thread that runs through all key factors that determine success and failure:  PEOPLE. People do matter. Projects typically do not fail or succeed because of technical factors or because we cannot get electrons traveling faster than the speed of light; they fail or succeed depending on how well people work together. When we lose sight of the importance of people issues, such as clarity of purpose, effective and efficient communications, and management support, then we are doomed to struggle. Engaged people find ways to work through all problems. The challenge for complete project managers is to create environments for people to do their best work.

The complete project manager needs to be both a leader and manager—covering both what to do (vision) and how (execution). This requires placing a priority on understanding and listening to people. Lead by example. Demonstrate a positive attitude. Cultivate relationships up, across, and down the organization.

Identify leadership qualities that have made a difference in your life—people who have influenced you. Study what they did. Be the “teachable” student who continuously learns and applies a flexible approach to leadership.

Know yourself, believe in yourself, take care of yourself first, and then take care of others.

Personal Skills

Personal skills are those vital interaction competencies for dealing with people. The complete project manager possesses the aptitude, attitude, and networking skills to interact with people and achieve results.

Early in our careers, we demonstrated negative attitudes regarding our jobs and towards the projects we managed. That negative disposition generated more problems than advantages. We created negative images of ourselves in front of colleagues, team members and managers. Results were not good—transmitting negativism to managers and team members, tarnishing our reputations, and limiting our options.

The maturing process led us to change our thinking. We needed an attitude check! By changing attitude, we changed our worlds (see Bucero, 2010). This is a fundamental, life changing experience.

Project managers need to be able to motivate and sustain people. Project team members will look to the project manager to solve problems and help remove obstacles. Complete project managers need to be able to address and solve problems within the team, as well as those that occur outside the team. Effective networking is a vital ingredient for success.

Here is the essence of persuasive skills:  it usually makes great sense to repay favors, behave consistently, follow the lead of similar others, favor the requests of those we like, heed legitimate authorities, and value scarce resources.

Being focused on your strengths is a worthy approach that helps you grow personally and professionally, more so than any other “development plan.” All time and money spent to take you to the next level of excellence as a project manager and as a professional are the best investments you can make in your personal career.

The Role of Humor and Fun

The project manager walks into his boss’s office and says, “Here is the bottom line budget needed for the success of the project.” The boss asks, “What can you do for half the money?” The project manager says, “Fail.” The boss asks, “When can you get started?” The project manager says, “I think I just did.”

Observe your reaction to the previous paragraph. Did you laugh quietly, snicker, break out in a hearty laugh,…? People react differently, but just the process of telling that story makes an indelible impact on others. The dialogue between two people starts out very common place and takes an interesting turn, perhaps even one we wished we had the presence of mind to express. The humorous story sets the stage for addressing serious issues, such as success or failure.

We advocate for the use of humor and fun in a complete project manager’s toolkit. We do so because we believe it is effective, productive, and memorable. We cannot prescribe how to create fun in every situation. We can share our commitment to creating fun working environments, with the hope that others may validate and renew their commitment to the same…or else come to a new understanding of the need for “lightening up” some of the serious work of project management.

Humor plays a vital role in getting a person to laugh at situations that may seem overwhelming. One cannot truly laugh and still retain anger or hostility. A project manager’s toolkit is more complete when fun is on the agenda, and every day includes laughter. Life in general and projects specifically seem to flow better and accomplish more when people have fun doing whatever they are doing. Possibly no other single factor provides more benefits than humor and fun. Health, both personally and organizationally, is improved. People want to work together again when they know the experience includes having fun.

Humor may be experienced through the telling of jokes but also may happen through paying attention and making the commitment to the moments in projects that deserve a good laugh. Think differently about various moments encountered throughout a project. Seek a fun path that lightens the load while remaining on target.

To Be Continued…

Check back with us for Part Two where we explore additional skills that complement the complete project manager’s molecule, including project management, negotiating, political, conflict and change management, sales, and customer skills.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Randall L. Englund, MBA, BSEE, NPDP, CBM, is an author, speaker, trainer, professional facilitator, and consultant for the Englund Project Management Consultancy ( He also facilitates project management seminars for the Project Management Institute as well as conducts courses at University of California extensions and for other professional associations. Randy applies an organic approach to optimize processes that create an environment for more successful projects.

Alfonso Bucero, MSc, PMP (Project Management Professional), is the founder and Managing Partner of BUCERO PM Consulting, REP ( received the PMI Distinguished Contribution Award in 2010 for his long and varied body of work and was designated as a Fellow of the Institute in 2011. He delivers PM training and consulting services in countries world-wide. Alfonso defends Passion, Persistence and Patience as vital keys for project success.

Mike Morton

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