Have you noticed that some project managers seem to operate at a different level entirely?  Successful project managers seem to make even the most impossible projects go right and always end up with a happy customer. But how do they do that?

1. They focus on customer needs
The single biggest factor for a project’s success is whether it delivers what the customer needs. The tricky part is that when customers state their requirements, it may express what they want rather than what they actually need. Highly successful project managers uncover the customer’s true needs. They do that through enquiry and by learning about the client’s business. They are not interested simply in delivering the requirements, but in adding real value.

2. They build a great team
The team is the project’s biggest asset, and highly successful managers know that. They nurture it and want to understand each person’s strengths and motivators. To encourage the team they don’t tell people what to do but coach them to find the right solutions and to make decisions on their own. These project managers see themselves as enablers rather than micro-managers and they remove blockages so that the team can get on with its work.

3. They delegate
Highly successful project managers have learnt that the way to add maximum value – and fully leverage the team – is to delegate anything that can potentially be done by someone else. In delegating, not only do they develop the team’s skill-set, but they also free themselves up to focus on the important, such as customer relationships, communication, leading and motivating the team, de-risking the project and setting the vision. If they don’t attend to these important activities, no one will.

4. They challenge the status quo
It is no longer enough to turn up for work and deliver a project the way we used to. Highly successful project managers are mindful of how they can deliver change in better, cheaper and faster ways. They challenge the status quo, assess what new technologies can be employed, which extra benefits can be delivered and how processes can be improved. They encourage themselves – and the team – to think in new and unfamiliar patterns and ask questions such as “why”, “how” and “what if”.

5. They have a strategic outlook
The most sustainable projects are those that add value, not just in the short term, but also in the long term. It is not enough to deliver a project on time, to cost and to the expected quality – although that’s a great start. The project also has to be strategically viable – meaning that it must be sustainable over time – and it must have the desired effect on the organisation’s strategic business objectives. Project managers who are at the top of their game know that and consistently operate at that level.

6. They strengthen buy-in to the project
Highly successful project managers build great relationships of trust with the project’s stakeholders. In doing so, they focus their attention on those stakeholders who have the most power and influence over the project – and especially those who are not supportive of the initiative. By proactively listening to the stakeholders’ concerns and acting upon their feedback they strengthen buy-in and commitment to the project. These project managers are proactive and don’t shy away from initiating a difficult conversation.

7. They control risks, issues and changes to the scope
A large part of successful delivery is keeping risks, issues and changes under control. Highly successful project managers instil a risk-awareness culture in the team by consistently asking people what they worry about, what is impeding their work what could potentially go wrong. They also monitor changes – not because they are opposed to them – but because they need to assess the impact on factors such as time, cost, quality and benefits if a requirement changes.

8. They deliver on their promises
It essential to successful delivery that managers are credible and that clients and stakeholders trust them. Highly successful project managers do what they say they will – also when it comes to chasing other people for the actions they take on. They set a good example and gain an enormous amount of respect for being effective, timely and reliable. The fastest way to lose credibility is to promise something you cannot keep.


  • In which ways do you add value to your client and your project?
  • From reading this blog, what are the biggest actions you feel inspired to take?

About Guest Contributor

Susanne Madsen is an internationally recognised project leadership coach, trainer and consultant. She is the author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook and The Power of Project Leadership (Jan 2015).

Prior to setting up her own business, she worked for 17 years in the corporate sector managing and rolling out large change programs of up to $30 million for organisations such as Standard Bank, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase.

Susanne is a PRINCE2 and MSP Practitioner and a qualified Corporate and Executive coach. She is also a Member of the Association for Project Management (APM).

Susanne specialises in helping managers improve their leadership skills so that they can gain control of their projects and fast-track their career. She does this through a combination of training, coaching, mentoring and consulting.