Project manager Greg Cimmarrusti eloquently describes a profession that is often difficult to describe: “Being a Project Manager is like being an artist, you have the different colored process streams combining into a work of art.”

Project management encompasses so many different aspects and moving parts, just defining what it is can be difficult. At times project managers are mediators, at times they’re presenters, and at other times they’re observers – and they need to know when to switch between these different hats.

Identifying a successful project manager (PM) can be much simpler. At a high level, it is often easy to tell when a project is working and when it is not. There are also signals that you and your business can look out for when working with a PM to make sure all your needs are met, and the project is what you envisioned.

The PM Talent Triangle

The Project Management Institute (PMI) boils down the skillset of a successful project manager to what they call the “Talent Triangle.” The Talent Triangle consists of three parts:

  • Technical Project Management – Elements such as data gathering, risk management, and managing time, cost, and budget.
  • Leadership – Parts of successful leadership are emotional intelligence, problem-solving, and coaching.
  • Strategic and Business Management – Components include maintaining awareness of market conditions, supporting operations functions like finance, and having a general business acumen.

Successful project managers should strive to develop and perfect each of these. They are each part of the puzzle that builds up to the whole. Some of these elements may come more naturally or be a particular strength of a project manager, while others may be more difficult to adopt and take time and practice to develop.

Successful project managers should strive to develop and perfect each of these. They are each part of the puzzle that builds up to the whole. Some of these elements may come more naturally or be a particular strength of a project manager, while others may be more difficult to adopt and take time and practice to develop.

This “Talent Triangle,” however, may be less visible from your client’s perspective, as these are often actions that take place behind the scenes to deliver the results that are put before you. Certain key elements will be quite clear to you as the client and you can identify and recognize them throughout the project lifecycle.

Evaluate Needs and Styles

First off, a thoughtful PM should be focused on what communication style works best for you. All teams have their preferred communication style, which may ebb and flow depending on how the business is currently operating. If a business is hiring a PM for a project with a tight turnaround and they’ve worked with vendors before, then they may need less frequent but more direct communication. Other organizations may need a more closely consultative experience, meaning they may want to reserve weekly meetings where they can have greater visibility into the project to efficiently communicate their needs.

On top of general communication preferences, a PM should check in with your business on the logistical communication requirements, such as:

  • What is your preferred channel for communication? Email, calls, chat messages, etc.?
  • If your business prefers to communicate via chat, which channel would you prefer to use (Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc.)?
  • Which stakeholders should be included in any communications? Is there a main point of contact?
  • Are all the stakeholders in the same time zone or do different time zones need to be accommodated for? Is there a preferred day/time for meetings?
  • Will any project team members require special credentials to access any channels of communication that your organization has chosen to

Establish Check-ins

Once it’s clear how your team prefers to communicate with the project team, the PM must set up reoccurring and consistent times that your teams can connect. Even if your business prefers less communication, creating even 15-30-minute meetings at regular intervals will help the PM maintain a solid understanding of your needs and allow you to stay informed on how the project is progressing.

A strong PM should also provide you with written versions of these check-ins. A weekly or biweekly email updating your team on the current state of the timeline and budget provides a clear understanding for both parties of where a project is at, and you can easily share with other stakeholders on your team such as managers and executives who may be interested in the status of the project.

Allow Stakeholders to Communicate

As we outlined at the beginning, leadership is a strong component of being a PM. A good leader maintains control but doesn’t take over the conversation. They are attentive and thoughtful and provide the stakeholder with a comfortable space to voice their thoughts, needs, and any concerns they may have.

Use Thorough Written Communication

Meetings will be necessary, but written communication will most likely occupy a good portion of the connection between a PM and your business. PMI outlines in their Project Management Body of Knowledge, which include:

  • Correct grammar and spelling
  • Concise expression and the elimination of excess words
  • Clear purpose and expression directed to the needs of the reader
  • Coherent logical flow of ideas
  • Controlling flow of words and ideas


One of the first pieces of communication from your PM should be communicating the project plan. How a PM lays out their project plan can look very different, but will most likely include several of these elements:

Clearly defined scope: The scope, or the work needed to complete your project, is the basis of the project. With the scope clearly defined and agreed upon, both you and your PM will feel comfortable moving forward to assemble the team and resources needed to meet the scope.

Specified deliverable/outcome: Not only do you want to understand the work necessary to complete your project, you need to agree upon what the finished product or outcome of the project will be.

Workback schedule: Once your PM has your project team together and understands what needs to be delivered, they can create a work back schedule, using their expertise and understanding of how long each part of the process takes to create a timeline for the project.

Cost management and budget: Communication around budget and cost is crucial. A knowledgeable PM will keep track of your budget throughout the project and clearly communicate how the project is aligning with the overall budget.

Room for flexibility: While planning is crucial, a strong PM needs to realize the need for flexibility. Changes within a project are frequent and should be anticipated as part of the project plan.

Risk Management

Successful project management doesn’t mean there aren’t any issues, but it does mean identifying and addressing those issues or red flags early and when appropriate. When these potential issues are identified by your PM, they should come to you with recommendations to resolve the issue or prevent it from happening.

But there are certain issues that only you can recognize. For instance, if you feel as though communication is not meeting your needs but a PM feels like it is working for them and their team, that is an issue they may not be able to call out. Typically, a customer engagement manager should be a part of your project team. They will be an important resource for you and your team to communicate anyways the project can improve as well as the aspects that are working. They can effectively communicate these areas for growth with the PM and they can adjust accordingly.


Finally, one of the biggest signs of a successful PM is the outcome. The process is important, but you want to ultimately walk away with a polished deliverable that moves your business forward and meets what you set out to accomplish when you first took the step to bring on a PM. The PM should communicate clearly when the project has been completed and make sure that either they or your customer engagement manager checks in to ensure you are satisfied with the project completion and no loose ends are left untied.

There is so much involved with project management, much of which lands with the PM. You can call a successful PM an artist or a conductor – they are the ones who bring it all together seamlessly so your business receives a polished project experience and final deliverable.

Sydney Moorhead is a Content Writer at Affirma.

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