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The Single Greatest Quality Every Project Manager Must Possess


There are all kinds of skills, qualities, and talents you must possess to be a successful project manager. You need to be able to see the big picture, break it down into smaller pieces, and assemble it together again. You need to be a leader, motivator, inspector and persuader. But, all of these qualities mean nothing unless you have…


That’s right. I’ll just come right out and say it rather than have you wait until the end to hear it: the single greatest quality every project manager must possess is credibility. Now, it’s up to you if you want to read on to find out why it’s important and how you can gain (or destroy) your credibility.

Credibility is defined as the quality of being trusted, convincing, or believable. Trust me when I say there is a lot of trust me in project management. Maybe the following will sound familiar:

“Trust me, the client will do what they say they’re going to do,” or,

“Trust me, we’ll get through this rough patch of the project,” or,

“Trust me, I’ve done this a million times before.”

How many times have you found yourself asking your team to trust you? Probably too many times to remember. If you are requesting someone’s trust, are you quite certain you have proven yourself to be trustworthy?

For people to trust, they need to see a track record of reliability. Think about the first time you went for a small loan at a bank. They required all kinds of paperwork and a co-signer before they would loan you the money. Why? Because they didn’t trust you. That’s right; you didn’t have a track record of borrowing money and paying it back in a timely fashion. Once your credibility was established, the bank offered to loan you all kinds of money with just your signature, because they now trust you will pay your loans back.

The same thing happens in our relationships with project team members. There is a certain level of positional credibility that comes with the job, but it still takes time to establish personal credibility within the dynamics of a team. People have to judge for themselves whether to take you at your word or not.

How Do You Gain Credibility?

There are a number of things you can do as a project manager to gain credibility with your team. The following are a few suggestions:

Do What You Say You Are Going to Do – Following throughis easier said than done. If you’ve ever been a parent you probably are guilty of making an empty promise in return for obedience. If you’ve ever been invited to a social event you didn’t want to go to, maybe you are guilty of promising to go just to get the hostess off your back.
It requires thoughtfulness to back up your words with actions…all the time. Your team is always watching how you behave. If you say you’re coming in early the next morning to knock out a tough part of the project plan, then make sure you show up early. If you say you’re going to talk to the client about them bypassing the change control process, make sure you talk to them.

Credibility starts with following through on your smallest commitments and migrates all the way up to your major promises. Not quite sure you can follow through? Then don’t commit to it just yet. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your mouth shut and doing a bit more research before committing, and then following through on your promise.

Don’t Talk Too Much – Picture a bell curve. Your credibility is the horizontal x-axis. The amount that you talk is the vertical y-axis. At the zenith of the bell curve is the optimal amount of talk to credibility ratio: the more incessantly you talk, the less credibility you will have.Case in point.
I worked with a fellow that by all accounts should have been 458 years old. Why? Because his stories didn’t add up. He could not have accomplished what he said he did in 50 years. He told stories of being a concert violinist, best-selling author, renowned chef, and of paintings of his that were on display in museums. He claimed to have quelled oppressive governments in foreign countries (seriously), turned around hundreds of companies that were on their last leg, and that he was the ideal husband and family man.

“Trust me, I’ve done this a million times before.”
At first, he inched along the upward slope of the bell curve, establishing moderate credibility. When he didn’t stop talking and you realized most of what he said wasn’t true, his credibility quickly slid down the downward slope of the bell-curve.
Project managers need to talk. You need to talk a lot. The key is to find that optimal point at which you become and stay credible, by moderating how much you say and what you talk about.

Listen to Your Own Conversation – A very helpful practice is to listen to your own conversation. Do you find yourself saying, “Yeah, but this time it’s going to be different,” a lot? It might mean that your credibility is waning, but you haven’t admitted it to yourself.
Reflect on your dialogue with project team members. They’ll remember everything you say, so you should too! Remember what you say and to whom, and make adjustments if you find yourself back-pedaling on a regular basis. This will help enormously to gain credibility.

3 Sure Fire Ways to Destroy Your Credibility

It takes years to build up a storehouse of credibility. When you have arrived at that zenith, however, it is a great asset to have. If and when you do make an honest mistake, that storehouse of credibility will bring you through the storm. However, there are certain things that will destroy your credibility within a matter of moments. You can destroy your credibility:

By Accident – Certain things are out of the project manager’s control. You must rely on others to do what they say they are going to do. You can follow up, cajole, and persuade as much as possible, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the resource to get the job done.
Your superiors will understand for a little while if you are unable to deliver on a project because of other people’s shortcomings. However, these little accidents will ultimately undermine your credibility if they continue to occur.

By Covering Up – You are sure to ruin your own credibility if you deliberately conceal information. Let’s say something goes wrong on a project. A key deliverable is missed which sets the project back two months behind schedule, and even though you know about the delay, you fail to alert anyone or make plans to complete the missed deliverable.
That’s bad enough, but if, six weeks later, you say you don’t know anything about it, or don’t remember talking about it or receiving any emails in regards to the delay, your credibility vanishes instantly.

By Being Manipulative – Another way to instantly lose credibility is to be manipulative. One technique of manipulation is convincing someone else that it’s in their best interest they get something done, when the reality is it’s in your best interest.
Best case scenario if someone has been manipulated is that no harm has been done to them. It’s more likely, however, that they were prevented from doing something else that really needed to be done, and now it reflects poorly on them. Congratulations, you got your way, but you also just flushed your credibility down the toilet.

I hope you are convinced that credibility is the single most important quality of a project manager. You can be the best project planner, risk mitigator, or cost controller. But, all of these things mean nothing unless your team trusts you. Build a solid base of credibility and your project management career will flourish.

Gain instant credibility by trying ProjectManager.com FREE for 30 days. Your team’s reaction will be that you must know what you are doing as a project manager to use such outstanding project management software. You can build project plans from scratch or import them from Microsoft Project. Share these plans with your team and view actual vs. planned progress as it happens!


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