5 Surprising Traits of a Successful Software Project Manager

By: Chris Hawkins, Senior Project Manager for Shift3

Close your eyes and imagine a successful software project manager in your mind; one who can take your most complex projects and successfully deliver them on time and on budget. What skills and attributes do you imagine this person has? If you’re like most people, you’re probably thinking descriptors like good communicator, well-organized, technically proficient and patient. You’re right! However, success as a project manager often comes down to a handful of intangibles that are rarely thought of as beneficial traits for a project manager.


Project managers are sometimes viewed as being “command and control” operators. Despite this, the counter-intuitive truth of project management is that the most powerful management move to make is often no move at all. A good project manager possesses the ability to discern when it’s time to step in to redirect the team, and when it’s time to leave the team alone with their work.

Pattern Recognition

In some circles, project managers are derided as bean counters, beholden purely to the numbers. Truly good project managers are able to recognize patterns in both data and in the daily activities of the team to identify trouble before it starts. This is one of the most valuable attributes a project manager can bring to your project.


Many projects are borne of business pains that have caused significant anxiety in the client organization. Other projects cause anxiety to stakeholders in the client org, due to uncertainty about the outcome, the impact to the “old ways,” or even fear of being automated out of a job. A truly good project manager will bring empathy to your project, and an understanding that every software project is, ultimately, a people project.


We’ve all seen the brash, arrogant project manager, swaggering into a project and steamrolling people in the name of “I know better.” The reality is, project managers are often confronted with unique scenarios, particularly in the custom software space, for which there is no prior experience to draw on. The best project managers have the humility to say “I don’t know” when confronted with such a scenario, and the wherewithal to immediately formulate a plan to acquire the necessary answers for the good of your project.

Risk taking

Typically, we think of project managers as being risk-averse; in fact, identifying and avoiding risks is one of the most-expected traits of a project manager! However, good project managers are able to combine their powers of discernment and pattern recognition to identify beneficial, high-upside risks to take with a project. When a project manager successfully identifies and takes such a risk, the result is usually an early delivery, a more elegant implementation of a feature, or a novel solution to a technical roadblock. Project managers who excel at risk-taking can put your project in a position to benefit without being at risk of losing much, if anything, in terms of time and budget.

Managing a software project does require the typical combination of good communication, organization, patience and technical proficiency. To be really exceptional at it, however, a project manager must have these other skills as well; skills that allow for management of and collaboration with the human beings who act as stakeholders in the project, more so than for the management of technology.


Chris Hawkins has been building web applications for more than two decades. He’s successfully completed projects for companies as large as Fortune 500s and as small as mom-and-pop shops. Chris has spent his career as an independent consultant helping businesses create and use software tools to improve processes, cut costs and strengthen internal collaboration. He also has a strong reputation handling crisis projects and client management. Chris also adores his cats.

Curious about project management in the software environment? Email Chris at chawkins@shift3tech.com. Interested in having custom software built for your organization? Call 559 560 3300 for a free 30-minute consultation. Learn more about custom software here.

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