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Project Manager Selection Criteria and Critical Success Factors

Updated on September 18, 2018
ZIa Ahmed khan profile image

A high caliber industry professional with an experience amounting over 20 years, majorly across various facets of Investment

Project Manager

Project Manager Selection Criteria and Critical Success Factors

The Project Manager

One of the most important decisions in project management is the choice of project manager. Many project failures can be traced to bad choices in this area. Conversely, there are projects where so many unforeseen obstacles and problems arose that failure could be expected but the project succeeds because of the leadership and other qualities of the project manager.

Although this section considers the many attributes and skills that are desirable in a project manager, it is very unlikely that any one human being will possess all of these. In practice, it is a matter of deciding which are the most important in relation to any specific project and then selecting the person who most closely matches the specification.

Selecting the Project Manager

Project managers are sometimes qualified and experienced project management specialists who are employed on a permanent basis by an organization. Sometimes they are external consultants who are contracted to manage the project for its duration only. In all cases they are charged with organizing and managing a project team that will work together in order to meet the project objectives.

This section considers the concept of the project manager in relation to that role’s characteristic central position within the organization. It then extends this concept to consider the typical role of the project manager and links it to the skills that are required by an effective project manager.

The Concept of the Project Manager

A project manager is similar to a chief executive or managing director. The project manager owns the project and has sole responsibility for its outcome. In addition, where small to medium sized projects are concerned, the project manager is often responsible for managing several projects concurrently. As with the project team (discussed later) the project manager does not conform to one specific model.. But different kinds of project call for different kinds of project manager; not all capable project managers are suitable for all project types.

The project manager’s role is by its nature a temporary one, superimposed on the organization. It does not have the power associated with traditional hierarchical positions. Project managers must work across functional and organizational lines and frequently have few direct subordinates. Therefore, perhaps the biggest single issue faced by project managers arises because they have the authority to make decisions about project priorities, schedules, budgets, objectives and policies, but often do not have the official authority to give direct orders to the people who must carry out the work as a result of these decisions.

Ultimately, if the project manager cannot secure the necessary cooperation within the organization, the assistance of the project sponsor(s) will be sought. It is therefore important when appointing project sponsors to choose people of sufficient seniority within the organization.

Projects sometimes require resources from a range of external organizations that may be locally or globally based. Hence, the project manager may be responsible for managing across functional, departmental, organizational and geographical boundaries – a good training ground indeed for future senior managers.

The Central Position of the Project Manager

The project manager’s post lies at the center of the principles of project management. Given the project manager’s ultimate responsibility for the project’s outcome, a key ability is to be able to focus on issues in detail while at the same time keeping a clear view of the project as a whole. This ability to focus within the overview ensures that people and resources are obtained and utilized in an integrated way – including reorganizing to overcome problems and difficulties that will inevitably arise from time to time – in order to accomplish the project’s goals and objectives. To do this, the project manager occupies a central position relating to communications between the various people and organizations involved much like a spider at the center of a web.

The project manager needs to have both the intellect to devise the project strategy and the diligence to ensure that actions are taken, both to the required standards and on time. The project manager directs the project and its people towards these ends. This requires the energy and ability to motivate staff to achieve the project goals

The Role of Project Manager

The primary requirements of the project manager’s role can be summarized as:

• planning the project activities, schedules and budgets;

• organizing and selecting the project team;

• interfacing with the client, the organization and all other interested parties;

• negotiating with suppliers and clients;

• managing the project resources;

• monitoring and controlling the project status;

• identifying issues and problem areas;

• finding the solutions to problems;

• resolving conflicts.

These roles are intrinsically linked and cannot be regarded in isolation. In meeting the above requirements, the project manager will use many different skills, ranging from entrepreneurship to large company politics, from diplomacy to single-minded determination, from technical skills to leadership skills. In essence, the role calls for skilled and competent generalists who, in the case of large complex projects, must also be very high achievers with strong communications and interpersonal skills.

The requirements above have to be carried out within the overall success or failure criteria established for the project as a whole. These include delivering the project:

• within the agreed time limit;

• within the agreed cost limit;

• to at least the minimum quality standards laid down;

• to the satisfaction of the client;

• in compliance with the strategic plan of the organization;

• within the agreed scope.

The agreed project scope defines the limits of the project. It determines what is and, equally importantly, what is not part of the project. Cost, time and quality standards are established based on the agreed scope before the project commences. Any changes frequently referred to as project creep , usually impact on one or more of these. The project manager role includes ensuring that only changes in scope agreed to by the client are authorized or contracted for.

Personal, Managerial and Leadership Skills

The project manager may be in charge of one or more projects. Their operation and objectives have to be compatible with the operation and objectives of the organization as a whole. In achieving this, the project manager needs to apply the full range of traditional management skills in addition to having a detailed technical knowledge of the project itself.

Generally, in terms of ‘soft’ management skills and attributes, the project manager should

• be flexible and adaptable;

• be able to concentrate on more than one thing at a time;

• demonstrate initiative;

• be persuasive;

• be a good communicator;

• be able to keep multiple objectives in sight and be able to balance them;

• be well organized;

• be prepared to generalize rather than (always) specialize;

• be a good planner and implementer;

• be able to identify problems, find solutions and make sure that they work;

• be a good time manager;

• be good at negotiating and influencing (rather than arguing or giving orders);

• be diplomatic.

Technical and Business Skills

The project manager also has to possess a range of technical and business skills.

Technical skills are necessary in order to understand the detailed components of the project. It is not possible fully to appreciate the inputs of the various designers, suppliers and contractors without this knowledge. In addition, in most cases the project manager also needs to have a detailed business and financial knowledge. Increasingly, project managers are responsible for investment appraisal and financial analysis of projects.

Typical ‘harder’ characteristics include

• understanding how to set up a team and run it;

• the ability to develop complex time and cost plans and achieve them;

• understanding of contracts, procurement, purchasing and personnel;

• active interest in training and development;

• understanding of the technology that is central to project success;

• ability to translate business strategy into project objectives.

Selecting the Project Manager

For internal projects, the project manager is usually selected from the ranks of functional managers or staff. A good functional manager with the skills required for project management is by far the best option because of the understanding of the industry and the organization that is brought to the post. Such a person will be familiar with the technology and bring credibility built up during performance of the functional role.

The other primary alternative is for the project manager to be an external consultant. There are an increasing number of private practices that are offering professional project management commissions as part of their portfolio of professional services. This has the obvious disadvantage that the project manager is not used to the organization and there will therefore be a learning curve involved. In addition, the project manager does not owe any particular allegiance to the organization and there may therefore be scope for some disparity of interest.

In many organizations, the pace of change is so fast that multiple projects will be under way at any one time. This has led to a growing tendency towards project management (as part of either an internal or an external system) as a career in its own right. It demands some skills that are very different to those of the normal functional manager. From a project point of view, this makes specialist project managers advantageous. The main issue with this route is around the area of technical competence. It is easy to lose the respect of the project team if the project manager either does not understand the technology or makes technical errors.

Some Essential Project Manager Requirements

An effective project manager needs to be able to execute a number of primary functions. These primary functions are applicable to all areas of management, including project management. The project manager must have a reasonable command of: • project planning; • authorizing; • team organizing; • controlling; • directing; • team building; • leadership; • lifecycle leadership.

Project management uses these functions in order to execute specific projects that are subject to: • time constraints; • cost limits; • quality specifications; • safety standards.

The objectives are typical project success criteria.

Project Planning

Planning is usually the first stage of any project and is one of its most critical.

Planning activity is at its greatest during the early stages of a project. As the project progresses and is being implemented, the level of planning activity usually reduces substantially. In terms of organizational and resourcing issues, planning covers the activities to be accomplished and the sequence in which they are to be executed.

Planning authority relationships is about deciding what individuals and groups are authorized to do on behalf of the project, and how they are to be related to each other. This can be a complex process in project management systems. Traditional functional management systems tend to be fairly static and authority relationships can be clearly defined. By comparison, project management systems tend to be relatively complex, have a far shorter life span, and operate within complex and changing environmental conditions. The environmental conditions impacting on the project can arise from outside the project but within the organization (internal environment), or outside the company itself (external environment). These environments are changing constantly, and the project itself will also be evolving. As a result, different projects tend to develop different authority relationships. Hence someone working on two projects, even within the same organization, could be working within two different authority networks.

Authority is not the same as power. Authority is a type of ability to control and direct that is delegated from higher levels in the organization; power, in contrast, is given to an individual by subordinates at lower levels. For example, consider an individual whose future rewards or career depends on promotion within the functional structure. Given simultaneous but mutually exclusive demands from the project and functional managers, who is likely to be responded to? In such cases the functional manager’s demands are more likely to be met. This is an example of equal authority – both have authority to direct the subordinate’s efforts – but differing power.

Authority is a key project management characteristic. It is essential that the project manager can demonstrate authority across the various project functional and organizational boundaries that exist. Authority is the means by which the project manager controls and channels all the various activities that have to occur, both in sequence and in parallel, so that the collective efforts are channeled towards developing the project.

Generally, the level of authority granted to a project manager should be in direct relation to the size and complexity of the project. The larger these are, the higher the risk of project failure and its consequences. In practice, it is generally accepted that the project manager should be delegated more authority than is immediately required for the execution of the project.

Team Organizing

The project manager is responsible for organizing how the work is to be executed. This includes devising the organizational structures and team management approaches to support the project. But the project manager may not be the only manager interested in this. Others at various levels and functions within the organization will also have opinions and may seek to gather senior management support for their views, particularly if they believe that any changes might impact adversely on their areas of responsibility. Thus, in order to develop an appropriate structure and management approach that will gain the commitment and support of the other managers, it is useful if the project manager has an understanding of both the politics of the organization and how this is expressed in the present organization structures and team management approaches.


Controlling involves the project manager being responsible for establishing desired targets for performance, measuring actual performance against the targets, and initiating corrective action where the actual performance deviates too far from that desired. This is all done with the intention of achieving the project goals and objectives that were established at the outset. Controlling is essentially a four stage process, as set out next.

• Targeting.

This involves establishing some kind of workable and achievable target or series of targets. These targets should correspond and be aligned with the stated success and failure criteria for the project and its subcomponents.

The targets can be set for individuals or groups as appropriate.


The measurement of the extent to which actual progress is achieving targeted progress. This could be formal, such as by the use of earned value analysis or informal, such as by an indirect appreciation and evaluation of progress.


This includes the identification and isolation of areas where progress is not being made in accordance with the overall project plan, and consideration of any alternative options for appropriate corrective action. Most forms of evaluation are based on some kind of variance analysis.

Variance analysis is a retrospective tool. It looks at variances between planned and actual events and uses these as the basis for some kind of corrective action. As such, it looks at past events and uses them as a measure of current efficiency. This can be dangerous if it is the only approach used.

• Correcting.

This includes implementing the proposed corrective actions for reducing or eliminating the effects of deviations from target. Correcting is certainly one of the most important management functions of the project manager. The whole point of establishing targets, measuring and evaluating performance is to produce data that can be used as the basis for corrective action.


Directing is the process involved in converting organizational goals into reality through the use of organizational and project resources. It involves directing other people in order to ensure that their actions are appropriate to achievement of the overall aims and objectives.

Typical directing activities in project management include those set out next.

Setting up the project team.

This includes ensuring that the project team has sufficient human resources to allow it to function. It also involves ensuring that each team member fits into the team as efficiently as possible and (where possible) individuals are compatible and work well together.

Team Training and development.

Project teams develop and evolve in response to team member and project changes throughout the project life cycle. Training and development are essential in order to ensure that team members remain attuned to the needs of the project.


This involves giving tactical guidance to team members at all levels. It covers numerous aspects, including setting individual targets, personnel evaluation, discipline, and the definition of individual and group objectives and responsibilities.

Individual and team motivation.

High levels of individual and group motivation are usually essential for the effective functioning of the team. Project teams can have excellent resources and backup, but without adequate motivation they will not function effectively.


Coordination includes the directing of groups and individuals in order to ensure that all actions are being carried out toward achieving the common objectives of the project team and the overall organization in an efficient and effective manner. It includes the classification and prioritization of work in order to ensure that resources are committed in relation to the importance of each individual operation. It also involves monitoring resources in order to ensure that functional and project teams avoid conflict wherever possible.

Leader is success criteria


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    • Michael VO profile image

      Michael VO 

      6 years ago from Warrenton Missouri

      I liked your slant on the project manager role being a temporary one. I think corporations, particularly large ones sometimes miss this nuance.


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