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What Makes a Great Project Manager?


Caitlin M.

What does it take to be a great project manager? It’s truly a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, and entered somewhere inside a spreadsheet.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We asked four of our favorite Vitamin T PMs to tell us the secrets behind a truly successful project manager. That is, one who can push your projects to their fullest potential, help you hit deadlines, and save you money. No small feat!

Working at of San Francisco's leading creative agencies, Caitlin has helped produce interactive projects and creative content (branding, design, motion graphics, VFX, and interactive apps and websites) for big names like Cisco, Charles Schwab, The Producers Guild, and Good Technology.

What are your favorite PM tools and why?

I often work in Excel or Google Spreadsheets, using their nifty formula tools to create budgets and schedules. I also love to use Evernote for easy note-taking and syncing abilities. Of course you can’t go wrong with a nice, pretty pen or pencil and some good-quality paper.

What do you think the top 3 traits of a successful PM are?

I think three things that can help a PM to be successful are:

1) Being organized

2) Being communicative/proactive

3) Having a positive attitude

How do you define success as a PM?

I think success is defined as being resourceful, yet innovative and the ability to mobilize a team to achieve a goal on schedule. Oh, and having a great time doing so!

What resources do you use to continue learning and becoming a better PM?

I like to read blogs—and not just those limited to project management or soft skills, but ones on design, technology, art news, and so on to keep up with new events, trends, and interesting stories. I also enjoy any type of empowering speaker or presentation (or email list) I can get my hands on. It’s also great to have mentorship—one should always be learning.

What piece of advice do you have for newbies moving into PM roles?

Be as organized as you can–it will save you time later!

What is your favorite project you've managed and why?

My favorite project I’ve managed was a website for an agency. There were many levels of decision making and a few different creative discussions occurring in the early stages. Our team was tasked with creating a design that not only spoke to the agency’s brand, but that matched the high level of engagement and intuitive user experience that the agency wanted at the first point of contact to their services. We had groups of teams in different departments collaborating together to produce beautiful and purposeful design, which made it a very fun and challenging project.

What is the most challenging part of being a PM?

Sometimes it’s hard to remember to take a break or a lunch, since there is always a project needing attention. But it’s important to take those needed breaks or do something to keep you fresh and energized, whether it be a coffee break or a chance to step outside and enjoy some fresh air. Just as feedback cycles require management, so does one’s well being (not to mention, it can empower one’s cognitive functioning).

What is the largest team you've coordinated projects across? How many projects have you juggled at once?

I’ve helped to coordinate a very large website project with people in different locations and time zones. In my current role, I am involved on an average of 20 projects at a time, give or take. These are all fairly quick paced and shorter timeframe, with only a few taking a month or longer.

What is the biggest misconception about project management?

That there is no connection to being involved in design. Although I’m not classically trained as a designer, I enjoy learning about it as much as I can so I can support the team as much as possible. Whether that’s by participating in internal team design critiques before sending to the client or a having a designer teach me about how they arrived at their concept, I am (gratefully) always feeling involved in the creative process.

What did you think you wanted to be when you grew up?

A lead guitarist in a rock band.

Our thanks to Caitlin for her answers!

Looking for a great Project Manager?

Let us know!

And if you’re dying to know what it’s like to spend a day in the life of a project manager, be sure to play our interactive game, Project Manager Mania!

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