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GUEST EDITORIAL: The eight compelling behaviours of the successful project player

Too many projects fail to deliver on their promise. And when disruption occurs, the reasons for failure are rarely attributable to blunders in methodology, tools or technique. Instead, the issues preventing a successful outcome are more likely to be found as weaknesses of resolve, organisation, leadership, adaptation or communication. In his Guest Editorial, Martin Price investigates the eight useful habits of the most successful project managers.

You’ll be cut off at the pass if you let yourself rely on standard processes, tools and templates. These alone can never be enough to achieve the sustained progress that you require and expect in the management of a project. The quality of working practices, ingenuity, judgement, leadership and cultural factors are also crucial elements. Today the word on the street is that the project player’s behaviour is central to achieving the required pace of progress. This is the reality that is often overlooked or even disregarded. Recognising the potential of ‘behaviour’ – this essentially human and organisational factor – provides us with one of the greatest opportunities ever to improve project management performance.

A project may be planned, but the path we must follow to reach its goals cannot be prescribed. The unexpected will happen and, in the re-planning that follows, fresh goals and methods will need to be tailored to the new situation. A project lives: adapting and growing as it responds to events and to what it learns from those situations and their experiences.

Projects as ‘social endeavours’

The lecturer on a recent project management course explained this matter in a different way. She said 'In managing a project there is only behaviour; the rest is administration'. Today we find ourselves talking about the importance of ‘soft-skills’, ‘culture’, ‘values’, ‘teamwork’, ‘pacing progress’, ‘adaptation’, ‘endurance’ ‘emotional intelligence’ and of project management being ‘a social endeavour’.

Many of the most experienced project managers are now coming out to voice their views on the importance of the behaviour of project players and that of their organisation. They are reporting that a strong human and organisational capability can itself substantially underwrite project performance and reliability.


Pragmatism and behaviour

Uncertainty and complexity, while found in many aspects of human endeavour, are a central concern in project management with these twin devils both poised to disrupt progress. Players have to be alert to them; often recognising them as primary risks to the project. You need to be systematic but you must also be pragmatic; relying on a good understanding of human and organisational behaviour. Pragmatism is a reasoned and logical way of doing things or in working out what needs to be done. Focus your attention on a specific situation and the options that you will consider are less constrained by formal principles and standards.

A taxonomy or ‘code of conduct’ for pragmatism in project management is offered here as a ‘Methodology of Compelling Behaviour’ – as described below.


A project management ‘Methodology of Compelling Behaviour’

Project management practitioners are familiar with the idea of methodology as this is applied to the systematic and procedural aspects of their work. Offered in this article is an equivalent framework to accommodate the human and organisational aspects. The range of behaviours here are boundless and eclectic, making it impossible for the field to be represented hierarchically. An alternative approach is to separate out the human and organisational behaviours that are most commonly associated with successful project management. This then identifies the most positive or ‘compelling’ behaviours as they distinguish themselves in project management when conducted at its best. (This is an approach adopted by Stephen Covey in his book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’.)


The eight compelling behaviours of a capable project management regime

1. Imagine the behaviours that ensure resolve and readiness

Summary: Players are curious and persistent in their enquiries and networking. They seek to connect with other players in this endeavour to discover shared values and remedies in reaching for a common purpose and commitment.


  • players are valued and heard
  • players are informed about progress
  • projects are shaped as well as scoped
  • procedures and standards needed are readied
  • matters of social influence are understood
  • perspectives are outward facing
  • professionalism is prized
  • forums give voice to capability
  • conflict is resolved
  • executive groups are respected.


2. Imagine the behaviours that ensure competence and capability

Summary: The expectations of players; of themselves and others, is high. Ability confers status and is celebrated. ‘Key Competencies’ are evident. Players are professionally qualified. Mentoring is common, formal and informal.


  • players are selected for proficiency in their role
  • players pursue their development needs
  • functional limitations are surfaced
  • fresh competences are acquired in communities of practice
  • project managers are held accountable.


3. Imagine the behaviours that ensure collective thinking

Summary: A regime’s results come from a willing and collective effort. Dialogue is the life-blood that feeds the choices of what is to be done and how. Status comes from information that is shared.


  • meetings are safe places
  • active listening is expected
  • meetings are productive and fruitful
  • the social engagement capability of groups is high
  • leading is a pervasive responsibility
  • dialogue is thorough and skilled
  • there is regular and focused conversation
  • players expect candour.


4. Imagine the behaviours that ensure reliable adaptation

Summary: The regime adapts to project changes and to the changes needed to the project regime itself. Players are accomplished at managing and accommodating change. Responsibilities for this work and adjustment are devolved.  


  • the regime is agile
  • progress is regularly measured and reviewed
  • rework is prompt
  • re-planning is methodical
  • critical thinking is proficient
  • obfuscation and autopoiesis are despised
  • risk is managed
  • reflection helps to progress changes.


5. Imagine the behaviours that ensure social engagement

Summary: Strong and sustainable ideas and goals are products of social engagement. Choices and solutions benefit from groups sharing and focusing their experience and skills. Outcomes of social engagement then enable collaboration between groups.


  • team-building and social engagement is valued
  • players are known to one-another
  • players willingly suspend their own opinions to agree and reach for joint goals
  • social interaction is proficient
  • players understand the factors of social engagement.


6. Imagine the behaviours that ensure leadership, showing the way

Summary: The emergence and use of ideas and their application depend on players acting as leaders. Managing, with leading are a hybrid in project management.


  • the pace of progress is continually reviewed
  • pervasive leadership brings empowerment at every level
  • the enterprise invests in the development of leadership ability
  • the local angles on leadership are widely supported
  • leadership is reported by its followers
  • radical project management (2.0) is pursued
  • self-managing is a default.


7. Imagine the behaviours that ensure partnering for progress

Summary: Most of the work undertaken in a project regime is to serve collaboration between groups and for them to meet their own goals.


  • collaboration relies on strong relationships accomplished through social engagement
  • ‘alliances’ share the gains and losses of a mutual enterprise
  • partnership and out-sourcing arrangements are served through close engagement and candour that is backed by corporate association.


8. Imagine the behaviours that ensure continual enhancement

Summary: Improvements to what is done and how it is done bring added maturity. Also, the practice of continuous improvement signals a regime’s strong level of maturity.


  • ideas are nurtured before they can be expected to realise improvement
  • innovation is bringing competitive advantage
  • spontaneity, patience and serendipity are triggers for useful innovation
  • balancing diligence with swiftness maximises the pace of progress.


Compelling behaviours enable the pragmatism needed in the management of projects. A project organisation reaches its greatest capability when there is a synergy that combines systems and methodology with human and organisational capability.

Tell us what you think, using the comment box below.

Martin Price is the author of The Single-Minded Project


  • Jonathan Norman
    By Jonathan Norman

    Martin draws his inspiration from the great Stephen Covey. As a community, project managers tend to focus (quite naturally) on the disciplines and techniques associated with the main project bodies of knowledge. The problem with that is, as Martin so aptly demonstrates, the great majority of skills and people involved in projects are from outside the commonly defined frame of 'project management'. What are your favourite general management authors and books? Martin has opened the list with Steven Covey. Who else should be required reading for project managers and why?

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