GPM First


Which planet? The behavioural expert’s opinion

Guest Editor Adrian Taggart asks: ‘Which planet do you come from?’ Below, behavioural expert Mark Richardson responds.

Adrian’s theme is the defining characteristics of the best project managers (PMs). From the behavioural viewpoint, what does the role demand? It’s largely social and interpersonal, with significant technical, organisational and commercial aspects, time bounded and surrounded by risk and expectations. So, the best PMs are people who thrive in such an environment.

Some obvious characteristics they need are intelligence, the ability to lead and communicate, diligence and conscientiousness. These characteristics are needed in most, if not all, professional roles but many years of empirical research and thousands of hours of behavioural observation suggest that what really marks good PMs out is something additional: knowledge of their personal goals, motivations, limitations and perspectives and – crucially – acknowledgement that other people have a separate and independent existence, just as valid as your own.

The term I use for this is ‘objectivity’. Objectivity leads to much more effective interactions with others through understanding that they see things differently. This enables the best performers to understand their own behaviour, to lead and influence well, and to cope with uncertainty, expectation, complexity and pressure on time and resources.

One last point: what about PM process skills? My research suggests that someone deficient in these skills but very strong in the areas mentioned above performs well, but that the reverse is definitely not the case.  Ideally a PM would have both, but it shows which area of competence is more important.


Mark Richardson, Director TKP Ltd

Originally an engineer, Mark has over 30 years’ experience in operations, projects and programmes in a variety of industries. For the last 12 years he has worked globally as a consultant specialising in competence profiling, assessment and development, and performance improvement, for project, programme and risk managers.

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