As project professionals, we all aspire to become a greater project manager. But how? The common recommendations that I have been giving are fairly expected:

  1. Master the basics of project management, e.g. methods, life cycle, and knowledge domains
  2. Gain hands-on experiences, e.g. dive knee deep and lead
  3. Apply multiple approaches, from traditional to adaptive including hybrid
  4. Get certified, e.g. PMP, PgMP, PfMP, etc.
  5. Speak, write, share, collaborate, and explore/research

And if your workplace does not provide these opportunities, then seek elsewhere, such as volunteer with your PMI chapters, local churches, and other non-profit organizations to fill voids and gaps in your experiences.   But are these advices enough?  The answer is no.

To become a great project manager, a professional must master the art of Balancing and Dealing with Extremes.  Here are three examples and I welcome your input to provide more (and I will select the best of them to include in this growing blog):

  1. Level of operation. It’s difficult to be both strategic and tactical at the same time.  Project managers must see the big picture to effective integrate all the components of a project. Some call this strategic thinking, and others call this holistic perspective. Yet at the same time, they are expected to dive deep into the project and assign resources, tackle issues, develop detailed schedules and plans, and even in some cases, jump into solve problems.
  2. Mental State. Project managers needs to be both optimist and pessimist at the same time. Since project managers are called to lead difficult endeavors, they must be an optimist at heart.  Yet, when working with new team members or vendors, they need to be skeptical (e.g. trust but verify) and even cynical if they are burned before. This pessimism keeps project managers proactive engaged and cautious. It’s not easy to encourage your team to attain the next milestone while at the same time questioning the very foundation in which the work is built on.  This requires a very healthy mental state.
  3. Putting out vs. anticipating fires.  Good project managers often work on tough projects, and these projects often have a high number of issues. These are like burning fires that require a project manager’s attention. Yet, while they are putting out these fires, often requiring more than 100% of their time, project managers are also asked to look ahead and anticipate the upcoming risks. Balancing fire fighting with evaluating prophecies is not easy.

These dichotomies of opposite actions and thoughts can be difficult for many.  For those who aspire to be great managers, however, it’s important to master the art of balancing and operate at a broad range of levels – thinker vs. doer, big picture vs. hands-on, optimism with skepticism and a dose of cynicism, looking ahead vs. focusing on the immediate working with executives and team members, and projecting strength while admitting weakness and knowing when to ask for help.


Do you agree? Do you have good stories or examples to share?  If yes, please complete the short form here and submit your thoughts.  We will share the good ideas and provide a back link to you.


Prof. Dr. Wu