How to Hire and Retain the Right Kind of Project Manager

Every project needs a project manager, someone who guides the team. That begs the question: What’s the right kind of manager for a project and how do you find them?
September 28, 2021
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Regardless of size or complexity, every project requires someone to be a guiding light, a leader, a navigator, and a big picture person. That’s the role of the project manager, from small teams to massive systems. A project manager is a person who makes sure that you don’t get lost in the process.

Who is the right kind of project manager?

I truly wish that I could give a straight answer to that question, but there isn’t such a thing as the platonic ideal of a project manager. Each project demands different skill sets, different managerial styles, and different levels of engagement.

A project manager working with a small team of developers from all over the globe will have a very different role to play than one working with 20+ developers in the same office building.

Management styles vary wildly across industries, and even among different professionals in the same area. While managers share a set of core skills that are transferable across the board, the intricacies of each project call for different managerial styles.

For example, strategic thinking and business intelligence are 2 skills that fit any project no matter its size. Leadership styles, on the other hand, are heavily dependent on the nature of the team. Small teams are better suited for democratic or laissez-faire leaders, while bigger teams work better with autocratic leaders.    

If your project manager is going to join an established team, then be mindful of the culture the team has developed. By their nature project managers can be disruptive since they are going to be acting as directors and strategists for the whole team.

That disruption can be a good thing, especially for groups that have struggled with communication or meeting deadlines in the past. But if your project manager shares a radically different set of values than your developers it can end up doing more harm than good. 

An old but useful trick is to have team interviews in which the potential manager gets to share time with their future team. This works like a first date of sorts, where both team and manager get a feel for each other and see if there is any chemistry between them.

It should go without saying that your project manager has to be familiar with the methodology of your team. An agile project manager is going to have a harder time working in your business if you are used to a waterfall style. 

What are they looking for?

Project managers are highly sought after, especially in red oceans/competitive fields. To attract (and retain) a project manager you have to meet their expectations and offer an environment that fits their current motivations.

In that sense, it’s important to know that the median annual salary of project managers in the information technology field in the U.S is around $122,000, with the highest somewhere around $145,000 and the lowest around $80,000.

According to the data, certification, previous experience, and team size are the biggest predictors of how much project managers hope to make. When deciding what kind of project manager you want, think carefully about the nature and scale of your project. 

Create a profile that fits the scale of your operations. Your first intuition might be to go for the candidate with the most certifications, or with who has spent decades as an acting project manager. But do you need an expert for a startup with a couple of developers?

While something to keep in mind, salary isn’t the most important aspect. To paraphrase positive psychologist Martin Seligman, humans are naturally driven towards feelings of fulfillment. Happiness is the result of seeking a purpose, something that gives our life meaning.

The key to hiring and maintaining the perfect project manager as part of your workforce is to provide them with an environment where they can grow and feel empowered as human beings. 

Give them a project that’s far above their abilities and they might feel overwhelmed and stressed. On the other end, give them a project that’s too simple and they’ll grow bored or frustrated. 

It’s important to have a very clear picture of what they are looking for and offer a work environment that fits those expectations: young managers for small scale projects and experienced managers for demanding projects.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule by any stretch of the imagination. An expert project manager might be looking for a small-scale project so that they can have more time for their family. A young entrepreneur might be on the lookout for a job environment where they can grow professionally.  

Make a job post that clearly states the scope of your project, the size of your team, and your short and mid-term goals from the get-go. Let them know what kind of business you are running and what kind of culture you are trying to foster. 

Sometimes the treasure was under your nose all along

Before you start hunting for a new project manager, take a moment to evaluate your current team. Is there anyone that has shown interest in taking a managerial role? Perhaps you already have the perfect project manager at hand.

Managers should be familiar with their projects and have a good understanding of the technology that’s being used. But that doesn’t mean that every developer who knows the project is manager material.

However, you might have a senior developer that’s been known to:

  • Act as a leader in times of crisis 
  • Has trained other developers 
  • Has shown foresight 
  • Has shown strategic decision making 

Then you might have a diamond in the rough, someone who you could help grow as a professional. It might be hard in the beginning, but as they grow accustomed to the role and as they take courses and workshops you’ll see them flourish.

That kind of career path creates a strong link between the company and the manager since they have grown alongside one another. 

What this kind of project manager lacks in experience is more than made up for by their business savvy and the respect and empathy they have with their colleagues. 

Outsourcing your search

Looking for a project manager can be a difficult chore. Fortunately, online services and hiring consultants can really help make it easier. Someone who has experience in the area can help you create a perfect profile and offer a list of pre-screened candidates ready to be interviewed by you and your team. 

In the end, the right kind of project manager adapts to your company and culture and brings on change to help you grow. Find that perfect project manager and create a place that can call a second home.

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