How to find the right project manager

Depending on the project, the project manager often has less influence on work processes, less decision-making authority and a weaker overall position than a disciplinary line manager. This does not necessarily make it easier to staff vacant project management positions with suitable and motivated people. In addition, anyone who feels confident can work as a project manager, regardless of their education and experience, and can also call themselves a project manager. In principle, a project manager position can be staffed by anyone who is available at the time. However, in order to achieve good results for a project, it is better to have completed training, further education or a course of study with a strong connection to project management, or even a degree in project management.
A graffiti of a jigsaw puzzle.


The profile of the "ideal" project manager

Job advertisements are more or less dominated by this idea of the ideal project manager profile: 

Several years of professional experience (e.g., as an engineer, business economist), specialist knowledge in the field of the project, fluent in written and spoken English, entrepreneurial thinking. In addition, social skills and leadership experience. On the one hand, the ideal candidate should already have professional and life experience, but on the other hand, the person should still be flexible, able to learn and be mobile.

In reality, many companies are far from this ideal when it comes to filling positions. When setting up a project, companies often have to draw on a limited pool of internal employees, and sometimes there is no choice at all. This means that anyone who knows a topic or has nothing else to do at the moment is assigned to the project to work on it. Experience of similar projects would be desirable, but this requirement has to be put aside in view of the lack of qualified staff. In small and medium sized companies there are often only a few people who are suitable to be project managers. Temporary external project managers would be an alternative, but instead of buying in external expertise, they say (often for purported cost reasons): "We can do it ourselves". Given the shortage of suitable project managers, tools such as requirement profiles and selection criteria are of course unnecessary in such cases.

Selection of project managers

It is relatively easy to describe what a project manager should be like. But how do you find the right person for the job? Each candidate is different in terms of their suitability to meet the project's objectives and expectations, based on their career history and current life and work situation. Companies that have access to certified senior project managers who have already demonstrated their project management skills and experience through an assessment process have an advantage.

External and internal recruitment

Filling a project manager position with an external candidate involves the use of recruiters who bring experience, tools and a trained eye for suitable candidates. In addition, the project manager, who has successfully completed an assessment process and holds a project management certificate, is recruited. Because the project often requires a great deal of knowledge about the company and its products and services, it is not always possible to buy in external project managers.


In the development of medical diagnostic equipment, only an experienced internal employee can be appointed as project manager. If the project manager is recruited from within the company, the line manager simply nominates one of his staff who is not too busy to be the project manager. 

This example shows a significant difference to filling a position with project managers from outside the company, because the question of who is available takes precedence over the question of who has the greatest competence.

Developing your own talent

In order to have enough good people, a company should ideally develop the next generation of good project managers intensively, systematically and on its own. Long-term career planning has proven its worth. Stages could be, for example 
  • Starting as a working student in engineering and attending courses, e.g., on planning and implementing projects.
  • Working on engineering projects and attending courses, e.g., on controlling and monitoring projects
  • Assignment as a responsible sub-project manager and attendance of courses, e.g., on managing and leading projects
  • Working as an assistant project manager and taking a certification exam, e.g., Certified Project Manager (IAPM)
  • Taking on the role of project manager

Performance appraisal of the project manager

Performance appraisals enable to 
  • make selection decisions (future areas of assignment, promotion, dismissal, etc.),
  • create a personal development plan,
  • determine salaries and bonuses,
  • advise and coach employees,
  • keep supervisors up to date with the latest information, and 
  • maintain communication with staff.  
The assessment must evaluate personality traits, performance results and behaviour, as well as leadership and social skills. As it is particularly difficult to assess behaviour or social skills, it is necessary to define comprehensible and measurable assessment criteria that will stand up to external scrutiny. 

In general, the performance of a project manager is difficult to assess from outside the project. In addition to making the evaluation criteria measurable, the question of who should carry out the evaluation is important.

Assessment by project stakeholders 

​Project stakeholders have a good insight into the project and the project manager's performance. However, their assessments may have the disadvantage that competitively lower ratings may dilute or even degrade the actual performance of the project manager.
Assessment by the line manager

The disciplinary line manager often sees too little of a project manager's activities and performance to make a qualified assessment. A comprehensive assessment requires time to be invested, and if this is not available, the assessment is ultimately dubious.
Assessment by project-related superiors

Project-related bodies (e.g., the steering committee of the specific project) or project-related decision-makers in the company organisation (e.g., the multi-project manager) are usually best suited for assessing the project manager.

Change of project manager

As project managers leave the company, are promoted or leave for other reasons, turnover is to be expected, especially in long-running projects. Different skills may be required at different stages of the project. The project management can then be consciously adapted to the needs of the project phases. Changing the project manager during the course of the project can be a positive option for such projects. However, any change can be quite problematic, as undocumented knowledge and valuable contacts - for example with customers or authorities - can be lost. Therefore, any change should be carefully planned and discussed with all relevant stakeholders at an early stage. As a general rule, however, project manager changes should be avoided if at all possible - true to the principle that coach Alf Ramsey used to lead the England football team to victory in the 1966 World Cup: "Never change a winning team".

Finding and developing the right project manager

If you have a clear idea of what needs to be done in the project and what the person's profile should be, i.e. what knowledge and experience the person should bring to the table to make the project a success, then you have laid the foundations for selecting the project manager. If you evaluate your project manager fairly and develop their skills, you will build a solid house. But only if you are prepared for a change of project manager will you have a roof over your head and protection from rain, snow and hail.

Finding the right project manager - The Author
Keywords: Project management, Tips

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For better readability, we usually only use the generic masculine form in our texts. Nevertheless, the expressions refer to members of all genders.