Requirements profile of a project manager

The project manager is at the centre of the project and is the main contact person for the project team. He helps to ensure that the project is carried out successfully and that costs, budget and performance remain within the specified framework. There is no perfect project manager who can steer all projects equally well through uncertain waters, regardless of the type of project, but there are ways to find the right project manager and a profile of what makes good project managers can help.
A wooden figure


Technical tasks versus management tasks

Time and again, the most technically qualified employee is appointed project manager. What is not checked is whether there are sufficient leadership skills available. This is problematic for a number of reasons:
On the one hand, due to the novelty and complexity of project tasks, it is often impossible to say directly which technical discipline is the "most important". On the other hand, technical qualifications tend to focus on the technical contribution without paying attention to the actual management tasks. In addition, the project manager may be overburdened by the constant involvement of the project team, which takes him away from his technical work.
The importance of a project manager's leadership experience and quality increases roughly in proportion to the size of the project and the project team. The longer and more complex a project is, and the more project members and material resources it involves, the more important leadership tasks become in relation to the technical tasks that the project manager has to perform.

Complex requirements

The requirements for a project manager are in many respects more complex than the requirements for a line manager. A minimum of technical expertise, i.e., object-related knowledge, is basically necessary, but too deep specialised knowledge tends to be a hindrance. In smaller projects, the project manager is still considerably involved in the active technical work. 
Basic knowledge of business administration - and in some projects also of contract law - as well as knowledge of basic working methods are indispensable. Added to this are social skills. Today, it is no longer enough to master planning tools in order to carry out successful project work. A project manager must be able to demonstrate technical, methodological, organisational and social competence. Social skills are primarily learned through social interaction. A project manager can develop very well in the area of social competences by obtaining feedback, critical self-reflection and consistent learning. For competence building and development, the project manager should seek support. 
There are various checklists that show the requirements depending on the industry and type of project. In general, the project manager should have the following:
1.    Ability to develop and pursue a vision
2.    Professional / life experience
3.    Determination
4.    Commitment
5.    Independent, entrepreneurial thinking
6.    Courage to take calculated risks
7.    Strategic, forward-looking thinking and action
8.    Ability to learn (learning from mistakes and successes, learning from others)
9.    Ability to analyse (e.g., see through complex interrelationships in the area of costs / finances)
10.    Ability to (self-)criticise
11.    Ability to set and follow priorities
12.    Ability to work in a team
13.    Leadership skills (e.g., ability to delegate, ability to make decisions) 
14.    Awareness of power
15.    Comprehensive thinking (cross-project, cross-company)
16.    Customer orientation
Even if this list is a rather unrealistic wish list, the individual points are very well suited to the development of human resources.
The essential course towards project success is set with the formulation of goals, taking into account all stakeholders and consistent project planning. Nevertheless, unforeseen and complex situations arise again and again that the project manager has to cope with. To do this, he needs the ability to think in a holistic, networked way and the willingness to ensure smooth, motivated cooperation between employees from different disciplines.

Behavioural characteristics

The behavioural characteristics listed below as examples apply in principle to all project staff, but especially to the project manager, who has a role model function and is supposed to give his staff orientation through his personal behaviour. Project managers behave in relation to 
  • the task: proactive, committed, motivated and solution-oriented
  • the team: fair, appreciative and helpful
  • themselves: open and self-controlled
  • the company: loyal and responsible
The problem with the application of such behavioural characteristics is that these subjective qualities must first be made measurable. This requires a precise description in each case.
For example, in the sense of openness, "open" can mean that the person sees new things as exciting and challenging, has a positive basic attitude and assumes good will or actively approaches others and builds trust.
This is probably still not an adequate description of the term openness, but it gives a good opportunity for personal orientation and active self-development.


Projects always involve contact with other people. The project manager has to deal with management and clients, internal and external partners and many other stakeholders. The project manager's goal must be to convey a positive image of the project to the outside world and to be seen by others as a serious discussion or negotiation partner "on an equal footing". 
He must appear as a leader and thereby have a positive, motivating effect on his project team and turn his team members into supporters. The client, business partners and customers must be able to recognize his competence and pleasant charisma and take his project, his tasks and, not least, him as a person seriously.
Everything that is conducive to this must be observed and worked on. The foundation for success is the competence, confident appearance and self-confidence of the project manager. His communication skills and body language - facial expressions and gestures - are the stairway to the top for him and his project. His pleasant, well-groomed appearance, his good manners and etiquette are the railing that gives him support. 

Requirements for project managers

Recruitment means courting employees, assessing them, selecting them and hiring them if they fit. Central sources of information are job descriptions and the requirements profiles based on them, in which the types of requirements and the level of requirements (= degree of proficiency) are defined. This can be presented in the form of a matrix. The recruiter compares the requirement profile with the candidate's ability profile.
If there is an over-fulfilment of certain requirement types, the candidate is overqualified and better suited for a more demanding position. If there is an under-fulfilment, further training measures can help to achieve an alignment of the requirement and ability profile. However, requirement types and levels must be assigned to specific activities in order to be meaningful. Therefore, the matrix is a very individual and subjective matter, depending on the characteristics of the vacancy, the applicant, the responsible recruiter, the company and other factors. It should not contain too many criteria to ensure a quick overview. One option is for all project stakeholders who will be dealing with the project manager to draw up the requirements profile together. This increases acceptance for the new colleague. The disadvantage is that too many opinions may lead to a bloated, watered-down result, true to the saying of Sir Alec Issigonis (designer of the famous British car model Mini): "A camel is a horse designed by a committee." 

The requirements outlined below as examples are sorted in descending order of importance for this project. Other projects may have different requirements and rankings.
Example of a requirement profile for the selection of a project manager
As the picture shows, the person who has to select a project manager can compile and weight the requirements that seem important to him. He can then also use this table to help him decide between the candidates. In the example, candidate B has stronger project management, interpersonal and leadership skills than candidate A. Since these qualities are particularly important to the person responsible for the selection, he chooses candidate B.

Requirements for international project managers

In order to be able to meet the increased demands on an international project manager, a tolerant, open-minded basic attitude paired with the right tools is an ideal starting point for successful project work. Three areas of competence are relevant for an international project manager in addition to the requirements already described:
  • Individual and social competence
  • Professional international competence
  • Intercultural competence

Individual and social competence

Of particular importance are tolerance of ambiguity (Latin ambiguitas) and intrinsic motivation (Latin intrinsecus). Especially in international projects, the project manager is under a lot of pressure. He must be able to deal with stress stimuli and have a concept for dealing with tasks in the project and in his personal environment. In addition, he must be disciplined and rigorous in his approach to his tasks, while taking care of the necessary rest periods and physical activities to cope with stress. In international project management, as in national project management, the project manager must be competent in self-organisation, e.g., time management or priority setting. He must be able to question his actions self-critically and be tolerant and empathetic towards his team, suppliers and the client. Especially in international projects, it is important to communicate with the team, suppliers, etc. in a target-group-specific way. He must be open to new ideas in order to complete international projects successfully, but he must also be aware that conflicts may arise. He must be able to identify and resolve them.

Professional international competence

This concerns the knowledge of the environmental factors of the respective country. Can he correctly classify the political and legal situation of the project? Can he cope with the local conditions and the existing infrastructure? Is he open to an unfamiliar religious or social environment? Does he recognize geographic and climatic conditions that may pose a burden? 
The project manager in demand here is a versatile, inquisitive and cosmopolitan person who also gathers and develops knowledge and experience in areas that have nothing to do with project-related challenges, such as controlling project cost development, managing project processes and technical know-how to deliver the project's performance. 

Intercultural competence

Does the project manager have good language skills? This is the minimum requirement, but it is by no means sufficient to be an intercultural project manager. He needs knowledge of the culture and historical background. He must be able to assess cultural issues correctly or classify them appropriately and know about local rituals and customs. Experience from the project environment is also useful.
As shown here, a project manager has a wide range of responsibilities, which places almost superhuman demands on his knowledge and experience. But knowledge of all these necessary skills is only one side of the coin. The successful project manager is one who has an unquenchable thirst for constant and continuous improvement. The other side of the coin is a personal thirst for knowledge, coupled with a healthy dose of eagerness to learn.

Conclusion: Simple in theory - challenging in practice

The job of a project manager is certainly one of the most exciting and enjoyable when everything goes well. But it can also be nerve-racking and sickening when things don't go as planned. Not everything, but a lot, depends on the project manager and he should be advised personally:
  • Show what you already know and what experience you have already gained (personal status quo).
  • Look at what knowledge and experience you ideally need to bring to the table in order to realise a successful project (personal target status).
  • Identify deviations, set your priorities and close the gaps.
  • Enjoy your successes in your development as a project manager and note that small steps also lead to the goal.
However, if you find that this form of personal development and all that goes with it is too stressful, time-consuming or even boring for you, then simply throw yourself into the project without working on yourself in a goal-oriented way. You will soon realise that you can also be an efficient worker and be lucky enough to complete the project successfully. But luck is necessary.

Requirements profile of a project manager - The Author
Keywords: Project management, Requirements profile

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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.