31 July, 2023

Become a Better Project Manager with These 18 Proven Tips

There are many articles promising to make you a better Project Manager. And a lot of them will look very much like each other. You can almost predict what they will say:

  • Be clear in setting your project goals and objectives
  • Define your scope with great clarity
  • Manage your risk profile actively
  • Pay more attention to your stakeholders this year
  • … and so on

In truth, we’ve done articles like that, already. For example:

We’ll probably do more in the future, too.

A Different Approach to Being a Better Project Manager

Become a Better Project Manager with These 18 Proven Tips

So let’s make this one different.

Because there’s more to better project management, than just project management skills. Here are eighteen – possibly surprising – things that will help you deliver better project management throughout the coming year.

1. The Felicity Factor

There is a mass of research that shows that happy people are healthier, less prone to illness, live longer, and have…  happier lives.

So be happy and cheerful. 

Practice smiling more, make opportunities for laughter and see the bright side of life. One of the things we expect from our projects is adversity. And if you cannot find reasons to smile when you’re in a tough spot, you’ll soon find yourself overwhelmed and stressed. This is a recipe for making mistakes, so in this sense if no other, happy people deliver better project management.

As an added bonus…

People warm to you when you are happy. This means they are more likely to believe you, to do you favors, and to offer you help. You’ll become more influential and therefore better at the all-important role of stakeholder engagement.

Take a look at my video, Happy Project: How to Make Your Project a Happier Place | Video.

2. Be Generous

Generosity nearly always repays the giver.

So, as a policy, it is hard to beat for return on investment.  Start with being generous with the credit you offer to the people around you, for the things that go well.  Give great roles and opportunities to your team members, and save the more tedious admin for yourself.

The more generous you are with opportunities and praise, the more loyalty your team will offer you, and the more motivated they will be in their work. You may know you had a big hand in the success, but credit your team’s contribution first.

3. Follow your Passion

Tick, tick, tick…  Another year gone. 

Make this the year you decide to take a determined step in the direction of your true passion.  Being stuck in a cul-de-sac, doing a job you hate, or working with people whose values turn your dials to danger is just a waste of your life. 

There are plenty of alternatives and some of them can bring you joy instead. Is this the year you step into a Project Management career with both feet? Or are you going to push for the project role you really want? Is your PM career on track? What is the next step in your Project Management Career?

Certainly, if you are working on something you truly believe in, your commitment will mean you’ll easily deliver better project management. And that, of course, will make you a better Project Manager.

4. Say “NO” more Often

Not a gratuitous or petulant ‘no’ but a strategic ‘NO’ to things that serve neither you nor the people or institutions you care for.  And in particular, be prepared to say ‘NO’ to things that do not serve your project well.

This is an important one. Each week, each day, each hour, make a conscious choice of what to do and what to not do.

Better project management means better choices… one decision at a time.

Most of your success will come as a result of choosing to say NO to things that will get in the way of the valuable accomplishments that can come when you have more time for the things to say ‘YES’ to.

A NO that is chosen for the right reasons and given in a respectful way is not a negative response. Rather, it is a Noble Objection: a ‘NO’.

Learn more with this video: Noble Objection: Top 10 Ways to Say NO | Video

5. One Thing at a Time

This is not just an injunction to drop attempts at multitasking. Rather, it is as much about finding one thing to prioritize at a time and giving it the time it needs and deserves – which may be the whole year. Henry Kissinger’s advice in Andrew Zuckerman’s wonderful book, Wisdom:

'Do the most important thing you can think of doing every year and then your career will take care of itself.' H Kissinger Share on X

What will it be this year?  Personal development, a business goal, your personal life, one person, an exciting project… What is the thing you will really dig into, to make you a better Project Manager?

6. Delegate Outcomes rather than Tasks

Delivering a better project this year means delegating more.  For maximum benefit, trust them more: delegate by specifying what you want them to achieve, rather than telling them what to do and how to do it. When we stop setting expectations to live down to, people have a habit of surprising us.

When we stop setting expectations to live down to, people have a habit of surprising us. Share on X

More on the Key Skill of Delegation

7. Use WISE Words for the People around You

How do you speak to people?  

Do you use WISE words?

For better project management, make a choice to use more WISE words.  Offer your:

  • Welcome (people are attracted to warmth)
  • Integrity (people value honesty),
  • Sympathy (people like you to care), and
  • Enthusiasm (people are attracted to real passion).

8. Make More Time for Relaxing

We work hard, as Project Managers.  

But, you can only deliver better project management if you keep yourself in peak condition. So do this by making time to relax and trickle-charge your batteries back to peak capacity from time to time.

How to Relax, 101

Relax with family and friends, relax by following your hobbies and interests, and relax by getting plenty of high-quality sleep. And, while you’re at it, don’t forget the importance of exercise and good food.

9. Read more Widely

Much research into wisdom shows that depth and breadth of knowledge and experience are equally important.  Identify two or three genres that you’ve not read in the last few years and include them in your TBR reading list: history, physics, sociology, art, music, psychology, craft, biography, romance, management, literary criticism, linguistics, cookery, medicine, philosophy, politics, sport…

[TBR: To Be Read]

Reading Fiction?

As a bonus tip, reading intelligent fiction has been shown to increase levels of empathy. This can lead to better stakeholder and team-colleague relationships, and a greater ability to influence people around you. You can learn most of the advanced communication skills you’ll need from great fiction and drama. (How to Relax, 102)

10. Get Luckier

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

This has been ascribed to many notable epigrammists (including Sam Goldwyn and Thomas Jefferson). There is no definitive source, so let’s instead find out how to make your own luck.

Every project manager needs a bit of luck to supplement their talent. The best advice on getting it comes from Professor Richard Wiseman’s book, ‘The Luck Factor’.  

How to Get Lucky

Wiseman offers four scientific principles to enhance your luck:

  1. Know what you want and stay alert for opportunities.
  2. Pay attention to your hunches – your tuned brain is sometimes trying to tell you something useful.
  3. Remain optimistic – optimism is one of the keys to a happy and healthy life in general, and predisposes you to find opportunities.
  4. Look at bad luck as a chance event, a chance to learn, and a chance to move on. It is not some all-pervasive force that clusters around you.

11. Choose your Battles

And, of course, if you choose the right battles, you’re more likely to win more of them. But don’t only choose battles because you know you can win. Focus on the battles that are really worth your while and let the others go.

Once you commit, go all-in.

Without abandoning caution, do make sure you hold nothing back that could help you win.


And, on the theme of battles, pick your allies too: who can really help and support you deliver better project management? And with whom are you entirely happy to associate yourself and your reputation? Is it time to review your friendships and make some choices that will serve you well for the coming 12 months? THis is an easy start to becoming a better Project Manager.

12. More Me-time

Devote some real quality time to yourself. Give yourself a chance to read, to write, to reflect, to do art, to relax, to enjoy something special. And when you do, turn off your phone and your email.  And if you aren’t supposed to turn your phone off, strategically leaving it in the bottom of a drawer works just as well.

It’s in these quiet times that you will be able to figure out the complex things that you never get to resolve during the busyness of a project management lifestyle.

13. Rethink your Work

Like most Project Managers, I am sure a large proportion of your work involves other people: colleagues, staff, clients, customers, suppliers, partners…

Almost certainly you will improve your effectiveness, your stress levels, and your results by making more of your work about communicating and less of it about doing.

Better Project Management won’t always be through the obvious stuff. What are the small things that can make the biggest differences? Take time out to think about what is the big lever for your project – that is, the one thing you can pay attention to, where a little extra effort will have a big extra impact.

Here’s one example…

14. Listen more Carefully

How often do you mentally switch off or turn to your own inner dialogue when someone is speaking? You aren’t listening. At least, not to them.

When you really listen to someone else, people really notice it.  It will transform your relationships, prevent costly misunderstandings, increase your sales success, transform conversations, and win more compliance from partners and subordinates.

If there is one magic bullet for better project management, I think I’d put my money on better listening.

15. Remember Names

Nothing says ‘I value you’ less than forgetting a name.

Yet so many people do claim to be ‘bad at names’ that it is almost our default position. Plenty of people even seem to wear it as a badge of pride. But it isn’t the default state for people. So be different.  Remembering names is not too tricky and it starts with wanting to remember, and caring about what their name is.

Here’s an example.

I introduce you to Margaret and you can see the next person waiting for an introduction. So you’re already past Margaret and worried about… whoever.

Instead, make Margaret your mission, for the moment at least. Care about her, say hello properly, use her name. The more you take an interest in the people you meet and the names they give, the more you’ll naturally find yourself remembering their names.

16. Take Care of Yourself

Years ago, I wrote a book called Brilliant Stress Management/How to Manage Stress. It focuses on three levers for controlling your physical response to stress.  They all work both as remedies and preventatives:

  1. Good Rest
    Plenty of rest relaxation and sleep. Turn off Newsnight and go to be early. Build a relaxing seep ritual. Avoid tinkering around with one last (unimportant) email when you could be going to sleep.
  2. Good Energy
    Make time for exercise in your life. If this sounds like a public health message; there’s a good reason.
  3. Good Fuel
    Maybe another public health message here, but you do have choices: junk or quality; water or caffeine; fruit or sweets; rushed or relaxed?
    Clue (b, a, a, b)

It’s a simple fact that stress diminishes your performance. Good rest, good energy, and goosd fuel are vital to becoming a better Project Manager.

17. Be Optimistic

Oh my goodness! There is such a lot we could be fearful of in the news and the economies of our nations. But fear will not help you tackle the troubles that may come.

Rational Optimism

Rational optimism is not a blind ‘glass half-full’ faith in the future. Instead, it is a determination to seek opportunities in each situation, and a confidence in your abilities based on a sound assessment of your resources, and a plan to increase them. 

Pessimists may be right more often, but optimists do prosper more and live longer.  Being wrong occasionally seems a small price to pay.

The same is true for your projects. You can be optimistic or pessimistic about any project you are given. Your attitude won’t change the project itself, but it will affect the way you deliver it. And that can affect the outcome. So being optimistic will deliver better project management.

18. Be Grateful

If things go wrong on your project, it’s easy to dwell on ‘if only…’  

When someone has more than you, it’s easy to feel deprived.  But you will be happier and more resourceful when you focus on what you do have.

When things go badly, be grateful for your small triumphs. Be grateful for the people in your life, the successes you’ve achieved, the pleasures you can take, and for all that you have.

To start to feel really good, almost immediately, go somewhere quiet for 20 minutes, with a pen and paper, and make a list of everything – big or small – that you can be grateful for.

What is Your Advice to Make a Better Project Manager?

I have listed 18 ‘non-project’ ways to deliver better project management. What would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and I promise to respond to every comment.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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