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The Best Personal Effectiveness Books for Project Managers [My Top 16]

The Best Personal Effectiveness Books for Project Managers

There is a vast literature of personal effectiveness books. With so many to choose from, where should you start?

Don’t worry. Here at OnlinePMCourses, we have a big library and have read many personal effectiveness books. We’ll talk you through our top recommendations for each of the personal effectiveness skills.

Why are Personal Effectiveness Books so Important?

When you are a Project Manager, people look to you. They look for leadership, inspiration, and guidance. They also expect you to be a highly effective professional; capable in all circumstances. But many of these skills aren’t taught as a part of your project management learning:

  • Time management
  • Speaking well
  • Connecting with people, emotionally
  • Dealing with difficult people (as if…)
  • Negotiating
  • Making decisions
  • Influencing people

These skills come with practice. But where do you learn what techniques to try out and practice? That’s where our list of personal effectiveness books comes in. They offer some of the best advice, most clearly given, of all the books (around 1,000) on our shelves.

What are our Criteria for Selection?

The Best Personal Effectiveness Books for Project ManagersThis is a personal selection. But, that said, you’ll find many of them on other people’s lists. Because a number of them are truly classics of the genre. We’ll point them out to you. What I am looking for in personal effectiveness books is one or more of:

  • Easy to read. There’s plenty of choice in the bookshops and libraries. SO why read something that drags?
  • Practical ideas, tools, and suggestions I can try out straight away
  • Depth of thinking. I want to get the sense that the author is expanding my understanding and making me think.
  • One or ‘Wow!’ moments, that make me sit up, make notes, and want to remember them

Our selection will give you all of this. Indeed, many of the books will give you all this. Oh, and one other thing… The book needs to be available at a reasonable price. I was surprised to find several of the personal effectiveness books I wanted to to recommend to you are out of print.

Declarations of Interest

In the interests of openness and transparency, I need to be clear on three points:

  1. I am not being paid to recommend any of these books over their competitors. Whilst I haven’t read every book in the genre, I have read all of these books. And they are on this list because they are excellent. I have enjoyed them, and have learned a lot from them.
  2. However, four of the books are mine. I wrote them. They are all best selling books, firmly in the genre. I am also incredibly proud of each of them. They are all among the best of their kind. That is relevant. I could have included my book ‘How to Influence in any Situation’ (formerly published as ‘Brilliant Influence’). It’s a best seller. But instead, I have recommended Robert Cialdini’s book. Mine has a broader reach, but his goes deeper and is a classic. On the other hand, I don’t believe there is a better book on the market about time management than mine. There are plenty of other good ones, but mine is the one I recommend.
  3. I have offered links to these books on Amazon (US and UK) for your convenience. These are affiliate links. You won’t pay more, but Amazon will share a small portion of their revenue with me.

I should also note that the images of the book jackets are taken from the US editions.

My Top 16 Personal Effectiveness Books

With the necessary but dull formalities over, let’s dive in!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (US|UK)

by Stephen R Covey

What it’s about

Covey offers you seven life habits that really will make a difference to you – professionally and personally. They go beyond personal productivity, which many of its competitors focus on. Seven Habits also has a lot to say about being effective in working with other people.

Why you should read it

This is one of the great personal effectiveness books. I have chosen not to include some of the grand parents of the genre, like Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ (US|UK). So that leave seven habits as the venerable classic. Read it because it will do no good on your shelf. Too many people buy it but don’t read it. It’s easy to read and the ideas repay frequent re-visiting.

How to Manage Your TimeHow to Manage Your Time (formerly Brilliant Time Management) (US|UK)

by Mike Clayton

What it’s about

This is a practical guide to getting more done in your day. It is filled with practical tools and techniques. This book does not push one system, but offers yo plenty of choice. Whatever your time management challenge, there’s something here. At its heart is the highly adaptable OATS principle for time management.

Why you should read it

If you need to get more done in the time available, this book will give the answers. You won’t need to follow a system. Instead, you can find the right solutions for the time management challenges that face you.

Emotional IntelligenceEmotional Intelligence (US|UK)

by Daniel Goleman

What it’s about

It’s not all about how clever you are. This is the book that brought Emotional Intelligence to the public’s attention, comparing IQ with EQ. It introduces five dimensions of emotional intelligence that deliver success to anyone: self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy, and social skills. It sets up the ideas with research and anecdote and spells out clearly what you need to achieve. I could as easily have recommended its follow-up, ‘Working with Emotional Intelligence’ (US|UK). This places emotional intelligence in the work context, but I recommend you read them both, in sequence. If you like them both, graduate onto ‘The New Leaders’ (US|UK)

Why you should read it

Goleman is a psychologist turned journalist, so this is a really compelling read. It also has rightly become a classic. In introducing us to emotional intelligence in 1995, it then looked like a bit of a fad. Twenty years later, the ideas are as strong as ever and still feature in many management and leadership development programs, at all levels. You can see the impact of emotional intelligence around you every day, in the people who do and don’t seem to connect well with others around them.

The DipThe Dip (US|UK)

by Seth Godin

What it’s about

Projects start out fun and exciting. Then they get harder. Just when you think you’re making progress, sometimes you seem to find yourself going backwards. You’ve hit the Dip. This simple book focuses on why mastering a new subject is difficult. It puts the trivial idea of ‘the learning curve’ on steroids, and makes real sense of it.It will tell you that you should focus your efforts on what really matters to you – and why.

Why you should read it

I’m a Seth Godin fan, but much of his writing focuses on marketing and entrepreneurship. These may not be directly relevant to you as a project manager. But The Dip is. It’s a little gem. Just 76 pages in my edition, with one big, simple, and important idea.There aren’t many books that changed the way I think. This one did.

Six Thinking HatsSix Thinking Hats (US|UK)

by Edward de Bono

What it’s about

This books offers a simple and powerful tool for solving problems and making decisions. You can use it alone or with a team. Over the years, de Bono has had a huge impact on our thinking about creativity and problem solving. Of nearly 50 books, this remains his best-known and, I’d say, best. The metaphor represents six ways to approach a problem or a decision.

Why you should read it

The six thinking hats approach is taught on many courses, and is an essential personal effectivenesss tool for anyone. It is a short, non-technical book, that you can assimilate in a sitting. It’s ideas will support you for life. It’s something of a classic.

Shackleton's WayShackleton’s Way (US|UK)

by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell

What it’s about

There are countless books on leadership that raw inspiration from a great leader of the past. And many draw from military leaders and explorers. Shackleton was both. And there are two books of leadership lessons from Shackleton on my shelf (the other is ‘Leading at the Edge’ (US|UK) – also excellent though a more solid read). What sets this apart for me is that I found the lessons extremely relevant to project management.

Why you should read it

Relevance to project management alone is not enough. These lessons will not only help with your personal effectiveness as a project leader. They are very clearly described, in a short easy-to-read book, and embedded in a ripping yarn that is a pleasure to read.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow (US|UK)

by Daniel Kahneman

What it’s about

People don’t always do what is logical and rational. Yet it took two social psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky to start a detailed exploration of this phenomenon. This book is Kahneman’s summary of a life’s wrk, which won him a Nobel Prize in economics. He explores mental the biases that drive our decisions and looks at the damage they do.

Why you should read it

If these ideas are new to you, this book will rock your world. It offers a welter of insight, but don’t expect easy prescriptions. This is a book that will boost your personal effectiveness by making you more aware of your (and everybody’s) weaknesses. It is the newest book here that one could describe as a classic. But at just 6 years old it already is one and will remain so for my lifetime at least. I would say no self-respecting professional can afford to be unaware tof the ideas in this book.

The Power of Intuition

The Power of Intuition (US|UK)

by Gary Klein

What it’s about

If Kahneman (above) warns us about over-relinace on our faulty intuition, Klein resets the balance. He describes when your intuition is likely to be sound. Be warned, it isn’t often. One of the tools it introduces is a favorite of mine: the pre-mortem.

Why you should read it

This book is lighter, and easier to read than Klein’s earlier and more academic ‘Sources of Power’ (US|UK). It is also the book that inspired a lot of the thinking n Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling ‘Blink’ (US|UK). But, while Blink is a ripping read for armchair intellectuals, The Power of Intuition is a serious book for business professionals.

How to Manage Stress

How to Manage Stress (formerly Brilliant Stress Management) (US|UK)

Mike Clayton

What it’s about

Project management is stressful. This book offers all the tools you need to recognize stress in yourself and others, and to deal with it effectively. It offers a simple understanding of what causes stress and multiple solutions. It also has chapters on stress at work, stress caused by change, and stress caused by conflict. I wrote it with project managers vary much in mind, after dealing with these issues myself. It remains my best-selling book, by far.

Why you should read it

Did I mention project management is stressful? Read it because you will encounter stress. And, while a certain amount is a god thing, too much can break you and trash your project. I learnt about this after I had a stress-induced breakdown. Don’t wait for that. Understand the signs and avert the problem today.

Getting to Yes

Getting to Yes (US|UK)

by Roger Fisher and William Ury

What it’s about

This is the book on negotiation. Two leading experts spell out four vital principles that inform all the most successful negotiations from choosing a movie, to buying a car, to international trade deals, and border disputes. If you don’t know Fisher and Ury’s four principles, it’s time you did.

Why you should read it

There are plenty of basic books about negotiation. I like ‘Negotiate Wisely (US|UK) and ‘The New Negotiating Edge’ (US\UK). But Getting to Yes has been around a long time and never been bettered. It is a classic that won’t teach you the basics. Bt negotiation is a skillset more than personal effectiveness. But this fits with our personal effectiveness books, because it will take whatever you know about the basic process (Prepare-Open-Bargain-Close) and give you the understanding of how to get great results. And not just in formal negotiations. This is powerful stuff for day-to-day conversations with your project stakeholders.

If you enjoy it, do also ty the follow-up book, ‘Getting Past No’ (US|UK)

Influence - Science and Practice

Influence: Science and Practiced (also published as Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion) (US|UK)

by Robert Cialdini

What it’s about

Robert Cialdini is a psychology professor who studies people he calls ‘compliance professionals’. These are people whose job is to get other people to comply with their wishes: sales people marketers and advertisers, politicians, and even religious leaders. Having observed what they do, he hypothesises the psychological mechanism, and then tests it experimentally. This books contains the ‘six weapons of influence’ that he has uncovered.

Why you should read it

‘Influence’ is a modern classic and the starting place for all books on the subject of influence and persuasion, including my own, ‘How to Influence in Any Situation’ (US|UK). This stuff is invaluable for stakeholder engagement that needs to influence and persuade. Cialdini recently released his long-awaited second book, in which he identifies a seventh mechanism. So, I also highly recommend ‘Pre-suasion’ (US|UK).


Decisive (US|UK)

by Chip and Dan Heath

What it’s about

Like all the Heaths’ books (I’ve not yet seen the one published last month), Decisive follows a simple formula. A small number of clear steps to help with a specific personal or professional effectiveness outcome. And they like a nice mnemonic to make them memorable too. In this case we get the WRAP Process for making better choices.

Why you should read it

Decision theory is a side interest of mine and I’ve read a lot about it, from some of the wooliest personal effectiveness books to some heavy-weight academic tones. This sits beautifully in the middle. Easy to read, solid content, valuable personally and professionally. If Thinking, Fast and Slow (above) warns you of the traps of quick judgements, and The Power of Intuition (above) tells you when to trust them, this is the book that will show you how to make reliable deliberate decisions.

By the way, all of the Heaths’ books are worth reading for any project manager:

  • Made to Stick – will help with your project communication and stakeholder engagement (US|UK)
  • Switch – will help you with managing and leading change (US|UK)
  • The Power of Moments – will help you with motivating your team and your stakeholders (US|UK)


The Yes/No Book

The Yes/No Book (US|UK)

by Mike Clayton

What it’s about

A big decision you face every day is whether to say yes or no. This is the quintessential example of personal effectiveness books. It helps you decide when to say yes,and when to say no. And it spells out how to do each respectfully and gracefully. When you are great at time management and still need to achieve more, ‘no’ is the only tool you have left. And here you will discover how to turn your negative ‘no’ into a positive ‘NO’.

Why you should read it

Because too many project managers have the ‘gopher mentality’. You feel compelled to ‘go for this’ and ‘go for that’. Getting things done means saying no. Maintaining relationships means saying no properly.

How to Talk to AnyoneHow to Talk to Anyone (US|UK)

by Leil Lowndes

What it’s about

This book is about how to talk to anyone. Leil Lowndes writes books with commendably clear titles. And like her others this consists of a lot of short chapters – in this case 92, averaging at just over 3 pages each. Each one is a gem of advice.

Why you should read it

I have carried many of the 92 tips from this book with me ever since reading it. I just wish I’d read it earlier in my career. If you in any way want to be better at starting or maintaining a conversation, read this. Lowndes is something of a doyen of Personal effectiveness books. Two others of her books escalate the impact you can have:

  • How to Make Anyone Like You (US|UK)
  • and How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You (US|UK)

How to Speak so People ListenHow to Speak so People Listen (US|UK)

by Mike Clayton

What it’s about

This book will help you with all aspects of spoken communication, from conversations, to meetings, to difficult conversations, to presentations and public speaking. It sets out four clear steps to get something to say, get attention, get your message across, and then get results. It centers around the formula for compelling, persuasive, and powerful communication.

Why you should read it

If you read one book on spoken communication, then this should be it. It covers everything and is filled with handy speaker’s checklists and toolkit items.

Dealing with Difficult People

Dealing with Difficult People (US|UK)

by Roberta Cava

What it’s about

There are no difficult people: there are just difficult behaviors. And Roberta Cava will show you how to handle them. This is one of the best personal effectiveness books aimed at tricky workplace situations. It includes strong chapters on communication skills, and chapters dealing with a range of specific situations. As a project manager, many of these will be familiar. If they aren’t yet, just you wait…

Why you should read it

A lot of the situations Cava deals with are stressful. And they can also have a big impact on your relationships and therefore the success of your project. If you feel the need to learn more about handling them, this should be your go-to book.

What are your Recommendations?

First, have you read any of these books? If so, tell us what you think of them.

But, more valuable, what would be on your shortlist of recommended personal effectiveness books for project managers?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below, and we’ll be sure to respond to every contribution.


About the Author Mike Clayton

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 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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