The project manager's likeability factor


Project managers create a difference in today's enterprises. It is exciting to wonder who that person is, that we call the project manger. Project management, in the present era, is changing from the view of the accidental career that it used to be. With many organizations today doing project work more than any other time in the past, sometimes these organizations miss the important realization that the success of their project managers is an indication of how successful organizations can be. The key focus of this paper is to illustrate that the success of the project manager is so closely associated with his/her likeability factor.

Tim Sanders, with Yahoo, discusses the likeability factor in the article published by e Marketer on January 30, 2004. (Berkowitz, 2004) Many of today's organizations lack the understanding of the importance of this new factor or what is called the Likeability Quotient (LQ). This “LQ” is far more valuable in getting projects successfully completed than the IQ or even the Emotional Quotient (EQ). However, the EQ works well as the foundation to set the project manager's readiness for the right dose of LQ to enables success.

This paper also expands the ideas in the paper “The Leader Side of the Project Manager”, by Zeitoun and Ryle presented at the PMI Global Conference in the Den Haag, Holland in May 2003. (Zeitoun & Ryle, 2003) Feedback from the paper resulted in the need to further detail and objectively attempt to measure a project manager's competency in 6 chosen areas (Intensity; Providing accurate and truthful information; Striving for best practices; Working on understanding stakeholders’ thoughts, feelings, and concerns; Seeing and thinking in a holistic way; and Creating an environment of confidence). These areas, that were extracted from the Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) Framework standard by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), are the key ingredients of the people side of the leader topic and are a good basis for the project manager's likeability factor understanding.

So what does love have to do with it?

Love is the human side of the leader and how, when love is combined with vision, drives the project manager towards the true valuable goals for the team and the organization. Love for the profession is the number one step for the professional project manager. Love creates the necessary thread of connectivity. It allows the leader to see the good in others. It allows project team members to grow to their potential.

Leaders today need to be compassionate. This is closely related to their ability to create powerful networks in their stakeholders’ community. Project managers who want to excel in the new business world would have to focus on mastering networks development. This could mean creating checklists of all types of stakeholders that the project manager should meet, get to know, and partner with for the success of teams, projects, and organizations. The networks of connected people, who move towards common visions, are going to distinguish tomorrow's business excellence. Future project managers will have to open their hearts and create groups of fans around them.

Projects managers could achieve likeability by allowing team members, and other stakeholders, to tell their stories. When team members tell their stories, they become open and they start sharing what's truly important for the project and its success. Excellent project managers continuously show that they are great listeners who allow their team members to desire working together towards caring for the customers and their needs. Great listening opens the door to likeability. When team members like the project manger, they do anything for him / her and for the success of the project. They feel safe and respected.

The Team's Likeability Factor

One of the new drivers that are given attention in projects’ success today is to create successful teams. The classical Critical Success Factors (CSFs) for a project, time, cost, and quality are no longer sufficient for the organization. Project work is maturing and organizations are recognizing the importance of monitoring the project's usability in building well-jelled teams. Teams that jell, as an outcome of their work together on projects, are of great value to the organization and its customers and could be moved around easily to other projects and initiatives. Team members who jell create a beautiful phenomenon that is sometimes characterized by their sadness that the project is over and that they might have to go in different directions after a given project. With organizations noticing the importance of reusing well-connected teams, this does not have to happen.

Trust is the foundation of project teamwork. When the environment does not allow teams to be vulnerable and open, trust is affected and shakes the team's foundation. If conflicts are not encouraged and brought to the surface early in the project life cycle, they just continue to increase in size and lead to problems at the wrong timing in projects life cycles. These problems become very difficult to solve and are extremely expensive in the late stages of projects. Teams today suffer from lacking “Accountability”. Teams that do not live in an atmosphere of trust, have weaknesses in their commitment to the organization, the rest of project team members, and to projects deliverables. Responsibility assignment models can be used as great commitment solutions to create the clarity necessary for team members to be accountable and to like the project encounters with the other project team members. One of the useful matrices for that purpose is the RACI diagram. The initials RACI stand for:

R = Responsibility = get the job done

A = Accountability = responsibility + authority

              (Ability to live with either success or failure of the project or a piece thereof)

C = Consulted = provides input and/or output as required

              (Ensure that different Subject Matter Experts SMEs are involved)

I = Informed = keeping key parties abreast of developments/progress, etc

Great project leaders use their team's sense of accountability to focus on doing the right things for the project and the organization. Teams could possibly work hard and produce results, yet sometimes they are not working on the right things, or they have to continuously reinvent the wheel, resulting in waste and loss of efficiency and effectiveness. Teams that are focused on the right things, due to the heightened sense of accountability are likely to have a high LQ. They are less frustrated, able to see that their work fits well with the needs of the organization, and are able to work well with one another and like each other.

The Project Manager's Likeability Factor

In an attempt to define the Likeability Factor, a list of attributes that contribute to building the LQ was developed and then tested. A sample of 19 professionals was used as a consensus-building group to prioritize amongst these attributes. Decision-making techniques were utilized to reach the top five attributes that the project manager should possess to be liked by team members, stakeholders, and other fans.

The 13 attributes studied were: charisma, open personality, being trusted as a leader, listens well to others, nice, knowledgeable, respectful, shares a common background, pleasant, diplomatic, understanding, has strong command of language usage, and motivational. The decision-making technique 10-4 was used, which allowed each of the 19 sample participants to distribute their 10 votes each on the list of 13 attributes. The only condition in this technique is that a maximum of 4 votes could be applied to any of the attributes to maintain the objectivity of the voting process.

The results showed that trusted as a leader, respectful, listens well to others, open personality, and knowledgeable, came as the top 5 attributes. Once againtrust was the foundation for creating the right connection amongst people and for the success associated with building the LQ. Exhibit 1 shows the consensus results reached by this sample of professionals.

Top Five Likeability Factor Attributes

Exhibit 1 – Top Five Likeability Factor Attributes

These top 5 attributes represented about 70% of the total votes. When the team members trust their leader, they are ready to go the extra mile on their project assignments. The leader who is respectful of the team members creates a professional environment of meaningful and relevant contributions. These two attributes are great signs of mature organizations that are ready to excel and continuously repeat patterns of success using the power of team members who like one another and like their leader. Listening well and having an open personality are closely connected. These two attributes show that the leader has a heart and has the right level of caring necessary for connecting the networks of stakeholders involved in projects’ success.

Knowledge is a crucial foundation for likeability. Project managers and other leaders today have to strengthen their knowledge base more than anytime in recent history. With so much information available and accessible around us, it is crucial to digest and process this information into powerful knowledge. When the project manager is knowledgeable, this creates a capability of expertise. This capability is a form of power since team members perceive the project manager to possess knowledge that is important to them and to the organization.

Crossover of Attributes and Competencies

It could be meaningful, in this developing work, to show the overlap between the 5 attributes discussed in this paper and the 6 competency areas addressed in the Den Haag's Leader Side of the Project Manager paper (Zeitoun & Ryle, 2003) . A possible map is shown in Exhibit 2. The exhibit shows clear linkages between the two sides of likeability and competency.

Crossover of Attributes and Competencies

Exhibit 2 – Crossover of Attributes and Competencies

The crossover indicates that being knowledgeable is the most frequent Likeability Factor Attributes (LFA). This LFA is one of the areas that are weak in many of today's project managers. Knowledge is a very important muscle that has to be continuously trained. As the project manager improves his/her knowledge base, he/she becomes more competent in the people side of being a leader. Reading books relevant to the knowledge of organizational business practices and project skills add many years of experience. The discipline of reading should become an on-going activity in the routine of enhancing the project manager's competencies.

Organizational Politics

Organizations do business in different ways. The project manager is the link between an organization and it's projects. Some organizations have great understanding of projects and what projects need, others know that projects exist, yet are covered with political games that make it hard to provide the project manager with the proper support or authorization needed for project work. This is the reason that one of the project manager's key project management skills that support all 6 competencies is the ability to handle organizational politics.

Politics exist in almost every organization and there are many levels understanding and interest in politics exhibited by the management team and the project managers. Exhibit 3 illustrates a suggested organizational politics model that combines the interest in playing politics with the knowledge of playing politics. Hamdy and Zeitoun (Hamdy & Zeitoun, 2005) indicate that it is preferable that the leader is in the top left quadrant of this model. With knowledge of politics handling as high and yet a low interest in playing politics, the project manager is in a strong position to handle working within the organizational political boundaries and to balance that with the needs of the project teams. This wise position is a great asset for the project manager's ability to protect the project teams from the ongoing priority changes and their implications on the success of projects.

Organizational Politics Model

Exhibit 3 – Organizational Politics Model

Exploring the Likeability Factor Attributes

There were couple of attributes in the list of 13 that had vote scores close to the top 5 attributes illustrated in this paper. Being charismatic, diplomatic, and motivational were also high votes. Charisma allows project leaders to create that atmosphere around them that connects them to others. Charisma is a combination of many things that are sometimes hard to describe. The charm associated with charisma is like a magnet for people pulling them to the project manager, which makes likeability easier. Being diplomatic allows the project manager to handle many of the situations surrounding the project and the project stakeholders. Working mostly in matrix organizational formats requires a high degree of diplomacy to handle the conflicting directions team members are dealing with. Diplomacy, also, is great tool as the project manager works with many resource managers in charge of the resources needed for projects. Knowing how to motivate the team members and the other stakeholders is possibly one of these crucial attributes for the on-going maintenance and development of project teams.

There are many reasons why the LFAs are valuable to the project team's communication excellence and project success. The key reasons that were highlighted by the study sample are the following.


  • 1)    Allow for overcoming any barriers to communications.
  • 2)    Enable commanding authority.
  • 3)    Facilitate motivation.
  • 4)    Empower people to get things done on projects.
  • 5)    Are key interpersonal skills.
  • 6)    Are great tools for conflict resolution.
  • 7)    Lead people to believe that you will take care of them, which makes it easier to make decisions.

Building the Likeability Factor Attributes

The study participants were asked to validate some of the ways to build the likeability factor. Many ideas sounded promising in ensuring that we have an authentic project leader and genuine team members. Amongst these ideas is the thought that the project manager could build likeability in others by example. Leadership by example, especially as the leader works on likeability, is key. The project manager is on stage the entire time and has got to find an effortless way to maintain high likeability.

A good part of the building process is practice. Like exercising for muscle strength, likeability is an on-going process of creating the trust foundation necessary for the project manager's connection with others. Reading books makes it easier for the leader to have the knowledge to share with others. This makes the sharing process work, as the project manager continuously communicates with others and strengthens the power of networks. One of the strong tools is the power of feedback. The project manager should ask validation questions regarding how he/she is coming across and what could be improved. The same occurs as the project manager gives feedback to others on how they are doing and how they are being perceived.

The project manager could work on enhancing the ability to read others and their reactions. This is done best as the project manager works on being real and empathetic to the project team members and their needs. Likeable leaders are consistently working on excelling in active listening. They know what questions to ask and keep checklists of the good questions that get them the connecting information with their teams. A related tool is the practice of reading body language and all forms of non-verbal signs. The talent associated with that has a big impact on the leader's success. Leaders could also watch and observe people as they interact with others and learn about them this way. Seeing how people function in their natural state makes the connection with them more real. Investing in extra curricular activities could also be a great informal avenue for the leader to link better with the troops.

The Leader's Likeability Excellence Journey

Likeability is like an attitude. A leader with the right positive attitude is much more consistent in style and is capable of affecting people in a rewarding way. For a leader to be likeable, the leader has to be working on self-discovery and on creating peace with him/herself. Likeability starts inside the leader. Leaders know what they need to do to excel and they are typically in the cross roads of making the hard decisions necessary for excellence.

Exhibit 4 by Hamdy and Zeitoun (Hamdy & Zeitoun, 2005) address the discipline associated with the excellence journey. In order for the leader to be in the quadrant of differentiation, the leader should be focused on the things that need to be done, even though she might not like to do them or that they are hard to do. This is the power stemming from the strong choices that leaders have to make.

Leaders Choices Model

Exhibit 4 – Leaders Choices Model

Leaders have many choices to make on their journey towards excellence. They dare to continuously work hard on discovering what people want and need and find ways to prioritize and focus on doing the right things at the right time. They are continuously trying to reach a balance. They are serious and funny. They cry and smile. What differentiates the ones people like, and connect with, is how genuine those leaders are. Sustainability is never good enough for likeable leaders and they are always walking or running the extra mile. By working on the hard choices, leaders manage to find themselves in the process and become happier and better connected.

Two easy ways could be used to create likeability excellence. One is the power of smiling. A smile from the heart opens the door to the hearts of others and connects with them. With the toughness surrounding work environments today, many of us have lost our natural smiles. With practice and focus, that smile could come back. The other easy way is using a close friend or colleague as a sounding board. This is a great objective way to build the leader's people side competencies and the LFAs.


  • -    The Likeability Quotient (LQ) is far more valuable in getting projects successfully completed than the IQ or even the Emotional Quotient (EQ).
  • -    The leaders’ success is closely related to their ability to create powerful networks in their stakeholders’ community.
  • -    Projects managers could achieve likeability by allowing team members and other stakeholders to tell their stories.
  • -    Great listening opens the door to likeability.
  • -    Project work is maturing and organizations are recognizing the importance of a project's usability in building well-jelled teams.
  • -    The top 5 likeability attributes are being trusted as a leader, respectful, listens well to others, open personality, and knowledgeable.
  • -    The crossover between the people side competencies and likeability indicates that being knowledgeable is the most frequent Likeability Factor Attribute (LFA).
  • -    Leaders have to achieve the proper level of understanding and interest in politics.
  • -    The project manager should continuously work on being real and empathetic to the project team members and their needs.
  • -    Likeability starts inside the leader.
  • -    Leaders dare to continuously work hard on discovering what their people want and need.


Project Management Institute. (2002) Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCD) Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Berkowitz, D. (2004, January) Don't Fear the L-Factor. E Marketer, The Source for Internet and E-Business Research and Analysis. Retrieved from

Hamdy & Zeitoun, A. (2005 – pending) Project Management Training Solutions. How to Enable Magical EST's:Enterprise Strategic Solutions.

Zeitoun, A. & Ryle, F. (2003, May) The Leader Side of the Project Manager. PMI Global Congress 2003, Europe, Den Haag, The Netherlands.

© 2004, Al Zeitoun
Originally published as a part of 2004 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Prague



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