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Seven Habits of True Project Leaders: Habit #6

This series highlights the 7 habits that are deeply ingrained in project leaders who are capable of consistently delivering project success. Our last post discussed the importance of airtight communication.

Habit #6: Stubbornly Sticks to Reality

The ideal project manager would make for a lousy politician. The project manager’s job isn’t to inspire optimism, but to tell you why a project might fail and to inform you when it’s failing.

Stakeholders generally want a project manager who will change reality to fit the plan. Once a project gets underway, the original baseline is in the past. It is the project manager’s job to compare actual outcomes and updated projections to that baseline, not to pretend that it is still the current reality. A true project leader has the resilience and composure to do just the opposite: convince the stakeholders to accept the new realities and allow them to sync the plan with it.

Even more impressive is a project manager who has such consummate GIPS and GAWE (Great Interpersonal Skills, Gets Along With Everyone) that they can look you in the eye and tell you that your you-know-what stinks, and you’ll still like them.


Accepting reality would be easy advice to follow if we were talking about a stark reality. In the real world, though, realities are murky. Outcomes are probabilistic, not certain. A struggling project has a chance to succeed if you don’t rock the boat, but at the same time, hope is not a strategy. Successful organizations operate in the gray area, not always playing Chicken Little, shying away from any option that incurs any amount of risk, but also heeding warnings and cautions from the experts.

The same can be said of project managers: it’s easy for PMs to say “because of x, we can’t do y” because that way they’re never on the hook for a risky endeavor. But they should say, “doing x risks y.” From there, the organization should heed the advice, then decide when to hold them and know when to fold them.

Click here to read Habit #7: Scope Changes Are Second Nature.