Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.


Critical Thinking for Project Managers

The work of project managers is fast-paced and varied.  Not only they have direct reports to manage, but to achieve results, they must work effectively with different stakeholders; and must carry out their work in accordance with the project plan, implementation schedule, and budget.  Anticipating needs, overcoming resistance, and building common understanding are essential to the project’s success.  Critical thinking is an essential skill for successfully implementing a project from initiation to closure, and it is one that needs to be continuously developed and strengthened.  A project manager will use critical thinking to: 

  • Understand and use new information
  • Identify, evaluate, and solve problems 
  • Make sound decisions 

Critical thinking is the process of identifying and evaluating evidence in order to make an appropriate decision.  This evidence can be gathered through observation, experience, research, reasoning, or conversation with others.  The critical thinker uses a logical analysis of evidence to make decisions and to communicate his or her decisions clearly. Critical thinking is a process of thinking that examines a situation in an objective manner.   Critical thinking is the application of excellent problem-solving skills.  It requires that the project manager thinks open-mindedly and recognizes and assesses assumptions, implications, and practical consequences. As a critical thinker, the project manager will:

  • Raise vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely.
  • Gather and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively, arrive at well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, and testing them against relevant criteria and standards.
  • Think open-mindedly within alternative orders of thought, recognizing and assessing the assumptions, implications, and practical consequences.
  • Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Project managers are constantly exposed to different types of information and need to make decisions not based on personal judgments or biases. To develop critical thinking traits, a project manager should adopt a perceptive rather than judgmental orientation; that is, avoiding moving from perception to judgment as one applies critical thinking to an issue.

Want to learn more? Register for the next session of our online course Leadership in Project Management for Development Organizations and NGOs and learn how to use a flexible project management methodology.  

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Leadership Tips for a Project Manager

Being a successful project manager depends not only on what you do, but also on how you do it. Your attitudes and behaviors toward people affect how they respond to that person. The following tips here can help you become a better leader.


  • Tell your team what you want, not how to do it. You will find your team more responsive and less defensive if you can give them guidance, not instructions. You will also see more initiative, more innovation, and more of an ownership attitude from them develop over time.
  • Don't DO Anything. Your job as a project manager is to "plan, organize, control and direct." Do not waste valuable time by falling back on what you did before you became a manager. You may enjoy it, and you are good at it. That is why you were promoted to project manager. Now you need to concentrate your efforts on managing, not on "doing".
  • Get out of your desk. Management By Walking Around (MBWA) does work. You make yourself more approachable. You get information first-hand, and you will find out what's really happening.
  • Set  S.M.A.R.T. Goals. Goals you set for yourself, or others, should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
  • Set an example. "One of the most significant parts of a project manager’s job is for them to become a positive role model that can pull a team together and deliver the level of service expected from their stakeholders and beneficiaries."
  • Actively listen. Listen to your stakeholders, beneficiaries, your team, your suppliers, and anyone else who is involved with your project. Honestly evaluate what they have to say, and you will probably learn something that benefits your project.
  • Leaders create change. If you lead, you will cause changes. Be prepared for them and their impact on people within, and outside, your group. If you are not making changes, you are not leading.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. The ability to communicate with people at all levels is almost always named as the second most important skill by project managers and team members. Project leadership calls for clear communication about goals, responsibility, performance, expectations and feedback.
  • Fix the problem, not the blame. It is far more productive, and less expensive, to figure out what to do to fix a problem that has come up than it is to waste time trying to decide whose fault it was.
  • Get your people involved. It's a lot easier to get your team to stand behind a management  decision if they have the opportunity to participate in the discussion. Management still has to make the decision, but if they have had the opportunity to make their point of view known, the team is more apt to stand behind the decision.

Want to learn more? Register for the next session of our online course Leadership Project Management for Development Organizations and NGOs.

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