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Do Women Make The Best Project Managers?



Michelle Symonds

Michelle Symonds


This is a guest post by Michelle Symonds, on behalf of Parallel Project Training.

Clearly, men and women are different and deal with situations differently in the workplace. The skills that they naturally excel at rarely coincide and it is the innate talents of women that help to make them better project managers than men.

The industries in which women work as project managers vary and few work in the still male-dominated ones such as construction and engineering, but there are plenty of female project managers in industries where the majority of workers are male even though it might not be entirely male-dominated, such as IT.

So just what are the natural talents that a woman might have that make her a more successful project manager and that differentiate her from her male colleagues?

Good communication skills

For a start women are good communicators – they like to talk to people and will instigate impromptu conversations – being a good communicator is something very different from gossiping or being chatty, but it is this inclination to talk that helps a woman in a project management role.

Regular, informal conversations with the project team make it much easier to raise concerns or highlight problems that might eventually derail a project if not discussed openly. They also make it more likely that the project manager herself will have noticed an issue before it becomes a problem.

Good communication is not just about talking and listening to the team – it is also about documenting effectively, producing clear reports and passing those on to the interested parties.

Making the complex simple

It is about striking the right balance between easily understood documents and reports, but which also contain enough detail to highlight potential issues and provide reassurance that the business objectives are being met. It is about inviting feedback and encouraging discussions in a non-judgemental way and creating a working atmosphere in which ideas and lateral thinking can flourish.

Women project managers do not use complexity or technical jargon to impress or overwhelm their peers and will only add complexity where necessary to clarify requirements. Even then, the best female communicators will make a complex issue seem uncomplicated.

Motivating the team

Good communication also motivates a team – by taking a personal interest in individual team members and being sympathetic to their concerns, women project managers build loyal, motivated teams who are willing to be flexible and adaptable. And motivated teams will always have the advantage when it comes to delivering a successful outcome, particularly in complex projects.

Men can, of course, motivate a team but these talents within female project managers can feel innate and effortless – they know instinctively when to praise and when to criticise.

Women can bring out the best in a team by discouraging individuals from competing against each other. They are also adept at defusing conflict and, when under pressure, they do not lose sight of the fact that a motivated team will always work more effectively than a disheartened one.

So communication and inter-personal skills, and team-working and team-building expertise are areas where women excel in a project management environment.

Creating an environment for success

But the best women project managers also combine a logical, meticulous way of thinking and working with creativity, and this combination encourages innovation. And innovation is often the way to truly successful projects – projects that exceed expectations.

We so often talk about successful projects coming in on-time and on-budget and meeting the requirements or business objective. But why not aim for projects that are delivered early, under-budget and exceeding expectations. Is that really too much to aspire to?

Women also appreciate that projects can fail when egos get in the way and different groups or departments do not work cohesively together to reach the shared goal. They understand that any work environment that allows a blame culture to develop or flourish will have a far worse chance of delivering projects successfully than one which has an attitude of accepting something has gone wrong and moving on.

Women’s multi-tasking abilities give them an advantage when it comes to managing change and unexpected risks efficiently. They are unlikely to be fazed by changes to priorities, requirements, budget or staffing levels. That’s not to say they will not plan for such events – every experienced project manager knows that any, or all, of these factors can affect a project but they will simply deal with the issue efficiently or put the contingency plan into action with minimum fuss.

So maybe women are better communicators, are more collaborative and have the multi-tasking skills to manage projects better than their male counterparts but the definition of “better” will always raise issues of how success in projects is actually measured.

Nevertheless, a 2007 survey of experienced project managers in the U.S. reported that female project managers considerably surpassed male project managers on similar projects in these essential areas:

  • Fewer projects abandoned
  • More projects delivered that met or exceeded expectations
  • Substantially better adherence to the project schedule
  • Better results with respect to the budget.

The survey by the Project Management Perspectives research group even suggests that, in the data they used, the projects carried out by women were more difficult, based on resource effort required. Even if women manage the small, cheap projects, the level of difficulty is greater.

Of course, project managers can be good or bad regardless of gender. Female project managers do not have all the advantages when it comes to project management but never underestimate their natural skills and talents – they could be a major factor in the final outcome of a project.

**Update, 5 September 2011.  Michelle’s companion article to this one, called Do Men Make The Best Project Managers? is now available on the Parallel Project blog.**

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 project manager who believes that the right project management courses can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and are essential for a successful outcome to any project. A range of formal and informal project management training and courses are available from Parallel Project Training to support professional qualifications such as PMP Certification, PRINCE2 or APM PQ.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. Vickie Yanez says

    My daughter is going to college to be a project manager. . Her dad is in that field. I’m worried that she will have a hard time getting in with a company, because of her gender. This is her first year in college so maybe it will change to IT or something else.

    • Elizabeth Harrin says

      Vickie, I’m sure she’ll be just fine. There are plenty of companies who are prepared to (and who are actively) recruiting and supporting women at all stages of their career. Being female could even be an advantage in some cases, so as long as she is good at her job I’m sure she’ll always be able to find work.

  2. Lindsay Scott says

    I’m itching to write something wonderfully clever and deeply analytical about the women vs men in project management thing but I don’t have the wise words. I guess the bottom line here is that it is not black and white – there are too many shades of grey where people are concerned. The men article over on the Parallel blog is the nearest thing I will agree with that; “It could, of course, be argued that the most successful project managers
    are not determined by their gender but rather by the balance of
    masculine and feminine traits within their personality”. It’s the word “trait”. It is the well balanced personal traits and behaviours that make someone a better leader and manager over another – regardless of their gender.

    It’s also about time that project managers – regardless of their gender – got equal pay for equal effort and merits. The interesting thing is when does the inequality in pay kick in because its certainly not at the point of hiring someone? What is it that (mainly) women are doing (or not doing) in their careers to fall behind pay wise? Now that’s something worth debating

    • Elizabeth says

      “It’s not black and white” are pretty wise words in my opinion. Putting people in boxes because of some characteristic is not a great move for building intelligent, cohesive teams, so keeping the wider view of personality traits and key skills in mind is a better approach.

      I do think that inequality in salary starts from day 1, but then you know more about that situation than I do, being in the recruitment business, so if you say it doesn’t kick in until later that is very interesting. In my view, it’s because women don’t ask for salary increases as often or at all, plus they take time out for raising a family. I think I’ve seen some research that says that even if you take out the child-care years, it normalises out that men still earn more than women, but I’d have to dig around to find that again.

  3. Jon says

    Men and women are all human beings.  Gender has no bearing on project management ability, innate or otherwise.

  4. D Whelbourn says

    Simple viewpoint and  in my opinion not true.

    By pointing out the positives traits of women are you identifying them as weaknesses for men? If so then I have seen many male PM’s who exhibit the traits you are suggesting as unique to women. 

    In my experience there isn’t a standard project manager type, successful PM’s come in all shapes, sizes, ages, personality types, sex etc…

    Often a type of PM needed for a particular challenge is more important. Choose your PM based on the challenges ahead. Allow for stretch assignments within the role, that way you will put the PM under less stress and lets face it, projects are a pressurised, stressful environment.

    PS some of the hard-nosed PM’s I have met have been women who have adopted Male traits in the extreme.

  5. Michelle Symonds says

    Thanks for the comments – it is definitely true that attributes of a project manager’s personality can affect the outcome of a project regardless of gender. But it is also true that some personality traits are more typically found in women than in men and I think we can all learn something from each other and from how the best project managers (male or female) achieve success

  6. Daisey says

    It is certainly very true that there is an unfair disparity between men and women when it comes to salaries and the amount of women in certain roles and industries, but… to say that a woman is innately better at project management is a little disrespectful and naive. I have worked with many different project managers of both gender and there are always attributes in their personality that either help or hinder the success of a project. It’s not their gender that makes the project go well, it’s their personality, aptitudes and experience.

    • Elizabeth says

      Daisey, aptitude and experience is key to a successful project, as you have rightly pointed out. I think gender does have a part to play, as how we are socialised growing up shapes our personalities and experiences. That’s the nature/nurture debate and reflects national culture as well. I know that Michelle did not mean to be disrespectful in her article, and I’m sorry if it came across that way.

      Your point about salaries is interesting. The CMI released figures last week saying that it will take 98 years for women’s salaries to catch up with men’s. That’s a big leap from the 58 years they quoted last year. If anything, gender equality at work – when it comes to pay – is getting worse. Still, how much you get paid is not (necessarily) a reflection of how good a project manager you are.

  7. Bob says

    I worked for many female project managers when I started in the 90s. Which seems pretty rare considering the number of females in IT at the time. So I learned a lot about the soft skills needed. It definitely made me a more balanced manager.

  8. LK Gahlot says

    Very good post and very true indeed. Although I never had the opportunity to work closely with a female project manager but in my experience with male/female colleagues at other levels, I have observed these qualities more in female members and less in male members of the team. I come from IT industry and I trust female QA team members more than male QA team members for these simple reason.

    It will do a lot good to have more and more senior female staff to gain from a different perspective. Unfortunately, you don’t see too many around.

    • Elizabeth says

      There are a number of initiatives to increase the number of women in board positions, but so far the UK has resisted going as far as insisting on quotas, which is what some other European countries have done. If you are interested in the ‘science’ behind why having more senior women in companies is good for the financial results, the book Why Women Mean Business is a comprehensive look at how companies with all-male boards compare to the performance of all-female boards.


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