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The Ethos of Project Management

Written by Airwalk Reply Senior Consultant's Farhan Shaikh and Tom Heyes

We were recently asked by a young, up-and-coming project manager what our ethos was as programme managers....hmm, we thought. Interesting question.

Project/programme management is 10% technique, and 90% rapport. Giving our clients the confidence in us to go away and deliver is what matters most.

So let us break down these numbers and attempt to elucidate what is a huge subject, one that you can easily spend the entirety of your career trying to master, and still only scratch the surface.


1.    a way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure:

What does it mean to be a technically competent project manager? Put simply, it is an understanding of the methodologies and frameworks by which to ply your trade, and a knowledge of the various tools within them that can be utilised to deliver outcomes. For example: the PRINCE2 methodology provides an overall framework of distinct management phases within which a project can be delivered. Within the framework you have tools at your disposal, such as: project planning, risk management, critical path analysis, cost management, reporting, etc.

The above example is overly simplified for the sake of brevity. The number of methodologies, frameworks and tools available is huge, and so this can become a very complex subject in itself. What if one were able to memorise all of them? Would that make them an effective project professional? No. project management qualifications, and the body of knowledge therein is only the tip of the iceberg. 

What is the essence of delivering projects? In its purest, most distilled form, this ‘essence’ consists of three words: get stuff done. Delivering projects isn’t about what methodology you use, or the framework, or the tools, or even your ability to memorise the entirety of the subject. This  doesn’t  guarantee success. Success is measured by outcomes, i.e. did you get stuff done? The fanciest qualifications from the most revered institutions mean nothing if you aren’t able to demonstrate progress.


1.    a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other's feelings or ideas and communicate well:

For the project manager to be successful, it requires them to build rapport with others as a pre-requisite to delivering outcomes. There is a step before this that must also be addressed – the rapport you have with yourself. ‘Know thyself’ is a phrase extensively discussed within philosophy and religion, and it can just as easily be discussed in the context of the profession.

Examining the future of project management, Boyatzis et al (2009) discussed the emotional and social intelligence of effective project managers: ‘a project manager is often in a “player-coach" role’, required to ‘mix the talent of individual contributors working on the team while continuing to be an individual contributor’. They concluded that ‘the clash and conflicts of these two sets of competencies are more apparent in the role of project manager than any other’.

Boyatzis et al (2009) concluded that ‘superior performing project managers showed or used most of these competencies than their average-performing counterparts…’:

1.    Emotional intelligence competencies: planning, self-confidence, efficiency orientation, attention to detail, and self-control.
2.    Social intelligence competencies: group management, empathy, persuasiveness, developing others, and negotiating.
3.    Cognitive intelligence competencies: systems thinking and pattern recognition

To know yourself is perhaps the raison d’être of emotional intelligence. How do you begin this journey of self-realisation? A good place to start understanding yourself would be to study the below theorists and their work. From there it is a journey of self-discovery, aided by much self-reflection that will allow you to develop your own professional style for the purpose of getting stuff done.

1.    'role in a team' (Belbin's team theory)
2.    'personality type' (Myers Briggs Type Indicator)
3.    'leadership type' (Theory X and Theory Y McGregor) 
4.    'leadership style' (Kotter) 


The journey of self-discovery shouldn’t be seen as a finite effort with a start and end point (which is ironically exactly what a project is). Rather, this will be a lifelong endeavour which will consist of discipline, effort, error, perseverance, success, self-reflection, and re-alignment. You will never be the same person forever, and your attitudes and management style will evolve. What you are right now is not what you will be in five years.

This article has been a distillation of a very broad subject based on our 20+ years delivering projects. Whilst technical capability should not be underestimated, it is the human element of managing a team of individuals towards a collective goal that provides the best probability for success. 

If you would like to discuss the contents of this article further please get in touch