5 characteristics of great project managers in the social good sector

We’ve written before about the attributes that make a project manager or programme manager really great. From listening skills to a cool and collected composure, there are a variety of emotional and intellectual characteristics that make project managers (PMs) good at what they do, regardless of the type of project at hand or the sector they are working in. Are there particular attributes that project managers in the social good sector, such as health techs, need to have though? In our opinion, the answer to that question is – yes. The environment in ‘social good’ sectors, and the goals being worked towards, are inherently different than those of big corporates in the private sector, for instance. While there are some fundamentals that all good PMs must possess – including excellent skills in communication, evidence-based decision-making abilities and a natural sense of leadership– the unique political and ethical environment in the public and third sector means that PMs need an unrivalled set of ‘soft’ skills. As such, when recruiting a PM for ‘social good’, we tend to look less at the ‘hard’ skills (for example, which type of PM training a candidate has and their years of experience) and really drill down on the softer characteristics (such as personality attributes, dedication to the organisational and project purpose, and political nous). Our top five things to look out for include:

1. Political prowess

Excellent project managers have a high degree of political nous. They are great in understanding the political environment they operate in and can form alliances, negotiate and bargain effectively to achieve outcomes. That means they have the personality and persuasive skills to go into a boardroom, quite often with difficult people, and have their voice properly heard.

You’ll also understand the impact government policy and politics has on the wider commercial world and be up-to-date politically.

While not absolutely required, a passion for politics can also be a bonus. You will stay savvy by following Twitter feeds, such as the likes of @PubAffairs, @PRWeekUKnews and @UKparliament, and reading the news religiously.

2. Passion for social good

As a PM in the public or third sector, you will be dealing very closely with matters of great societal importance. Often, you’ll be involved with very vulnerable parts of the community and helping successfully implement projects that will impact the lives of many. You’ll likely work in delicate and highly important fields such as children’s’ social care, adult social care, health, education and environment.

As far as we are concerned, you must be passionate about delivering ‘social good’ outcomes to be a truly impactful PM in the public sector, third sector or for a social good organisation. In return, you’ll have the satisfaction of doing work that truly ‘makes a difference’.

3. Be a change agent

The only constant in the world of public policy and governance is change. At the drop of a hat, budgets might be cut, resources may disappear, people could come and go. The landscape is ever-changing. Excellent project managers instinctively enjoy the thrill and uncertainty that comes with change and are averse to long periods of predictability. Just as importantly, they will encourage confidence in colleagues during these crucial moments.

4. Display empathy

Empathy refers to the awareness of and sensitivity to the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of others. As the purpose of many programmes and projects in the public and third sectors is to help others, an inherent sense of empathy is something a great project manager has.

Empathy also enables you to connect deeply with members of a team to get to the bottom of any problems and issues that may be arising throughout the project’s lifespan. It will also help you to resolve them sensitively and effectively.

5. Practice patience

For a number of reasons, things can move a little slower in the public and third sectors. Budget constraints, reporting practices and the need for scrutiny when it comes to spending tax money can make a PM’s life in the ‘social good’ sector challenging. Then

there can be all those tedious sign-off procedures and other bits of bureaucracy, not to mention the moods and high tensions that can arise when difficult circumstances and times of crisis hit. As they say, patience really is a virtue.

It takes a special breed of project manager to tackle the complex public or third sector environment, but finding the right person for the job will without a doubt be worth it.

It takes a special breed of project manager to tackle to the complex public or third sector environment, but finding the right person for the job will without a doubt be worth it.


Lee Tobin, Marketing Expert

Lee is a professional storyteller. She uses a storybook approach to emotively communicate your organisation’s core messages to your target audience. She especially loves social media and believes that comms should always be bold.