Hiring a Project Manager

August 2, 2019
By Spencer Rundell, Operations Manager, Southeastern Security Professionals (SSP) | PSA Project Management Committee Chair

Spencer Rundell, Operations Manager

General Concepts for Hiring Any Position

To establish a foundation for this article, we have to start with the basics. We have all heard that the cost is high for making a “bad hire”. To avoid hiring a project manager that will not work out long term, what should be done? The purpose of this article is not to tell you what exactly you must do to find a great project manager, rather offer some food for thought that can be beneficial to you. Some ideas that you can expand upon if you’d like.

Each company will have differing expectations of what a project manager should be doing day-to-day.

We’ve all seen it… Project managers that rarely visit the job and spend the majority of their time reviewing project data and financials and making sure their emails are answered. I’ve even seen project managers that are physically doing the work, while the financials and job performance are an afterthought.

I think that everyone can agree that this topic is broad. The size of your company and the structure of your PMO will determine what the project managers at your company will be responsible for. I can say that over the course of my career and the changes we have had at my organization, what we expect from a project manager now vs 15 years ago is very different. Additionally, there are some traits that you want in just about every job out there: integrity, reliability, willingness to learn and a positive attitude. There are other noteworthy traits out there, but for the sake of not listing every general trait possible, we will go with these aforementioned traits for now.

One of the more successful companies in our industry has one simple rule that they use when hiring any position: “Hire for mindset over skillset.” So, what does that mean? Isn’t skill important?

In an article from titled, “How to Hire A Great Project Manager,” the author states:
'A good PM’s knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep.' If a project involves computer networking, do you need someone that has an in-depth understanding of the differences between Cisco IOS versions or someone that understands the difference between a router and a switch? The first would require a Cisco Network Engineer, not a project manager. While the second could be any project manager regardless of expertise in networking as that type of knowledge is easily learned.

By requiring specialized knowledge of project managers for projects you are dramatically reducing the pool of people that will apply. This means that an outstanding project manager, who could do amazing work for your company, is left out due to this.

My favorite Zig Ziglar’s quotes is, “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.” In this light hiring for mindset over skillset is a simple yet powerful concept. Our company uses a similar phrase, “We hire based on attitude and aptitude,” which is similar conceptually.

Many PSA members have implemented a business methodology called Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). It's based on the book Traction by Gino Wickman. EOS says there are six key components to any business, one of which is people. They have a simple concept called GWC. This stand for:

Get it – Do they truly understand their role, the culture, the systems, the pace, and how the job comes together.Want it – Do they genuinely and enthusiastically want this job based on a fair compensation. You can’t beg someone to want it. Not everyone wants a given job, the good news is that there are plenty that do.Capacity – Do they have the mental, physical, emotional and time capacity to do the job.

EOS says all of the above boxes must be checked, otherwise you do not have the right person in the right seat.

If you are not familiar with EOS, I highly recommend reading Traction. There are takeaways for just about everyone in any business.


Take Your TimeBe slow to hire… but quick to fire. It sounds lazy and harsh all at the same time, right? Well let’s break the meaning down here.

Have you ever hired someone because you were in such a jam that you hired the first person you could find? I have and the results have not been that good long term. The person that is desperate for a job sometimes can also be short sighted. Take your time and do multiple interviews. Get to know if this person is stable.  Financial guru Dave Ramsey does a complete financial review with candidates to ensure that they can actually afford to work for him. He has had on many occasions someone that has a lot of money going out and if this person were to take a job that Dave Ramsey is offering, working for him would be financially unsustainable causing a host of problems over time. He and his wife also go out to dinner with the candidate and their spouse. Why? Dave Ramsey basically says to make sure their spouse isn’t crazy! The point is to take your time as much as you possibly can. Make sure they really are the best fit. Many companies like to put a panel of peers together as a secondary interview. This allows the candidate to see who they may be interacting with. The more transparent you can be, will also give the candidate an opportunity to really get the feel if the position would be a good fit for them.

Quick to fire means just that. If you know the person is not right for the job, you have to let them go.  Everyone suffers moving forward if you do not.


Expectations Should be Clear Up Front.

Here is an example of a job description; Compare this to what your company uses. Is it more or less descriptive? Does it share the same responsibilities that a PM in your company would be expected to do?

Job Description: Provide expert project management for the company’s customers. As department growth demands, additional responsibilities will include participation in department development. An emphasis on client relations and sales support is required. Team member responsibilities include:

  • Be accountable for the coordinated management of multiple projects directed toward organizational objectives.
  • Define and initiate projects, assign resources including subcontractors. Define and initiate subcontractor management process and procedures.
  • Build credibility, establish rapport, and maintain communication with clients
  • Manage cost, schedule, and performance of projects, while working to ensure the ultimate success and acceptance of the given project. Including the following:
    • Assist with system engineering and submittals when required
    • Complete project close-out documentation including client signature approvals; Upload all close-out documentation to CRM and make available to the client via client portal
    • Responsible for Installation to Service hand offs of assigned projects; includes project documentation sharing and subcontractor introductions
    • Generate and manage payment schedule for assigned projects
    • Maintain continuous alignment of project scope with business objectives, and make recommendations to modify the process to enhance effectiveness.
    • Coach, mentor and lead technicians and Project managers
    • Participate in monthly team KPI meetings to share team performance
    • At times, Train incoming future project managers/coordinators
    • Provide monthly billing projection for PMO
    • Participate in weekly meetings to help solve department issues and Provide insight on best practices for PMO improvement
    • Seek out certification or self-improvement each year to increase effectiveness in role
    • Meet revenue and margin annual goals


What Specifically Makes a Successful Project Manager?

There are certainly other universal qualities, but what qualities or characteristics make a great project manager? Let’s outline the general things or qualities most of us can agree on.

Most project managers are going to be interfacing with customers, general contractors, subcontractors and various personnel in different departments within your organization. Perhaps they are managing a team of technicians or assistants as well. With that said, most project managers need to have effective communication and leadership qualities.

Successful PMs have a “can-do” attitude and an innate quality of “owning it”.

Successful PMs are organized and methodical, while being flexible and patient. They have a natural instinct to think outside of the box.

Successful PMs are planners. They plan their work and then they work their plan.

A good friend of mine likes to use the phrase, there are a lot of ways to get to ten: 2x5, 1+9, 4+6, etc. The point here is, “begin with the end in mind.” Have a plan, but if 2x5 doesn’t work, try another way within the boundaries that you must fall in (just don’t go against an electrical code in the process).