Characteristics of a Sustainable Project Manager (1 of 9) “Benefits Focused”

There are a countless number of blog posts, books, articles, and papers on project competence or the application of knowledge, skills, and abilities in order to achieve the desired results (See the IPMA ICB 4.0) and even more materials on the knowledge of technical practices that a project manager should possess. There isn’t much discussion however on individual characteristics or traits.

In our new book, Sustainable Project Management, we outline the core traits and in this new series, we will focus on themSustainable Project Management: The GPM Reference Guide by [Carboni, Joel, Duncan, William, Gonzalez, Monica, Milsom, Peter, Young, Michael]

A quick lookup on defines “characteristic” as folllows: 

Also, characteristical. pertaining to, constituting, or indicating the character or peculiar quality of  a person or thing; typical; distinctive:
Red and gold are the characteristic colors of autumn.

A distinguishing feature or quality:
Generosity is his chief characteristic.

In putting together these nine characteristics for the book, we used: “pertaining to, constituting, or indicating the character or peculiar quality of a person” from the context of a project manager and taking into account the accepted competencies and expected knowledge that one should possess.

A sustainable project manager is an individual who manages a project by employing a collection of diverse but integrated competencies to deliver on the objectives detailed in the business case and tailoring the appropriate methods, tools, and techniques for leading the project team, engaging stakeholders, and progressing the project while still safeguarding society, the environment, and human rights.

Sustainable project managers contribute to organizational goals while navigating complex cultures and dynamics to create benefits that support short- and long-term business strategies while simultaneously addressing our planetary constraints.

As such, sustainable project managers have an important role to empower and indeed play as advocates, advisors, and architects of a better world.

To be a successful sustainable project manager requires characteristics and this series will go in depth what our new book “Sustainable Project Management” touches on for each of the nine characteristics.

What do we mean by success?

There is a difference between project success and project management success.  A project can fail but still be managed successfully and vice versa.  A simple way of putting it is that traditionally, “good” project managers are those who can deliver intended results while staying on budget, on time, and within scope.

For Sustainable Project Management success, the project manager moves beyond compliance towards value creation as outlined in the figure below, which can be found in our new book.

Figure 5 from Sustainable Project Management. The Evolution of Project Management Focus


Managing to each of these requires more than competence.  It begs one to ask, “do I have the personality traits and characteristics to be this kind of a leader?”

This brings us to our first characteristic which bears the same name as one of the elements in the figure, benefits.

Characteristic #1  Benefits Focused — is aware of stakeholder needs and expectations, considers long-term implications of decisions

What this is:  Focused on the business benefit that the project will produce and managing to that expectation.

What it is not: Managing to a scope with tunnel vision and exclusively producing an output.

Imagine a project manager on a construction site of a 15 story building who has a very detailed set of requirements, and is 60% complete with the physical structure when he/she reads an article about a similar building that utilized a new type of energy system that would save reduce energy costs almost 40% over the life of the structure but would require an additional $million dollars and could delay the project by three months.

Traditionally, this type of change would be out of scope, not what the project called for, and therefore would be ignored as it was outside of the remit and responsibility of the project manager

A sustainable project manager would see the potential business benefit and, without hesitation, evaluate the opportunity. Options could include a quick analysis, talking to peers, writing a business case to outline the benefits of adopting this change, and advising the project owner of the opportunities and the potential short and long-term costs and benefits. This provides the project owner with the opportunity to investigate further, or indeed even move forward with a recommendation, in an, informed, sustainable and risk-based manner

For more on Sustainable Project Management, check out our new book from on or the iBooks store.


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Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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