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The Tragic Flaws of a Project Manager

The Tragic Flaws of a Project Manager

(Spoilers for a 415-year-old play follow.)

One of the most famous tragic flaws in history is that of Hamlet, which eventually led to his downfall. He is repeatedly told and provided with evidence that his uncle, King Claudius, is guilty of the murder of his father, but he delays killing Claudius in revenge. There are a variety of reasons for this delay, but ultimately it leads to his death as Claudius engineers a fencing match that sees Hamlet fatally stabbed with a poisoned sword. That Hamlet manages to kill Claudius before he himself dies is an irony not lost on anyone.

While the tragic flaw of a project manager probably won′t lead to anyone′s deaths, it could well have a fatal effect as far as the project itself is concerned, leading to its failure. There is any number of issues that a project manager might possess personally or professionally that could affect their ability to lead or control a project in terms of its expenditure and progress in line with projected deadlines.

It′s important that these managers recognize that their flaws could affect their abilities as far as project management is concerned. It′s easier said than done to recognize these flaws when you have them, however – if Hamlet had known that his indecision would cost him his life, he′d have killed Claudius before the end of Act III and the audience would have been saved an extra hour and a half of back pain contracted from standing in the yard at the Globe.

Failure to manage change

Although as much of a project should be set in stone as possible, there is always the potential for events and circumstances to change aspects of it. In cases like these, failure to manage the change could severely damage the project in terms of lessening employee engagement with it or even external reputation damage if the problems are particularly damaging. Project managers can own the change, whatever it might be, as long as they don′t drag it out and they don′t try to hide it from their teams.


Indecision is actually a fatal flaw in any pursuit, not just for Hamlet′s vengeful plans. Although it makes sense (if you have the time) to explore all potential avenues and options in order to assess the best course to take, there is a fine line between assessing and dithering. Action has to be taken eventually – if you take too long, the project will be unable to continue. Decide upon the best method to employ, even if you have to consult colleagues and stakeholders, and then implement it.

Resistance to assistance

Assistance can come in many forms, from the person trying to take some of the work off your back to the person contributing a new idea that could make the completion of the project a lot easier to achieve. A good project manager will accept help when it is offered, while a bad one will not – this could be for a variety of reasons, such as the feeling as though the responsibility should be theirs alone or them simply thinking that they know best regardless of the situation. Project managers with this issue should at least hear what others have to say – they might be wrong, but how will you know unless you open yourself up to the possibility of them being right?


While there′s nothing wrong with being an optimist on the surface, it can have dire consequences for a project manager. It can put you in a state of denial about the way the project is going, blinding you to potential issues or the solutions that might solve them. Additionally, the project manager may sugarcoat the state of the project to the teams working on it, making problems more difficult to identify and sort out – this doesn′t help anyone and could lead to the project′s eventual failure.

Poor communication skills

Being able to communicate effectively is a major strength in every area of our lives, and it′s no less important when you′re a project manager. You need to be in touch with different teams as well as stakeholders above you, so failure to keep communication lines open can make it difficult to keep a project moving forward. It′s vitally important that you establish a regular method of communication for all concerned, whether that′s via email, phone or Skype.

Lack of forward-thinking

As a project manager, one of the most important parts of the job is the forecasting of potential issues and problems or simple requested changes that might arise throughout the project and devising actions to deal with them so their impact is lessened or eradicated altogether. If you don′t see the need for forward-thinking, you leave the project open to failure from any number of potential issues that you haven′t bothered to come up with a contingency plan for. This, arguably more than anything else, is the flaw that could most easily lead to the failure of a project.

Darren Ley

Darren Ley is an L&D Consultant at Thales Learning & Development. He began his career in research and development and project management, eventually making the natural switch to training and development with Thales, for whom he delivers accredited and non-accredited project management training.

Darren is a regular contributor to Enhance – The Magazine for Learning and Development.

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