Project Management Traits of Athletes

“Think of yourself as an athlete. I guarantee you it will change the way you walk, the way you work, and the decisions you make about leadership, teamwork, and success.”

Professional basketball player turned author, Mariah Burton Nelson said it best.

Leadership is the first thing to come to mind when thinking of characteristics that athletes and project managers share, at least it is for us! But it is not the only quality that both occupations require, there are actually many overlapping qualities between successful athletes and successful project managers. As I sit here watching the Olympics, I could not help but see how the athletes competing share most if not all of these qualities with project managers.


Inspiration to Others – Leadership

Each Olympic athlete has a story to tell, how they were inspired to get to where they are now. These athlete’s stories of how they were inspired, give inspiration to a worldwide audience watching the Olympics. These athletes communicate with us, tell us their stories and by doing so, influence and impact the way we think and react. The impact of these stories reflects several qualities of leadership, and how it inspires without dictating or controlling.

Leaders are everywhere around us: in the office, at the ballpark, and even at home. As Project Managers, we have to work with, communicate, and inspire others to successfully complete activities in a project. Project managers can’t complete a project alone, much like an athlete can’t succeed alone. This is why leadership is a strong trait to have for both athletes and project managers to be successful.


Visualizing the Main Event

Did you ever wonder why you see ski or snowboarding athletes making arm gestures before hitting the alpine slopes or snowboarding down the halfpipe at the Olympics? What those competitors are doing is visualizing the events, going through all their training and preparation up to this point in their career. As project managers, we too visualize the work ahead. Not only do we think about the best case scenarios, we anticipate the challenges faced and plan for all contingencies and adjustments to be successful. This is very similar to the way Olympic athletes prepare for their competition!


Focused on the Preparation – Work Ethic

As I hear every backstory from the Olympics, how each athlete has a unique story to tell, or how they had to overcome adversity to get to where they are know, I can’t help but get caught up in how much dedication and work must go into preparing for the competition. Any person that has ever played a sport knows how much work is needed in preparation for success.

For athletes, daily trainings and practice are crucial to prepare themselves. Project managers might not have the physical demands that athletes have, but preparation is every bit as important. Behind the scenes, there are countless hours spent organizing, planning, managing, and communicating with stakeholders.


Strategic Thinking at its Best!

My first event I watched during these Olympics was curling! I was captivated by how the curlers had to not only plan their current move, but think two to three steps ahead of how this one stone throw will set them up or impact the competition. Athletes aren’t only physically fit, they also have to think strategically to gain an edge on the competition. They must be able to make split second decisions and use critical and strategic thinking at all times. Project managers are equally involved in strategic and critical thinking. They constantly manage risks and issues, project activities, schedules, communication on key events, and deadlines.  This does not always come naturally, so strategic planning is crucial to successful project completion!

What other skill and characteristics do you think span both groups? Successful leadership skills don’t come overnight and both athletes and project managers work hard to continuously improve, being cognizant and intentional with every decision, on and off the court. If you want to polish up your leadership skills, check our current class schedule for learning opportunities.

“Earn your leadership every day.” – Michael Jordan


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