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Five Key Traits of an Effective Translation Project Manager

Over the last few years, a lot has been written and discussed about project management, including translation project management. Due to increased certification and conferences, project management has finally gained recognition as a profession.

There are even qualifying bodies that validate or certify people as project managers. The Association for Project Management (APM) and The Project Management Institute (PMI) are just two examples. The purpose of this blog is to cover what are, in my opinion, the five key elements to being an effective project manager and attaining effective translation project management goals:

  1. Leadership
  2. Communication
  3. Negotiation
  4. Motivation
  5. Problem Solving and Decision Making

1) Leadership in project management

I once read that leadership is about persuading people to do what they should have done in the first place. It’s also about the way we influence the actions and thoughts of others. Being a project manager isn’t the same as being a leader. A manager focuses on forecasting, planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating and controlling, whereas being a leader involves something else. Leaders inspire others by focusing on the values and beliefs of the team; they provide a clear view of the goals the team wants to achieve.

You can be a manager and a leader. But being one doesn’t automatically mean you are also the other. The ideal is a combination of both: to possess management and leadership skills. That is to say, your goal as a project manager is to possess the ability to influence and inspire others together with the ability to plan, coordinate and monitor.

2) Communication in project management

Skill in communication is a must for all project managers, especially localization project managers. Effective communication is essential to translation project success. Lack of communication or ineffective communication can lead to mismanagement, frustration within the team and “bad business.” Communication can also build or destroy trust, depending on the use of words. A simple but poorly worded message (e.g. e-mail) may result in major communication break down. On the other hand, thoughtful and respectful communication does the following things: improves the outcome of projects; removes misunderstanding and doubts; builds up trust, and promotes business.

If a localization project manager at your translation services agency is able to communicate his ideas clearly, the team members will be well informed and projects will have a higher productivity rate. On the contrary, ineffective communication will result in team members becoming frustrated and not doing their jobs properly. This situation can become exacerbated when team members are working from different global locations.


3) Negotiation in project management

The project manager’s ability to negotiate is tested in just about every aspect of the project. Negotiations must take place when our objectives to achieve certain goals are hampered. When this happens, conflict and argument may arise. Then the project manager needs to find a solution, a way to move forward. If project managers fail to resolve these conflicts, they won’t achieve their project goals. The key lies in the art of negotiation.

A good negotiator is also an effective listener. In order to be successful in negotiation, you have to be able to truly listen to other people to discover what they want. As a project manager, you need to listen to your team members to understand their needs and motivation. When dealing with customers, you need to closely listen to everything they are telling you so you can offer them a service suitable to their needs.

The project manager participates in negotiations at every stage of the project process and the way he negotiates will determine the success or failure of the project.

4) Motivation in project management

Motivation is the driving force by which people achieve their goals; it is the state or condition that activates behavior and gives it direction.

When we are motivated to do something, generally it is because we believe that by doing it we will get what we want. Motivation is a complex process since not all people are motivated by the same things.


Abraham Maslow created a pyramid which reflects human beings’ needs in five stages. On the base of the pyramid are our physical needs (food and shelter). These are followed by our needs for protection and security and then our need for affection. Towards the top of the pyramid are our needs for reputation and recognition. Finally, at the top, is our need for self-realization.

This pyramid is not a totally rigid structure: as Maslow pointed out there are people for whom self-esteem is more important than love or for whom the fulfillment of their creative needs is more important than all other needs. This pyramid provides us with a useful visual guide. It tells us, for example, that people work for needs beyond money with which to satisfy their basic needs for food and shelter. Team members also need to fulfill their social and creative needs.

A wise project manager recognizes these higher needs and uses them to motive his team. When the project manager breaks down barriers, misunderstandings, divisions and hierarchies, he begins to truly build effective teams. Teams work together effectively when they identify a common purpose. Motivated team members work well and contribute much more to project success than unmotivated team members.

5) Problem solving and decision making

The project manager needs to be able to solve problems and make decisions. The problem-solving and decision-making process stages are:

  • Define the problem
  • Identify the cause
  • Identify alternatives to solve the problem
  • Select a solution to solve the problem
  • Plan and implement the best solution
  • Control implementation of the plan
  • Verify if the problem was solved or not

All problems have the potential to disrupt projects. Solving project problems and making decisions are key abilities for the effective project manager. With these decision-making stages in mind, a localization project manager can excel at both problem solving and in making the right decisions for translation project success.

Why translation project management is essential to project success

Obviously, there are a number of places in this chain of events where communications could potentially break down, or mistakes could occur. Competent translation companies and localization project managers have processes in step to help prevent errors from occurring.

The “human factor” of a competent project manager is absolutely essential to translation project success. In some ways, the project manager acts as a “smoke detector” that senses early warning signs of deviations that can affect project budget or delivery date. In short, project management is a service as valuable to the client as the actual translation services, which are the focus of the project.

When selecting a translation company for your translation or localization project, you should ask to be introduced to your potential lead project manager.  This valuable and essential team member will be your main contact from project beginning to end.

Additional resources on project management

To further understand GPI you can help optimize input for project management on your next project, read two of our previous blogs on translation project management: Project Management for Translation Projects, Part 1 and Project Management for Translation Projects, Part 2.