PPP98: Four Books Every Project Manager Should Read

“Project management is a hybrid occupation.” – Michael S. Dobson

Vector of library book shelf background.

The statement above is so true. As Dobson states, being a Project Manager requires both technical and people skills. Our technical skills don’t necessarily need to include computers and software, but rather the very tactical and specific skills we learned in whatever field we started in before or as we bridged to Project Management. The people skills or “soft skills” include being able to talk to people, build relationships, handle our emotions and more.

PPP98: Four Books Every Project Manager Should Read

In this week’s episode, ‘PPP98: Four Books Every Project Manager Should Read’, I share four books that have influenced me and helped me round out my technical PM skills as well as become a better person and leader of people. Below are the quick notes from the episode.

Book 1: Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

  • This is a telling of the Battle of Gettysburg and was required reading before I took my Incident Management Team (IMT) staff ride. There are many strong examples of leadership and many areas for improvement in decision making throughout the book and as reflected in the real life battle. Below are a couple of the leadership takeaways I share. I also did a full podcast episode about this as my 10th ever podcast episode, BTS10: Leadership Lessons from Gettysburg and Beyond
    • PM Leadership Takeaways:
      • Practice adaptability like Maj. General Buford
      • Don’t forget the ‘time wedge’ like Lt. Gen Ewell did
      • Strive to be ‘imperturbable’ like Gen. In Chief Grant was

Book 2: Tribe by Sebastian Junger

  • This book highlights the nature of humanity in the worst of times. Like projects, Junger shares stories about captive settlers returning to their Native American captors because of a better community environment and how some in combat see the worst of times while others see their experience as the best of times.
    • PM Leadership Takeaways:
      • Build a community within the project team that makes teammates want to stay
      • Remember that everyone’s experiences differ, some love the project, others despise it

Book 3: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

  • This book, the Jocko Podcast and the Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual have had a major influence on my personal and professional life. As the title states, I’ve worked to take ‘extreme ownership’ of all things within my project, good and bad. Sometimes, as I explain in this episode, I take on too much. I highly suggest this book and share the items below as a primer.
    • PM Leadership Takeaways:
      • Remember there are no bad teams, only bad leaders so be the leader that helps your team excel
      • Don’t take extreme ownership too far or you can disable, not enable your team
      • Think of the ‘4 laws of combat’ to cover and move for your team, keep it simple, prioritize and execute the work and decentralize command and allow your subject matter experts (SMEs) to make decisions

Book 4: Streetwise Project Management by Michael S. Dobson

  • This is the most directly applicable book for Project Managers and I first started reading it in 2004-2005 as I had early aspirations to manage projects. Dobson’s book provides truly ‘streetwise’ tips as well as some practical, PMBOK-like guidance on making project successful.
    • PM Leadership Takeaways:
      • Project Management is a hybrid occupation, so balance your technical skills with your ability to lead and encourage people
      • Run meetings well to dispel assumptions that all meetings are ‘bad’ as a natural state
        • Key tips for successful meetings include holding them at the right frequency, having the right audience, focusing on the essentials and following the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Short and Simple)

Thank you again for reading this and listening to the podcast.

Please leave a review on Apple Podcasts or your preferred platform and share with others you think may benefit from this and other episodes of the podcast.

Stay safe, wash your hands and Godspeed,


Kevin Pannell, PMP | Creator & Host, ‘People, Process, Progress’ and ‘Up In The Morning’ podcasts | Connect and subscribe at https://linktr.ee/peopleprocessprogress | Twitter & Instagram: @hokiesquid

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