The 10 Books Every Project Manager Should Read

Guidance to Help You Manage Projects Effectively

Among the mountains of books that have been published for managers, we have selected 10 books that every project manager should read. They aren’t project management books (but here's a great list of project management books if that's what you are after). The themes include leadership, problem-solving, communication, psychology and success – all subjects that will help make you more effective managing projects.

Some of these books were published decades ago, some are more recent, but regardless, the wisdom and experience discussed in these books will help you stay abreast of managing your resources.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Businessman looking at graphs and charts on glass wall in office
Martin Barraud/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Topics covered: Leadership, teamwork

As the book starts off with a 'fable,' the foundations of the story are clearly laid out and you push on out of curiosity to see how the CEO solves awkward and difficult people issues. The author made up a situation in a tech start-up and uses it to illustrate his points on leadership. The focus of the story lies in the team, showing that how vital it is for individuals in a team to complement each other with their work attitude and skills – an equally important skill for project managers.

Why we recommend it: "The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first.” Kathryn, CEO of DecisionTech demonstrates this. Even without prior experience leading a technology company, she was able to spot the core problem and bring a failing business back on its feet.

Good to Great by Jim Collins

Topics covered: Leadership

Using 11 companies that made it from good to great as examples, this is an insightful book covering leadership across every aspect of running a company. Be it a young company or a well-established one, Good to Great has tips on where to begin, how to be resourceful and how to grow.

Why we recommend it: You will see a lot of references to the ‘Level 5 leadership’ and that is of executive level. Level 1 is a highly capable individual, level 2 is a contributing team member, level 3 is a competent manager, level 4 is an effective leader. This book will explain each level, how to know which level you are in, and how to move up from there.

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton

Topics covered: Communication

This book was published nearly thirty years ago but stays relevant to the current world. That is because it provides timeless advice for the art of persuasion. Managers might be at the top of the chain, but when an argument or disagreement sets in, it’s always to the manager and the company’s advantage to work out a solution with the employee.

Why we recommend it: Filled to the brim with situations and solutions, making the book easy to comprehend. Example tip: 'When it comes to personal attacks, threats or fake facts, it is easier to defend principle than an illegitimate tactic. Don’t let yourself be a victim.’

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Topics covered: Leadership

Also more than a decade old, this book is useful for leaders to handle difficult human resource situations without causing resentment. Step-by-step advice on how to behave that would attract the type of attention that you need to plow your business to greater heights.

Why we recommend it: The book’s content is categorized into 12 principles. For example, principle 1 is ‘don’t criticize, condemn or complain,’ principle 2 is ‘give honest and sincere appreciation,’ principle 3 is ‘arouse in the other person an eager want,’ principle 4 is ‘be a good listener, encourage others to talk about themselves’ and principle 5 is ‘talk in terms of the other person’s interests.’

Think Like A Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Topics covered: Problem solving

Think Like A Freak does not directly address any managerial issues, but rather takes a step back to discuss how it is possible to use these methods to solve problems, which you use to apply it to day to day managerial purposes.

Why we recommend it: It draws links from seemingly unrelated examples to emphasize on the flexibility of problem-solving skills. One of our favorite parts of the book is about using the 419 Nigerian e-mail scam as an example to illustrate the concept of false positivity and how the scammers use their tactics to eliminate false positive chances of them earning any money from the victims. They are not interested in the ones who can spot their e-mails as scams. By peppering their scams with terrible grammar and insane stories, they only hear back from the gullible, who eventually becomes their victims.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Topics covered: Leadership, productivity, time management.

This book has been on project managers’ shelves since 1990. After 25 years, it’s still one of the most recommended books for leaders.

Why we recommend it: The seven habits that Covey proposes are: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek first to understand then to be understood, ​synergize and sharpen the saw. As he explains, you will see how these habits can form to make an average Joe more productive, more trustworthy and more accomplished.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and Arthur Pell

Topics covered: Success, personal transformation

This is a personal favorite. Every successful business needs to generate revenue and profitability. But that must start with a solid foundation of the person driving the company. This is where this book steps in. By overcoming the issues covered by the authors, you would be able to step up your game and manage your own personal growth to get you to the project management career of your dreams.

Why we recommend it: The survey at the end of the book helps you see where you stand. Be prepared to truthfully answer questions such as ‘Why do you tolerate your greatest worry?’ and ‘Which do you value most, your material possessions, or your privilege of controlling your own thoughts?’

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Topics covered: Communication, leadership

This book brings influence to the discussion table, more specifically along the lines of the weapons of influence, reciprocation, commitment, consistency, social proof, liking authority and scarcity.

Why we recommend it: When we make up our minds about something or someone, we don’t take in all available information, but only focus on and use one isolated piece of information. That is what is being used to influence a person or a situation into what you want it to become. This book will help you see through your limitations and guide you along the more effective path.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Topics covered: Leadership

According to this book, all well-known and influential leaders started out with one word, "Why?” Focusing mainly on a natural pattern of thinking, it leads you into the topic of leadership, trust, challenges and discovery.

Why we recommend it: What makes someone good in leadership? By breaking down the trait, starting with ‘why,’ knowing ‘how,’ understanding ‘why,’ grasping ‘how,’ and finally ‘what,’ you will be able to track the growth of leadership and replicate it the right way.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Topics covered: Psychology

For those with a little more time on their hands and want to get to the root of learning about how your project team members think, this is the book for you. Focusing on both intuitive and logical thinking, you will learn what to expect from yourselves and others according to various situations.

Why we recommend it: An example of a piece of content the book has: Do you trust a professional who claims to have an intuition? Their answer is that the intellectual agreement is more important than the emotional perception. Therefore, it is more rewarding to measure the professional's experience to determine the intuition’s accuracy.

Patricia Goh works as a product specialist at Ganttic. Read her full bio here.