For small projects, the project manager may work alone, whilst larger projects might require a dedicated project team. Whether the project manager leads a team or not, other people will inevitably be involved in the project, and the project manager may have to depend on many contributors, supporters, customers and suppliers to ensure the success of the project.
The project manager needs to therefore ensure that attention is given throughout the project to both the technical aspects of the project and the relationships that underpin it.
A project manager must:
- Manage and direct a team to solve the initial problem.
- Establish and maintain a collaborative relationship with stakeholders.
- Gain commitment from stakeholders to support the problem solving and solution implementation process.
In his book Flawless Consulting, Peter Block suggests that the most powerful thing that you can do to create leverage and build a stakeholder commitment is to be authentic. This means putting into words what you are experiencing when interacting with stakeholders.
We kid ourselves when we ‘manage’ our stakeholders; they sense manoeuvring and manipulation. Remember, we are operating within a corporation with politically astute stakeholders. The moment that stakeholders sense that they are being steered in a direction that they don’t want to go by a ‘clever’ project manager, they lose trust in the project manager, resulting in loss of leverage and loss of stakeholder commitment. Be authentic, and always tell the truth. Put another way, learn the difference between being good and being nice, because as the saying goes, nice guys (and girls) finish last…
For example, if your stakeholders are saying that they and their staff are too busy and should not be interrupted because they are under considerable pressure, an inauthentic approach would be to apologise for the intrusion and attempt to continue with the project without their help. This ‘nice guy’ approach will get you nowhere. In fact, if you need their help, you’ll be the one turning out the lights, long after they have all gone home for the evening.
An authentic approach would be to suggest that you are worried that they are treating the project as a low priority and that if it genuinely is an interruption, the project should be delayed until a more convenient time.
There is a risk that the meeting may deteriorate at this stage, however your genuine enthusiasm to solve the problem coupled with your authenticity will earn you respect from people who are themselves behaving in a genuine and authentic way.
In fact, if the meeting breaks down, it is a sure sign that the team is not actually under pressure, and they are reacting negatively to the fact that you weren’t dissuaded by their smokescreen.
If the team reacts openly to your authentic approach, you can be assured that their pressure is genuine, and they will certainly appreciate your collaborative offer to renegotiate project deliverables or deadlines.