Power, Politics, and Providing for a Project: Part 2

Trust Building between Stakeholders and the Project Team Is a Powerful Asset

In Part One of my article on power, politics, and providing for a project, we looked at two areas of importance: the project’s charter and the communications plan. I’d like to continue the conversation by outlining specific suggestions for building trust between stakeholders and project team members.


Eight Tips for Building Trust

  1. Interactive communication is still the best form of communication. Be present and available to your stakeholders and team.
  2. Be a good listener by concentrating on what is being told you. Effective listening includes asking questions to clarify what is being said or asking for examples. If still in doubt, paraphrase what the speaker said to be sure that you understand what he/she meant. Using non-verbal listening techniques like making eye contact, being expressive and alert, and using body language to show emotion and agreement will increase the value of a two-way conversation.
  3. Tap into the potential of the stakeholders (and others) because they usually have value to add to the project. Practicing this is a win-win combination for you and leaves them feeling pretty good, too. For example, ask for assistance in reviewing a test plan, a memo, or an idea.
  4. When you are wrong, admit it! This can change the mood from one of confrontation to collaboration. Remember, being stubborn only builds walls (not bridges) between people.
  5. If you have bad news to deliver, don’t put it off. When you do break the news, be sensitive to your listeners and have an action plan in hand to deal with any major issues. In short, the PM needs to be an honest broker of information to be able to salvage the worst of projects.
  6. Treat others as you would like to be treated. It shows respect for the individual. Don’t be blinded by the ease of these words – there is precious treasure (or Golden Rule) here!
  7. Saying “thank you” can go a long way in gratifying people and getting their support. It’s a short, but very potent statement!
  8. Be strategic when you go to coffee or lunch. Invite a stakeholder or team member. You’ll get to know each other in an informal setting and generate a better working relationship.

Communications management includes your plans for handling your project’s change requests, risks, and quality. Always remember that quality is providing a product that satisfies the customer and covers a broad area such as function, cost, minimal defects, being dependable, good level of service, being competitive and so on.


Final Thoughts on Navigating Project Politics

This topic has covered the importance of effective communications (especially listening) in a project. PMI states that up to 90% of a PM’s time should be spent on internal and external communications, so failure to effectively accomplish this goal will definitely have adverse effects on project performance. Many surveys have shown that ineffective communications is the number one cause of project failures. Obviously, effective communications is required between the PM, sponsor, stakeholders, and project team to help increase your chances of being successful.

Another aspect of effective communications is conflict management. The important thing to remember is that conflicts can’t be left to fester and increase. A PM must be on the outlook for issues and activate a strategy to deal with them. Bring patience and respect, use a problem solving approach, and construct an agreement that works to the satisfaction of the stakeholders and other team members without creating new conflicts.

As we all know change is a constant happening all the time in an evolving project. The charter is usually like the tip of an iceberg, with the other 90 percent of the project lurking underwater and unfolding over time (e.g., new people will emerge who may affect the project’s goals/approaches and chances for success). Always remember that we are all in this together – coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, and working together is success.


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Written by Ronald Smith
Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication. From 2011 - 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.
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1 Comment
  1. Ronald, great job, once again. You list very solid recommendations that are effective.

    One thing I would like to add is that it takes years to build trust with a person and it may take only one inadvertent communication to loose all the trust again. This is an important lesson, I teach my daughters. In a professional environment, it is equally important, I think.


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