It’s not uncommon to hear from worried Project Managers (PMs) that although they are held accountable for the success of their project, they aren’t given the necessary authority to control it. They say their Sponsors are no-where to be seen and their stakeholder support ranges from ambivalence to hostility. These PMs believe they are powerless to perform the responsibilities they’ve been assigned and ask for advice. My advice?…Stop allowing yourselves to be victims and build your project authority by beginning with taking control of yourself.
Experience has shown me that most PMs that claim to be “powerless” really do have the necessary talent to enable them gain the influence and control that they seek. They are only as powerless as they allow themselves to be. In my opinion, the notion of the “Powerless Project Manager” is a myth. This blog post offers a few suggestions for PMs on how they can avoid, or perhaps recover from, being a victim of powerlessness.
I suppose I should start by admitting that those of us who have chosen project management as a career, have done so, at least in part, because we have an inherent need to be in control of things. In return for the privilege of having project control, we are willing to take on the heavy responsibility and accountability for project success. Legitimate project control and authority, isn’t positional, that is, it isn’t given to you when you get the Project Manager title. You must earn it by demonstrating to the Project Stakeholders that you have the knowledge, good judgment, character and leadership skills to make the project and everyone associated with it successful. So, if you’re pursuing a Project Management career because you want to be in control, be the kind of leader that you’d want to follow.
Here are a few suggestions for building legitimate project influence and control authority.
• Know and Trust Yourself. Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses and knowing when, and how, to leverage them with the strengths of others on your team is emotional intelligence. It’s a critical leadership competency and a powerful self-confidence builder. Understanding and believing in yourself is a necessary first step in gaining influence and control authority you require to successful lead all of the other project elements.
• Build an Effective Relationship with Your Project Sponsor. Project Sponsors are responsible to the business for authorizing the project itself and for empowering and supporting you, the Project Manager. Your authority to execute the project comes from them and you must hold them accountable for making it clear to all Project Stakeholders that you are empowered to make decisions, set priorities and direct the allocation of resources related to your project. Meet with your Sponsor before the project starts to establish a set of mutual expectations. Agree on, and document, in a Project Charter, your mission, goals, and you resource control and decision authority. If you don’t feel that you have been adequately empowered to make decisions, or you are concerned about passive or uncooperative stakeholders, then make sure that the Sponsor knows that, and that both of you agree on taking immediate corrective actions.
• Build Effective Relationships with Matrix Organization Managers. If you are leading a project in a matrix organization environment, although you own the project, the people, equipment and facilities you need to execute it are “owned” by Functional Managers. By building relationships with those Functional Managers, so that you understand their needs and concerns and they understand yours, you will reduce the risk of resource conflicts that impact your project, or at least make them easier to resolve when they do occur.
• Build Relationships With Your Key Project Stakeholders. The term Stakeholder implies a person who has a vested interest in the success of the Project. If they are true stakeholders then, they should also have a vested interest in your success as the Project Manager. Do the best that you can to understand what their interests are and work to integrate those interests into your Project Plan and the processes you will use to execute to the plan. Keep them informed. That doesn’t mean they will always be happy, but the more open and honest you are with them, the more likely they will be to be supportive of your project needs.
• Know and Be Engaged With Your Project Team Members. You earn you the privilege of having control and authority over your team by gaining their trust and respect. Communicate with them honestly, and frequently. Get to know them as people…their strengths and weakness, what fulfills them, what pisses them off, and what scares them. You must do this in addition to the managing the mechanics of the project management process. It takes time and it isn’t easy, but it’s necessary for you to consistently demonstrate to your team that you care about them as well as the execution of the project.
As you can see, I believe that gaining and maintaining legitimate project control and authority is all about the art of project management. Certainly the science of Project Management as embodied in the PMBoK and other standards, but it’s the art of leadership that enables PM’s to earn, own and exercise the control and authority to successfully plan and execute their projects.