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Stakeholder Management for Project Managers

Case study – The stakeholder from hell

Stakeholder Management for Project Managers
Stakeholder Management for Project Managers

Melvin was a project manager on a software development project. On a weekly basis, he reported status via a conference call with project stakeholders that were distributed around the world. The meeting was usually a formality. Melvin sent the status report the day before to all stakeholders for them review before the meeting.

Donna, the lead stakeholder was particularly difficult at times. She had a habit of taking one small detail and turning it into a big problem. Because of that, Melvin always entered this meeting with some trepidation.

In one particular status call, he reported on a requirements review meeting that had been held earlier in the week. As soon as he mentioned the meeting, Donna spoke up, “Why wasn’t I invited to that meeting?”

There was a moment of silence as Melvin considered her question. “I thought you were invited.” He replied.

Donna had found her problem. “I was not invited to that meeting! I need to be invited to any meeting where we review business requirements!” She went on for what seemed like several minutes to Melvin. When she was done, or at least paused long enough for him to reply, he apologized for the oversight. She continued to scold him for a few minutes before he continued on with his status.

After the meeting, Melvin flipped his laptop open and looked up the meeting invitation. Donna had indeed been invited to the meeting. She did not respond to the invitation, which is why it didn’t show up on her calendar.

Project stakeholder management can be a difficult aspect of project management. Some stakeholders, like Donna, can be intentionally difficult and seem almost impossible. Others may be easier to deal with. But they will almost always have high expectations.

To be successful, a project manager needs to know how to manage the stakeholders in order to manage a project.

Managing Expectations

It is important to start the project out on the right foot. This can be most effective if expectations are set with all stakeholders on the team.

For project team members, meet with the team as part of the kickoff meeting and develop a set of team norms. This is a list of self-prescribed and self-enforced rules and regulations. Some of the rules that my teams have come up with include keeping music limited to headphones at volumes others can’t hear. If the team has flexible hours, the team may establish a window of time that everyone is present so that they know when to schedule meetings.

The expectation should also be set with team members about the project manager’s accessibility, when can they call the project manager and when should they wait or send an email.

The project team should also know what to expect throughout the project. Explain the major milestones and what you hope to accomplish at each point. Changes may occur and the expectation should be set for that as well. When the changes do take effect, let the team know how you expect to deal with those changes. If there is a change management process, this is the time to explain it to them.

Business stakeholders need to know what to expect from the project as well. Meet with the key stakeholders and make them familiar with your management style. Explain to them the purpose of the project and how long it will take to accomplish everything. They should also be made aware of your change management process.

Explain to the business stakeholders how things will occur at the end of the project. Let them know how the system will be deployed and handed over to them when everything is tested and approved. Explain any training that will take place if necessary.

Some of this should be done verbally so that it can be heard personally from the project manager. Most of it should be done in writing too so that they can refer back to it and verify things they may have forgotten.

Expectation management is a big part of managing your stakeholders and making sure they are kept satisfied.

Status Reporting

Once expectations are set with stakeholders, it’s important to live up to those expectations. The project manager should establish a weekly meeting with key stakeholders early on in the project.  While major changes may not take place every week, it is important to meet to discuss any issues, risks, and other project updates. If business stakeholders begin skipping status meetings, impress upon them the importance of meeting on a weekly basis.

An effective visual way to communicate status of various aspects of the project is using the red/yellow/green (RYG, also called RAG status for red/amber/green) format. Like a stoplight, Green indicates that everything is in “Go” mode with nothing to worry about. Yellow indicates caution. This is used when events occur on a project where there is risk of going late, over budget, or there is an inability to meet certain critical requirements.

Red should be reported when project overruns occur, or if there are obstacles preventing the team from delivering any business requirements.

The important thing to remember is that status should be reported honestly. If major risks exist causing any component to be yellow or red, the project manager should have the guts to report it. A corrective action plan should be presented with the negative status to inform the business how it will be fixed.

There is often a tendency for a project manager to report the item as green and hope that the contingency plans in place will fix the problem. No one will have to be alarmed and the problem will just go away. However, if the plan does not fix the problem, it is usually a bigger issue that needs to be reported. Business stakeholders rarely like to be surprised with statuses that go from green one week to red the next. It is much better for them to have a heads-up on any issues, even if you fully intend to fix the problem.

Reporting status of a project regularly and honestly develops trust with the business stakeholders, allowing the project manager to work with them in a more productive environment.

Decision Making

The project manager has the responsibility of making many decisions. But those decisions are not made in a vacuum. Team members on the project have experience and access to front line matters that the project manager may not be privy to. Including other team members in decision making is a way to brainstorm new ideas and to include information that may not have been considered otherwise.

Additionally, including team members in decision making will be more likely to obtain their buy-in. If they feel like they helped in the decision process, they will be more likely to get behind it to prove that it is a correct decision.

The project manager must also make sure that his or her decisions don’t over step the bounds of the role. There may be decisions that the business will want to be included on. If the project manager makes a decision regarding how a requirement is implemented, the business may find out late and disagree, requiring expensive rework or even renegotiating of a vendor contract.

It is sometimes a delicate balancing act by the project manager trying to determine which decisions the business stakeholders want to be a part of. Some may be hands-off, while others may want to be part of every decision.

Learning the stakeholders’ preferences and working with them will help to develop a strong working relationship.

Creativity and a Sense of Humor

Stakeholders want to work with strong, decisive, and competent project managers. But they also want to work with a human being. Project managers sometimes come from technical backgrounds. They are more comfortable with numbers and absolute terms.

But a good project manager is also creative, coming up with unique ideas that can make a project successful. Creative ways to report status to business stakeholders can help them understand how the project is actually doing, rather than a group of statistics that can be meaningless.

A project manager with a sense of humor can also endear the business stakeholder to them as well. Business stakeholders will find it hard to deal with someone who is stiff and all business. If the project manager can make light of things and create a casual environment, the stakeholders will be more likely to enjoy being around the PM and will develop a better relationship.

While a good sense of humor is a good personal trait, the project manager should temper that with the personalities of the stakeholders. If the business culture is no-nonsense, people who don’t have patience for a lot of “messing around,” it may be better to model their attitudes rather than go out of your way to make them laugh. It can backfire and hurt your chances of developing a stronger relationship with them.


Communication may be the most important aspect of managing your project stakeholders. The basis of any strong relationship is clear, concise and honest communication.

We discussed setting expectations and reporting status clearly and honestly. These are all communication skills that will help you develop a strong relationship with stakeholders.

Additionally, a project manager needs to be willing to have difficult conversations with stakeholders. If a team member is not performing well, or has an attitude problem, it is the project manager’s responsibility to talk to that individual. The meeting should be a private, one-on-one conversation. The project manager should explain the situation and state the expectations for improvement. The team member should have an opportunity to reply, but should ultimately agree to make the requested changes.

Some project managers will put off those difficult conversations, allowing the problem to fester and get out of control. Confronting the situation early is the most effective way to deal with such issues. It usually develops a stronger relationship between the project manger and the team member.

The project manager may have to have difficult conversations with business stakeholders as well. If the stakeholder is distant or uninvolved, this creates a risk to the project that the project manager must deal with.

Having a face-to-face conversation with such as stakeholder will help to improve the situation, develop better rapport, and ultimately, develop a better relationship with the stakeholder.


Working with the various stakeholders of a project can be challenging. Some are easier to work with than others. By having strong communication skills and being a good decision maker, the project manager can develop a strong relationship that will lead to success.

How do you handle your project stakeholders?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of nokhoog buchachon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Career Management Tips for Project Managers

Career Management Tips for Project Managers
Career Management Tips for Project Managers

Worried about your career? Afraid that you’re stuck in a career rut that you’ll never get out of? You’re not alone. Millions of project managers are out there feeling the same anxiety that you feel.

Should I move on? Should I ask for more responsibility? Or should I just continue doing what I’m good at and what I’ve been doing for the past few years.

Project management is a fairly unique occupation. It is broad enough that once someone becomes a PM, it can be a fulfilling career in itself. You can remain a project manager, going on to manage larger and more complex projects for the rest of your career.

Alternatively, you could use your position as project manager as a stepping stone, leading you on to other leadership positions.

Whichever route you choose, being a project manager can be part of a long and successful career, as long as you manage four critical aspects of your career.


One of the most critical aspects of leadership is credibility. Your team needs to believe what you say. It also needs to believe in you. Every stakeholder, from the team members implementing the project to the business user you hand the project off to, looks to your leadership.

If anyone on the project questions your ability or sincerity, you begin to lose their followership. So it is important to act with confidence. The best way to act confidently is to understand as much detail as is practical. Some project managers get so deep into the weeds that they don’t have time for higher-level management tasks. Others stay hands-off and don’t know enough of what is going on.

An effective project manager knows the right balance of detail to focus on in order to maintain credibility.

A project manager should also avoiding demotivating practices. When a project manager publicly criticizes anyone on the team for poor performance or a mistake, it can derail productivity. If a team member needs to make a corrective action, the project manager should discuss it with them in private to avoid embarrassing the individual in front of others. Any criticism should be constructive and provide suggestions for improvement. The manager should also include areas in which the person excels.

Empty compliments can also reduce morale and productivity. Cheering the team on with a lot of “rah rah,” and “you guys are doing great,” may seem like a good idea. But team members can see through that. Compliments should be for specific achievements.  Everything you say should have a purpose and accomplish something. Empty praise accomplishes nothing.

Career management tips for project managers
Be a good team player

Be a good team player. Project managers expect their team members to be team players. Project managers need to be good team players too. Being a team player is about being selfless. Team players help others whether it serves their own needs or not. Their top priority is the success of the team.

One of the best ways a PM can be a good team player is to avoid micromanaging. Allow the team members to do their job and provide updates. A project manager who is a team player doesn’t always need to be right. When a team member disagrees with something you do or say, allow them to state their case. If their idea will work better, put your ego aside and do what is best for the team.

Finally, when communicating with team members, put things in their perspective. Rather than saying, “I need this done so my boss doesn’t yell at me,” tell them how completing the task makes the team more productive.

Remove obstacles. Team members on the team have their job. They often work heads down trying to get tasks completed and can often run into road blocks. Maybe there is an uncooperative 3rd party delaying a dependency that the team member’s task requires. Perhaps they need help aligning task assignments with other team members. It could be as simple as enabling communication across the project. Anything the project manager can do to help keep people from spinning their wheels sets an example of leadership and helps the team be successful.


Career Management Tips for Project Managers
Project managers have vision

It is hard for someone to reach a career destination if they don’t know where they want to go. When managing your career as a project manager, you need to establish a vision for your future.

Define a purpose. Where do you want to go? Before you go on vacation, you decide upon a destination. You need to do the same for your career. Establish an overriding goal in the long term, preferably two or more years out.

Develop a plan. Once you have a long term goal, you need a plan for getting there. When you decide on that vacation destination, you may consider multiple modes of transportation or routes to get there. You will want to do the same thing for your career. Do you want to remain a project manager for the long term, or do you want that to be a stepping stone for other career goals?

The long term goal should break down to short term goals that break down to weekly and daily tasks. That approach works great for your personal agenda. You also have to do the same for the project team.

Define and communicate the purpose for the project. The individual tasks assigned to the team members will be much more meaningful if the team members understand the overriding purpose that the tasks are for. They will understand how their presence on the project contributes to the ultimate project purpose.

Develop a plan for getting there. The project plan should be a clear roadmap for the team on how their tasks will get the project from the current state to the desired state.

Involve key people in the process. It’s one thing to establish a vision, but if you develop it in a vacuum, it may be hard to get others on board. If you get input from a core team of leaders, more people will be represented. People will be more likely to feel buy-in and your probability of success will be greater.

Stay focused. Developing a vision is not a throw away task. You don’t establish it on the first day and forget about it. The vision should be part of every meeting and every decision. It may not be mentioned, but it should be the core driver of the project team’s work. If anyone loses sight of the vision and veers off course, the project manager’s role is to remind them of the vision and pull them back on course.

Every member on the team should know that the vision represents “why are we here.” It should drive everything you and the team do and every decision that you and the team make.


Career Management Tips for Project Managers
Project managers need to be organized

The most successful project managers have excellent organizational skills. When managing their own days, they have a filing system for paper-based documents, electronic documents, and emails.

Even the smartest people can’t remember everything they read. But if they have an efficient way of accessing historical data, they can be efficient at finding anything and refreshing their memory with the actual document, instead of relying on memory or searching endlessly for documents in a pile.

Organizational skills bleed into leadership of the team too. Project managers should help others be organized. If a member of the team has trouble getting organized, it is up to the project manager to mentor them on organization skills. Teach them how to categorize, plan and prioritize.

Organization is more than just filing papers and electronic documents. For a project manager to develop in her career, she must communicate in an organized manner. Organized communication means that the team and the leadership that you report to understand what you are saying.

When you assign tasks to your team members, they need to understand specifically what you are asking them to do. When you report status to the business users, any ambiguity will put doubts in their mind about what is really happening on the project.

Time Management

Career Management Tips for Project Managers
Time management

Few project managers are successful in their career if they are unable to manage their time effectively. There is not enough time in the day to do everything you want to do. It is critical to make sure you are working on the most important tasks.

The best practice to do that is to make a to-do list every day. The tasks on that list should be driven by the project vision. Once you have identified the tasks you want to do for a day, it is important to prioritize the tasks on that list.

There are many approaches for prioritization. Some people like to number the items from 1 to N and do each one in that order. I like to categorize taks into three categories. A items are those that must be done today. B items are important to do if I finish the A-list. C items are nice to have if I finish the A and B items and still have some time. The important thing is to make sure you list out all tasks and do the most important ones first.

Monitor your time. We’ve all probably had that task that we were deeply focused on. At some point you looked out the window and it was dark outside and everybody had gone home. You lost all concept of time. It happens to everyone once in a while. But good time managers monitor how long things are taking. It’s not a matter of clock watching, but knowing how your actual progress is going compared to what you had planned is something successful project managers do as a matter of habit.

OPT – Other People’s Time: How often has this happened to you? You ask someone how long something will take. They reply with a number of hours or days. Something in your gut tells you that it smells fishy.

“How did you come up with that number?” You ask.

Their words say, “I just know how long it will take me.” But their attitude says, “Leave me alone and quit second guessing me.”

As a project manager, you may be pretty good at estimating how long something will take you to plan a task and execute it, in order to get it done on time.

You may have been doing it for so long that it comes natural to you. I actually plan brewing my morning coffee in the Keurig first, so that I can gather my lunch from the fridge while it brews.

Believe it or not, not everybody thinks like that.

Successful project managers can manage not only their own time, but they help others manage their time. Sometimes it is just a matter of helping someone to coordinate and prioritize tasks. Other times, it requires some mentoring on how to estimate, plan, prioritize, and execute tasks to help people be more efficient and effective.


Project management can be either a career destination or a route along the way to many other different career options. Regardless of the route that you choose, it is important to develop your personal skills in leadership, vision, organization and time management.

As a project manager, or in any other leadership position that you move on to, you will also need to develop your team members in each of these areas. You may want to expand your capabilities into managing more complex projects, or move into other leadership positions. If you don’t develop the people that report to you, there may not be anyone to take your place to allow you to move on.

What are you doing to develop your career as a project manager?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Images courtesy of ambro, adamr, stockimages, pakorn, and Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Project Management Planning Considerations

Project Management Planning Considerations
Project Management Planning Considerations

My wife and friends ridiculed me a few years ago for using a Microsoft Project plan when we moved. But I got the last laugh. Every detail was covered and the move went smoothly. I’m also very organized. The hooks in my garage are labelled so that each garden tool is put in the appropriate place. Okay, maybe a bit too organized.

I’ve always been organized. And I’ve always been a planner. I’ve been called anal retentive and geeky. Those terms don’t bother me. I like being organized. I like knowing where everything is when I need it.

Being an organized planner comes in handy when managing projects. Of course, there are a lot of other skills involved in order to be a successful project manager, but one of the biggest factors is the ability to plan.

According to Wikipedia, planning is the process of thinking about and organizing the activities required to achieve a desired goal. If you are managing a project. Your project objective is your desired goal. Being able to state that objective clearly enough for all stakeholders to understand is one of the first aims of the project.

Once you have that objective defined, you need to figure out how to get there. It’s like saying you want to go to Napa, California for vacation. Great. Let’s go. Do you know how you will get there? Do you know how long it will take? Do you even know where Napa, California is?

The three components of success for any endeavor are (1) the creativity to come up with a unique and usable idea, (2) the ability to execute the idea into action, and (3) the ability to sell the idea to potential investors and consumers. The second part, execution, requires detailed and competent planning in order to complete anything well.

Project management is the execution of that idea. The project manager has to implement a focused plan to get the job done. There are several project management planning considerations for the project manager to address.


When you first start a project, it’s easy to be gung-ho and chomping-at-the-bit excited just to get started. Let’s just start working. It’s like the vacation. We’re going to wine country! There will be beautiful, winding hills and lots of wine to sample. Let’s just get into the car and start heading west. What could go wrong?

You could run out of gas at Omaha. You could end up in Seattle. You could get lost, meandering around the countryside, never reaching your destination, until your vacation time runs out and you have to go back to work.

The biggest part of planning is preparation. For a long trip, you would probably determine how many miles separate your home from Napa, CA. A good planner would determine how much time and gas it takes to drive. You might look at the weather forecast and determine appropriate clothes to pack for the trip.

If it’s a long trip, you might look into other options. What are the flights available and how much do they cost? Is taking the train or a bus an option?

A project manager should prepare for a project in the same way? How much work is involved? How many people and what skills are needed? What are the options for executing this project?

Like a long trip, a project has many aspects to consider when preparing. The more things you consider, the more prepared you will be.

A Project Plan

Project Management Planning Considerations
Project Management Planning Considerations

Once you determine everything you need and the appropriate approach for your project, you need to put together a plan. Let’s say you have decided to get to Napa by driving so you can enjoy the countryside. The trip will take several days. So you map out the route you will go and make hotel reservations at appropriate distances.

A project needs to have a plan that details how the project will reach its objective. A detailed project plan will map out the tasks to complete and will identify who is responsible to complete the tasks. Periodic milestones should be identified to verify for all stakeholders whether the project is on track.

Time Management

If you take a long road trip, and you want to make the trip as much fun as the destination, you might allow extra time to see some points of interest along the way. Each day on your trip, you will plan how much time you have to reach your day’s milestone destination. You know how much time you have for other stops.

In order to stay on schedule, you know the approximate amount of time you have allowed for each stop. This allows you to see the sites you want to see, and helps you reach your milestones on time.

When managing a project, it is important to plan tasks that need to be done by day and by week. An agile project will plan sprints of 2-4 week durations. Each team member has their daily plan, which is usually posted on a wall. On more traditional projects, every team member has their work planned in a detailed project plan. The project manager will verify each person’s progress on a daily or weekly basis.

Managing the time on a project allows the project manager to plan tasks and verify whether the team members are on track for their tasks in order to stay on track with the plan.

Scope Management

Project Management Planning Considerations
Project Management Planning Considerations

On a long road trip, you have a planned destination and some planned sites along the way that you would like to stop and see. You have a week of vacation. You plan to get home on Sunday in time to go back to work on Monday.

While you’re on your way, you learn about another site you would like to visit. It’s an hour off the highway you are traveling, and it should take a day to really enjoy. If you and your family are going to fit that into your schedule, something is going to have to give. You can cut another day’s excursion out of your trip, or reduce your stay at Napa by a day. Alternatively, you could extend your trip by a day. That would get you home on Monday, causing you to spend more money and another vacation day.

Having all of your day trips and your duration at your final destination planned out allows you to make decisions. When an unplanned activity comes along, you can compare its priority to that of the planned activities. You can more easily decide whether you’d rather do the new activity and reprioritize others.

The same thinking goes for project. When you have work items planned and the business asks for new functionality, it makes decision making easier. The project is a container of X work units. The business has just asked for X+1. You can present all of the original X activities and allow them to reprioritize for the new activity. If they don’t want to deprioritize any of the activities, they have the option of extending the project if the time and budget exists. But they can’t make those decisions unless they have an original plan to compare to.

Risk and Issue Management

If you plan on taking a long trip, you probably start thinking ahead about what could happen? I could get a flat tire along the way. I’d better have all the tires checked, including the spare. I could run into some rain. I should replace the windshield wipers. There could be new highway routes, so I’ll update my GPS to make sure it has up to date information. If you plan to swim on your vacation, there could be rainy days. You may want to plan alternative activities for those days.

By taking some time to consider what could go wrong, you can take actions to mitigate it as a problem or to have alternatives.

When you manage a project, you will want to go through the same type of planning. At the beginning of the project, you should meet with a group of stakeholders to try to think about anything that could go wrong. Then you can establish a plan to avoid the risk from occurring or to have an alternative plan just in case it occurs.

Having alternative plans can help mitigate major risks on a project before they become major issues.


Project management is about more than just asking people if they are done with their assigned task. A major factor in the success of a project is the level to which it is planned and how well the plan is followed.

Preparing in advance and planning all aspects of the project ensures that things will be done on time and in the right sequence. A strong plan allows the project manager to make and facilitate better decisions with better information.

 “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” – Winston Churchill

What project management planning considerations do you address on a project?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Images courtesy of dan, artur84, and cbenjasuwan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to Facilitate Project Communication

An orchestra conductor does not play any of the instruments in a symphony. His job is to coordinate each of the musicians that do play. This is a special form of communication between the conductor and the other musicians. Additionally, the musicians need to be able to communicate with each other. And the better they communicate with each other, the more effective they are likely to be.

It’s part of almost every job description: “Strong communication skills.” But it is such a nebulous term that few really agree on what that means. The need for communication skills can differ depending on the role. And there are specific communication needs for project managers.

Project Communication Plan

project communication
Project communication plan

One of the most important documents that a project manager creates at the beginning of the project is the communication plan. This document defines who will communicate when, with whom, and how.

I usually put this together as a spreadsheet. I will list all regularly scheduled meetings including weekly status meetings, daily stand-up meetings and monthly steering committee meetings. I’ll identify who attends each meeting on a regular basis, when and where the meeting his held, and any other details about each meeting.

I will also define ad hoc communications such as how issues and risks should be communicated when they are identified. If there are standard reports or documentation that are generated by the project team, the communication plan should define how those items should be escalated.

The communication plan should also spell out where documentation is stored. Usually a central repository such as a shared drive, SharePoint, or another cloud-based tool is used. Members of the team should be made aware through the communication plan, what gets stored and where.

The communication plan can also be used to inform the team of appropriate modes of communication between team members. There are times when email is preferred. In other situations, instant messaging, texting, or some other forms are preferred.

Project Communication in Meetings

Project communication
Project communication in meetings

Being the organizer of a meeting is an important responsibility. As the organizer, you are in charge of a large block of time. A one hour meeting with ten participants uses ten collective hours. Because of this cumulative volume, managing the time of the meeting efficiently is key.

Virtually every meeting should have an agenda. The purpose of the agenda is to define the scope of the meeting. It defines what will be discussed and the order in which it will be discussed. Each person attending the meeting should go in knowing the meeting’s purpose and any information they need to be prepared to discuss.

When it is time for the meeting to begin, the meeting organizer should arrive early enough for any set-up items. This includes dialing in to a conference bridge number, setting up a screen share application, and making sure the projector works. This enables the meeting to start on time and avoid a group of people sitting, wasting time waiting for things to be set up.

Once the meeting starts, the organizer should review the agenda with the team to reinforce the scope and purpose of the meeting with all attendees. It is the meeting organizer’s responsibility to keep the meeting on track. If someone veers off topic, the organizer should pull it back in line.

Every once in a while, someone will bring up a topic that is not on the agenda, but is nevertheless an important topic. An effective tool to use is the parking lot. The parking lot is a list on an easel pad or a white board of important topics that come up that should be addressed, but are not within the scope of the meeting. If the meeting ends early, you may have time to discuss some of the parking lot items. Otherwise, a separate meeting should be scheduled to discuss them.

Finally, when all topics of the agenda have been completed and there are no parking lot items to discuss, the meeting organizer should adjourn the meeting. If it was scheduled for one hour and the agenda topics have been completed in forty minutes, the meeting should be completed rather than filling in the remaining time.

As a participant of a meeting, you are responsible for helping the meeting organizer stay on topic. This involves restricting your own conversations to the agenda. It also means helping the facilitator facilitate. If you notice someone else taking the meeting down an off-topic rabbit hole, you can help the meeting organizer by attempting to bring them back on track. Something as simple as, “That is something we should take off-line outside of this meeting,” will usually work.

Status Reporting

project communication
Project communication in the status report

Another critical responsibility the project manager has from a communication perspective is reporting status to management. Here, the project manager must switch gears from tactical to strategic.

Project managers often attempt to report what has been accomplished based on tasks on the project plan. For each task checked off as complete, the project manager is tempted to list each one in the accomplishments section of the status report.

People at the management level often don’t understand how those accomplishments translate into business value. They also may not understand how the accomplishments indicate the health and progress of the project.

This is where the project manager needs to think like the business. Refer to the project purpose in the project charter and determine what management is hoping to accomplish strategically from the project. Then, understanding the purpose at the strategic level, report the project’s progress in a way that indicates to them (a) what has been accomplished and whether the project is on track; and (b) what the accomplishments mean to them and their ability to conduct business.

Communicating status by understanding your audience and translating it to their business needs will ensure that your message is understood.

It is also essential to anticipate questions that the status audience may ask. You can’t – and shouldn’t – report every detail of the project’s progress from the past week in your status report. There are areas where the business stakeholders may want more detail. It is important to anticipate as many areas that they may be interested to have in case they ask.

Instead of presenting everything, provide a summary. When they ask you for detail, you can provide only the detail for the areas in which they are interested.

Project Communication Through Leadership

project communication
Project communication through ledership

Communication is one of the key aspects of leadership. A good leader knows how to communicate to each individual based on their personality. Additionally, a good leader can translate technical information to business people in an understandable way and translate business requirements to technical team members.

Communicating with other people is only half of it. A good leader should be able to facilitate communication among the members of the team. The project manager should enable and encourage each team member to communicate with the others. When a team member is working on a task that has a dependency, that team member should communicate his status to the dependent task owner to keep him in the loop.

A good way to facilitate communication within the team is the daily stand-up meeting. Holding a daily, fifteen-minute meeting in which everyone stands and gives a daily update on their status helps everyone on the team know everyone else’s status.


Clear, concise communication is one of the most critical skills that a project manager must possess. Project managers need to have different communication approaches based the recipient of the information. Additionally, project managers should facilitate communication among each team member to ensure that everyone communicates with each other.

How effectively do communicate with your team?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

Importance of Leadership in Project Management
The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

He managed his project like it was a finely tuned machine. One in which he could manipulate any aspect he wished with the turn of a gear or the press of a button.

The problem was that it was not a machine, finely tuned or not. It was an organism. A living thing. It breathed as much as the people who served on it.

He didn’t see it. He wanted to know estimate to complete and percentage complete. He tracked statistics and reported metrics. He believed that numbers provided the answer to any question that came up.

It was strictly a science to him.

The Art & Science of Project Management

The reality is that, while many aspects of a project are managed – and need to be managed – leadership is also required. Statistics can show trends. But people are a big piece of a project.

When people are involved, they work better being led than by being manipulated. Members of a project team are human beings with human feelings. They need a leader to motivate them. A leader should praise their successes and encourage them in failure.

The project’s business stakeholders will ask for additional functionality when the scope of a project has already been agreed upon. A rigid, scientific project manager will hold his ground and block any attempt at modifying scope. A leader works with the business stakeholders. If a change is requested, he determines the impact it would have on the project. He communicates it to the business side and works with them to come to a decision that works best for the sponsorship of the project.

When the steering committee requests information on the status of the project, a scientific project manager delivers statistics on earned value or a cost performance index. The steering committee may or may not fully understand the data, but will assume things are fine as long as the graph line is moving in a particular direction.

A leader will answer the question in terms that people can understand. Statistics and metrics may tell part of the story. But the leader has the ability to tell the back story. He can tell them whether the project is behind, why it is behind, and what is being done to bring it back on track.

Checklists vs. Process

Many project managers prefer to manage by checklist and process. Checklists come in handy to help a project manager remember the many details that need to be addressed in a given day or throughout the project.

But like a power-nailer used to build a house, a checklist is one of many tools used to manage a project. It is common for project managers to allow the checklist to drive management of the project. Checked off tasks indicate progress. The more items checked off, the more progress is made.

In reality, activities and responsibilities come up that are not on the checklist. A leader recognizes the additional events and determines how to reprioritize things to allow for the completion of important tasks.

Project managers often like to institute process. If a set of rules can be established for every situation, the project team will always know what to do without the burden of too much thought.

Like checklists and power-nailers, process is a tool. It should be used on a project when applicable. It should not replace allowing the members of the team to think and make decisions for themselves.

Good people should be hired that are smart enough and capable enough to make decisions on their own. If a team member has to follow process or escalate a decision to a manager whenever a situation occurs, the project is affected negatively. Productivity will be reduced, morale will decline, and the likelihood of project success is diminished.


One of the most noticeable influences that leadership has on a project is its impact on productivity. When a project manager sets manipulative management practices aside and focuses on leadership skills, productivity wins.

We already discussed the impact that allowing project team members to make decisions has on productivity. A leader also creates incentives for team members to complete tasks. Instead of ordering, coercing, and threatening team members to complete their tasks “or else,” a leader collaborates with the team to help them complete their tasks.

Instead of providing snippets of tasks with information on a need to know basis, a leader creates a vision of the project. The leader helps the team to visualize successful completion. He makes each team member a stakeholder with a vested interest in the success of the project.


While a project manager who focuses on management is merely a conduit to information, a leader creates relationships. Leaders provide as much information as managers. But the leader also takes the time to develop relationships with every stakeholder on the project. This creates a bond of trust that the manager may never know.

The leader works as a collaborator with the project team members. When a team member faces an obstacle, the leader gets involved to help remove it. The leader is not necessarily the team member’s friend. But he is a trusted member of the team that each team member knows will support the team when support is needed.

The leader develops relationships with the business stakeholders as well. The business team knows that the leader project manager will provide honest visibility. If the project is behind, the leader is transparent about it. When the leader is trusted, the business knows he is telling them the truth, rather than what they want to hear.

The leader as coach and mentor

The leader has more than just completion of the project in mind. A leader takes an interest in the personal development of each team member. He meets with them regularly in one-on-one sessions to make sure that they are growing and learning on the project.

The leader knows that they may work on projects together again in the future. He knows that if they are dissatisfied and not growing, they can easily move on to a job that will provide greater fulfillment.

The leader will mentor each individual team member in a way that is customized for each person’s ability to learn. Project success is based partially on each team member growing throughout the duration of the project.

Decision making

The managing project manager makes decisions based on metrics, politics, and how it will affect the project budget and deadline. The leader always has those factors in mind, but also considers how the decision will affect other stakeholders and aspects of the project.

If a decision will affect morale, that will be taken into account. If the decision causes changes that will affect the business, they will be considered as well.

The leader project manager knows when it is appropriate to make a decision on his own and when to include others. He knows when the business needs to be involved so that they have buy-in. He knows to collaborate with the team members so that they feel that they are part of the decision.

The leader is more interested in getting the right decision than being the one to make the decision.


Perhaps one of the most contrasting characteristics between the manager and the leader is creativity. A manager sees decision making as largely black and white. Most decisions are “no brainers” because they are largely based on budget and timeline.

The leader looks at things a little more creatively. Instead of rushing to the earliest and easiest decision, the leader considers many options. The leader looks for win-win scenarios rather than zero-sum.

The leader will collaborate in an attempt to negotiate an agreeable solution rather than force a practical decision focused only on his own project objectives.


Probably the most salient skill that makes a leader more successful than a manager is his ability to communicate. The way a project manager writes an email, delivers a status report, facilitates a meeting, and makes a request, are all components of good communication.

If a leader can convey an idea to someone that didn’t understand it before, that is good communication. If a project manager can call a group together for a meeting and lead them in sync to identify and resolve an issue, that is a good communicator.

A strong leader has the ability to communicate in a clear and succinct manner. When a project manager has a one-on-one conversation with someone, he makes eye contact, puts all devices and other distractions aside, and gives that person his full attention.

Listening is often the forgotten communication skill. People are judged on their communication skills based on what is coming out. But the way they listen and process what other people communicate is a critical aspect of communication.


Project management is a difficult job. There is a myriad of small details to coordinate, budget considerations, and deadlines to meet. It is easy to fall into the rut of focusing on the scientific aspects to meet all of the tangible goals. But the project manager that understands the importance of leadership in project management produces more successful projects and more successful people in the long run.

How well do you focus on the importance of leadership in project management?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net