“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.”
― George MacDonald
Project management is driven by decisions. Every decision a project manager makes has an impact, some small, some large, on their people, resources, project, and the environment. One must trust that everything they are doing is in the best interest of the project and the company. It should be recognized these decisions are often with imperfect information, within constraints, and under the pressure of achieving the objective. What criteria are we using to decide? In this environment, rumors can easily take root.
As with any relationship, ‘cautionary’ trust is given blindly at first. “They were assigned as project managers, so management must trust them. So, I will.” We will present the need to build and sustain the trust the team has in you, the project manager, and the trust you have in the team.
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“Trust starts with truth and ends with truth.”
― Santosh Kalwar, Quote Me Everyday
Tell the truth, don’t hide bad news. Telling the truth is hard. Why? Because we all want to be liked. We think if we tell someone the truth then we will be upset or angry or be ugly to us. In a previous article, Project Management is Not a Popularity Contest, we mention that it is possible to be popular = liked if people trust you. The truth is telling the truth can receive a negative response and sometimes need to be said anyway. Most people will respect you for being truthful with them, even if they don’t like what you said.
North Carolina state motto is “esse quam videri” which translates “to be rather than to seem.” We have worked at places where it seems the management operates from the “to seem rather than to be.” The reporting on the state of the project or any endeavor can only be positive. A book that provides good examples (funny and sad) from William Lutz, Doublespeak. If the organization has such a culture, this will likely influence the project reporting or will be rough on the project manager as they buck the culture of the organization.
Organizations are hives of rumors, including project environments. A project manager must address rumors, honestly, as they are brought to their attention. Allowing rumors to circulate in the project environment can be deadly – to the project, project manager trust, and the organization. Even if a rumor is true, the project manager has to address it to the entire team. Some project managers like to gather the team together to discuss rumors, but that is not always possible.
When the situation does not allow for gathering, an email is acceptable. We should remember that emailing is not communicating. An email has both pros and cons. The main pro is you can include the team, the stakeholders, and your management. The con is the email is in writing. The email can come back to haunt you later – depending on your message and the truth, or limit of the truth of the rumor.
“Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
― Stephen R. Covey
From day one of our project manager careers, we hear, “communication, communication, communication.” Even doing it every day we don’t always get it right. Sometimes we over-communication (too much information), other times we under-communicate (not enough information), and other times people look at us like we speak a different language
- Say what you are going to do, then do it. Idiom – Actions speak louder than words.
- In the project plan is a Communication Plan. To build trust, execute the plan. Do what it says to do. This also applies to the RACI chart.
A tip: See if team members will either take on their own or if the company will pay for Certified Associate of Project Management (CAPM®PMI). CAPM training focuses on Terms and documents of project management. Helps the team understand what the project manager is talking about. Speaking the same language helps build relationships.
Once in a great while, a change is made to the project, the team and the project manager get really upset. This could be a funding issue or a cut in the schedule. Allow the emotions to flow. It is good to let yourself and the team emotionally react, at least briefly. It is important to not suppress these feelings. Scream, cuss if you must (if cussing is part of your project norms), take a deep breath, and move on. Once in the middle of the afternoon my project received news that the funding was cut, the project was dead, and we were directed to start closing. My team took it a little hard for various reasons. After allowing for some discussion, I took the team out for ice cream. We all need a break, so we took one. Of course, that was before pandemic days.
Our experience is that teams who trust that the project manager is truly treating them fairly, supporting their actions & work, never lie to them, and never hiding from them, will walk through fire for that project manager. We see it time and again where team members step up to put the success of the project above all, even personal things.
Steve’s favorite story: The project needed an engineer to travel to verify a piece of equipment before shipping it to the client. The engineer fought with me over traveling. Finally, I got him to open up about not wanting to travel. Once I knew what was needed, I gave the engineer the afternoon off (w/pay) to take care of personal business. The engineer got on the plane the very next morning. Called me that afternoon to say the equipment passed verification but there were a few adjustments he wanted to make before shipping to the client. I told him whatever he needed to do. I trusted him to document any changes.
Did he want to stay another day to make the changes? On his own, he got the manufacturer to commit a second shift to him, and they would work through the night (if necessary) to be able to ship first thing the next morning – holding the project schedule. The next morning the engineer called to say the equipment was on the truck and he was heading to the airport. He said he would see me in the morning. I told him to take tomorrow off, it was a Friday, and I would see him Monday. I took heat from my boss for approving such activity and he tried a few ways to make me feel ‘bad.’ I just kept saying the team met the schedule. After talking with the client, I told my boss they were happy, and it did not cost ANYONE one cent extra. What else do you want? Also, I took my team out for ‘End of Project’ lunch on my dime, not the project funds.
Projects are executed by people, and they have lives outside the project. Showing empathy and compassion helps build a trusting relationship.