Perception Project management and the influence on outcomes
Seasoned project managers may have encountered this, and those just starting out in the game will definitely need to come to grips with it. That is the reality and challenges faced with project delivery and managing stakeholders. Being a project leader, there has to be a level of understanding on how to influence a project outcome both upwards and outwards.
What this really means in a fast paced dynamic environment is the ability as project professionals to use skill and experience to influence positive outcomes directly linked to how well they have been able to engage and influence others within an organization.
There are many articles relating to the different type of stakeholders which will be encountered during your project management journey. The traits they exhibit, as this will be different between stakeholders who have been involved in many projects and are seasoned, and those who have only just delved into the situation. Regardless on the maturity of the stakeholders experience or how they have been engaged, there is a question as project professionals need to ask themselves, how influential am I or can I be in this organisation?
The ability to be influential at both an individual and group level is a critical part of either delivering successful projects or leading wayward ones out of the wilderness. A factor to consider is if the PMO leaders aren’t at the steerco, there may well be a perception at C-level about its ability to be effective. If the executive believes that the PMO has become a gatekeeper rather than an enabler, it may be time to reflect on just how influential its leaders actually are within an organization.
There’s a truth for project leaders that requires ego to be set aside: In projects, perception is reality. A project management office, for example, will only remain valued and valuable when it is perceived by stakeholders to be a safe pair of hands that are contributing to the business’s ability to deliver successful projects. The same holds true for project managers.
Being able to influence outcomes requires strong relationships with stakeholders and people within the organization so that when the need for robust and straight-talking conversations come, and this will be a fact for anyone who has had to manage large budgets or very tight time frames or both. Then the foundation has to be laid previously for those tough, brave-smart conversations.
A tip here would be don’t wait until a project has started to seek out conversations with stakeholders and don’t be afraid to seek out the opportunity to connect and build a working relationship with people who will be owning the work. It’s not enough to aspire to be influential; building relationships takes time and effort to get to know the stakeholders, what drives them, and what matters to them. Being able to engage and communicate becomes much easier after that. This is insight that becomes incredibly valuable when things are going well and critical when things start to go awry.
Minimizing the gap between the desire to be influential and the stakeholder’s perceptions should be the goal before the project gets going. There is little value for anyone trying to influence a stakeholder in the heat of battle when a poor perception of what project leaders bring to the table already exists, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong.
Having the ability to be influential is almost an art which first requires a reality check about your current standing in a project or organization and how possible it is to gain both access and opportunity to engage with stakeholders. Understanding your own mission statement as to the perception that you want stakeholders to have is particularly important here:
- Do you want to be the ‘safe pair of hands’?
- Do you want to be an advisor that stakeholders come to for guidance on how to set up a successful project rather than having to inject yourself—unsolicited—into the project when you see issues?
- Do you want to be the trusted voice in the room when war has broken out and a decision needs to be made to remediate or kill off a project?
These are all great aspirations, but they won’t become reality if you aren’t able to properly position yourself within an organization as someone who is capable of delivering.
Being social, this may go against the grain, as not all of us are natural at being social. Just taking the time to meet the people in and around the project you are joining is valuable for understanding what they need and expect from your role. Especially in terms of time, communication, expectations and raising issues. This is crucial to understanding what works for them and what doesn’t, and it will enable you to form a picture of your stakeholders.
Acknowledging their perceptions are actually their reality and their concerns about what needs to change are important. Demonstrating your willingness to provide value is important but so is understanding that the stakeholder may have expectations of you and your role that are not within your capabilities to provide.
This is the opportunity to flag that and do something about it. The goal is either to shift perceptions of what you do and don’t do or build a case to provide those capabilities where it makes sense. Either way establishing a rapport and a clear understanding of what you bring to the table is critical.
There are always going to be people within an organization that have gravitas and insight and if you watch how they operate, there is a lot to be learned about how they use their position to influence both stakeholders and their project teams. It would be beneficial to spend some time with them. More often than not, there are deep insights and knowledge to be gained by asking the right questions about how they view the issues they deal with, what they see as the real and superficial challenges, and how they have developed their ability to influence.
The important thing is to observe is how they are motivated to serve the project as well as what they bring to the table that captures the attention of their stakeholders. This insight will be beneficial not only in the current project and organization but as you move through your project journey. Let us know if you believe perception in project management exists, and how it is managed.