Be Nice!

It’s one of the most frustrating issues that a project manager can face – everyone is working hard to achieve a seemingly impossible project milestone, but there is one stakeholder that is disengaged or unwilling to commit themselves to the required work. 
In those circumstances where the project manager is vested with formal authority, they could act decisively in the best interests of the project, but in most cases they will need to use influence instead of direct action.
It’s very easy for the project manager to get defensive, take the situation personally and let it affect their productivity or work-life balance.

A combination of the following techniques may help to resolve the situation.

  1. Apply Stephen Covey’s Habit 5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  While this may not be material to the desired outcome, understanding what might be driving the negative behavior could provide you with alternatives.  Meet with the individual to gain this understanding, and then ensure that they are aware of the perceptions they are creating and the impacts to the project, the organization AND themselves.
  2. Do your homework.  Analyze the impacts of the behavior on the team and towards the end result – what’s the worst case and best case scenario?  If this behavior is chronic and is not specific to just your project, it’s quite possible that the project team members have developed tried and true workarounds.  In such cases, ask yourself the question “Is this battle worth fighting?”.
  3. Isolate the behavior.  Negative vibes can become infectious, so do what you can to shield the rest of your team from the impacts of the behavior.  One attribute of an effective project manager is that they are able to remove hurdles from the team’s progress and that could mean running interference between them and this individual.
  4. Be water, my friend.  No matter how hard the barrier, water is able to find its way around or eventually wear down resistance.  Don’t own this burden yourself – if your team agrees with your concerns about the impacts of the stakeholder’s behavior, brainstorm with them to come up with alternate paths.
  5. Escalate effectively.  Assuming you have not developed a reputation for “crying wolf”, a good test of project governance is whether real action is taken when a PM escalates a risk or issue.  Focus on communicating the objective impacts of the behavior and avoid anecdotal evidence.  Position the dialog as helping your sponsor or steering committee help you to achieve their expected project benefits.

The Serenity Prayer should be on the office walls of all project managers (regardless of their faith or beliefs), but the following quote from Road House is more appropriate to this situation: “I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.

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