“Politics of a Project” – Project Manager Tips

“Politics of a Project” – Project Manager Tips

Ever have a project that could be of great benefit to the company, but you can’t seem to get it off the ground because of a group of unhappy people?  I like to call these folks “unhappies”.  Every company has them and they seem to be able to instigate negative behavior just by walking into a room. They are never happy unless something is their idea or they somehow get the credit, even though they are masters at dodging work. All of us wish these people would magically decide to quit; but that never happens and the likelihood of them being fired is slim to none. The unfortunate reality is that project managers have to win over unhappies or wield enough power to silence them. From my experience, the latter never happens because project managers have about as much power as the Secretary General of the United Nations. It may seem like a powerful position to be a project manager, however, you often have to work with those that are above your station or have more political power than you. You must somehow persuade people to do the right thing…hence the comparison to the United Nations. If you are interested in how to persuade these power brokers, you should read the story of Kofi Annan titled The Best Intentions.

Anyway back to the unhappies … the first step to converting an unhappy is to identify them. Most unhappies are out in the open and everyone knows them, but there are unhappies lurking in places that you would never suspect – these are the ones that are the most dangerous. A covert unhappy might do everything in their power to undermine the success of the project simply because they were not chosen as a leader. A project manager has to be a student of people watching to be able to spot the covert unhappy to be made into an ally. This might take some maneuvering or manipulation (pick whatever word makes you comfortable) but be assured that you have got to get control of the covert unhappy.

After you have identified and laid plans for converting the covert unhappy, you now have to work on fence-riders.  These are the people that can go either way on a project. They can be a project evangelist or one of the unhappies. I picked the word “evangelist” because one of its definitions is an enthusiastic advocate, which is a dream come true for a project manager. If you get to a fence-rider first and find a way to make he/she feel important, then you are well on your way to making a few “Jimmy Swaggers” – okay, minus personal life scandals.  Fence-riders may help a project manager by convincing others that the project is a good idea. Moreover, fence-riders turned project evangelist have creditability that a projects manager may lack. Project evangelists defend the project in the absence of the project manager. Conversations at lunch, the coffee maker and even in the restroom all make undercurrents; therefore; a well placed project evangelist can ensure that these undercurrents don’t turn into deadly waves.

The fact is, every company is a society of personalities. Each class within that society has a trait that can be beneficial to a project manager if they are astute enough to identify and leverage each. It may appear that this post is about how to manipulate people and move them around like chess pieces and in a way you are right. If you are really honest with yourself, you know that companies don’t always operate in a meritocracy.  How many times have you seen someone promoted over a much more deserving person? How many times have companies bypassed doing the right thing for the easy thing? I could go on and on but I won’t because what I am saying is a good project manager is a great politician and an even better tactician!

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