The Complete Project Manager – Political Skills

Political skills

Embracing a complete project management mindset goes beyond techniques to complete projects on time, scope, and budget.  Improving organizational performance depends upon getting more accomplished through projects.  Just what gets accomplished and how comes under the purview of power and politics.  Organizations by their nature are political.  The political process is always at work in organizations.  To be effective, project managers need to become politically sensitive.  Power is the ability to cause or prevent an action and make things happen. Since project management is all about getting results, it stands to reason that power is required.

The challenge is to create an environment for positive politics.  That is, people operate with a win-win attitude.  All actions are out in the open instead of hidden, below the table, or behind closed doors.  People demonstratively work hard toward a common good.  Outcomes are desirable or at least acceptable to all parties concerned.  Good, smart people, who trust each other (even if they do not always agree), getting together to solve clearly defined and important issues, guided by effective, facilitated processes, with full disclosure and all information out in the open, can accomplish almost anything.

Recognize that organizations are political.  A commitment to positive politics is an essential attitude that creates a healthy, functional organization. Complete project managers understand the power structure in their organizations.  Clues to a power structure may come from an organizational chart, but how things get done goes far beyond that.  Influence exists in people’s hearts and minds, where power derives more from legitimacy than from authority.  Its presence occurs in the implementation of decisions.

Encourage excellence in project sponsorship by managing up the organization (see Englund and Bucero, Project Sponsorship: Achieving Management Commitment for Project Success).

Assessing the environment, rethinking attitudes towards power and politics, and developing an effective political plan are foundation steps.  These help to address the power structure, identify critical stakeholder levels of trust and agreement, develop a guiding coalition, and determine areas of focus.

An overlay to the project management process is to prepare a political plan.  (A template and sample is available at www.englundpmc.com in “Offerings”.)  This plan involves observing how an organization gets work done and performing stakeholder analysis.  It further incorporates creative human dynamics to encourage proactive thinking about how to respond to and influence other people in the organization. Complete project managers develop political plans as well as effective project plans.

Randy Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy, www.englundpmc.com

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