The Importance of Attitude

Personal skills are those vital competencies so necessary when dealing with colleagues, team members, upper managers, clients, and others. The complete project manager possesses the aptitude, attitude, and networking skills to interact with people and achieve results.

Project managers need to be able to motivate and sustain people. Project team members look to the project manager to solve problems and help remove obstacles. Project managers need to be able to address and solve problems within the team, as well as those that occur outside the team. There are numerous ways, both subtle and direct, in which project managers can help team members stay motivated, all of which start with personal attitude.

Attitude can be defined as “a position of the body or manner of carrying oneself, a state of mind or a feeling; disposition, an arrogant or hostile state of mind or disposition” (Urban Dictionary). Attitude is the preference of an individual or organization toward or away from things, events, or people. It is the spirit and perspective from which an individual, group, or organization approaches community development. Attitude shapes all decisions and actions.

Early in my career, I felt or demonstrated negative attitudes about my job or situation wherein I found myself. This led me to underperform and create potential negative images of myself in the eyes of colleagues, team members, and managers. The results were not good—I did not want to transmit negativity to others, tarnish my reputation, or limit my options. I needed to excuse myself from those positions.

Over time, the maturing process led to change my thinking. I needed an attitude check! By changing my attitude, I changed my world.

Mike Schlappi helped change thinking through his highly inspirational keynote address at the 2010 PMI North America Global Congress. Mike was accidently shot in the chest as a young man and became paralyzed from the waist down. He went on to win four Paralympic medals and other awards. His message is, “If you can’t stand up, stand out!”

In writing about his recovery process, Mike says that attitude is a position. “Having a good attitude means we tend to operate from the position that everything will work out. Having a bad attitude means we tend to operate from the position that nothing will work out…. A mental attitude is a mental position, not a mood. You can be in a bad mood but have a good attitude. You can be in a good mood but have a bad attitude” (Schlappi, Mike, 2009. Shot Happens: I Got Shot. What’s Your Problem? Mike Schlappi Communications, 15).

Mike compares attitudes with attitude indicators in airplanes, which show the plane’s position in relation to the horizon or ground during flight. “According to every commercial airline pilot I’ve consulted, the attitude (not altitude) indicator is the most important instrument in the plane’s cockpit” (2009, 48). The attitude indicator serves as the primary reference indicator for safe flying, especially at night or in low-visibility situations—telling the pilot if the plane is flying straight and true, banking left or right … or making a spiral dive toward the ground. Mike writes, “It’s the same with us. Our position is everything. Regardless of our mood—happy or irritated, grumpy or enthusiastic—our position can remain stable and constructive…. Our moods are not typically a matter of choice, but our attitudes are. We can choose what position we will take toward our circumstance regardless of the mood we may be in” (2009, 51).

Our dreams and aspirations help form personal attitudes

When my colleague and I talk to project management audiences, we want to show we care about them and demonstrate how important it is to communicate with others. We use pictures, jokes, and video clips to help people understand and remember what we said. We demonstrate an attitude that we care about communicating effectively with the audience and use various means to make our message as clear as possible. We put extra effort into preparing slides or seminar materials to ensure the message we want to share comes across clearly and memorably. This is a commitment to a certain attitude.

These examples point to paying attention to our own attitude as a starting point before we can influence others to perform well on our projects. It’s as though our attitude is like peeling an orange, an action that causes sensory perceptions within all who may be nearby. Our ability to motivate others starts with assessing and developing personal skills, paying special attention to projecting a positive attitude. Stay focused on strengths, as opposed to weaknesses, as a key means to grow personally and professionally.

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

Co-author, The Complete Project Manager: Integrating People, Organizational, and Technical Skills and The Complete Project Manager’s Toolkit

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