Trust and the Art of Project Management

Photo by Ryan McD

Photo by Ryan McD

Project management is people management. I know this might disappoint many people in the project management trade, but it’s true. Understanding people is essential to a successful project. Too often managers rely solely on their planning tools to get the job done. BaseCamp, OmniFocus, and Microsoft Project are all fine tools, but they will never understand what motivates your team, why Chris is a better choice for the R&D task than Tom. To ignore the human element is to set yourself up for failure. A project manager must also be an amature psychologist and in order to do that he must first build trust with the team. Trust is defined as the reliance on the integrity of a person.

Winning that trust is one of the most important things a project manager can ever do with his team. A team member must have trust that their PM will keep their best interest in mind and not be careless with their time. This does not mean that they never give a teammate bad news. Quite the opposite, part of being a PM is often delivering bad news, such as a moved deadline that?s going to result in overtime or a change in scope that causes extra work. The funny thing is, most people don?t mind working extra hours if they know it?s not wasteful. If they trust their manager they will know that the change must really be necessary.

Also, a PM must be able to inspire confidence in a project?s stakeholders. Any project manager is at their most effective when the client feels secure in the project leadership. In order to provide this trust a project manager must convey self-assurance and ability, but not arrogance. One of the best ways to gain the trust of a client is to show a genuine interest in their business. Each client is different and the needs of a large insurance firm are disparate from that of a small retailer. It?s human nature to categorize and organize, but over-simplifying a client or project can often backfire. A good project manager adapts process and tools to meet the needs of the project. For example one client might prefer to use Basecamp for communications and documentation while another less tech savvy client might not understand the practical reasons for such a program. The best tool for the job is the one that your client will use.

Trust can mean the difference between a project?s success and failure. If a team does not trust its leadership it can affect morale, quality of work and general productivity. If a client does not trust the PM then they will be overly critical and less responsive to the project?s needs. These are obstacles that can easily be removed with a little patience and active listening on the part of the project manager. That and a commitment to earning trust everyday.

  • Nathan C

    Awesome article! Trust is key, I have to agree.

  • Samad Aidane

    I agree. Trust relationships are the most effecive currency in project management. Trust is also the best insurance policy for when things go wrong. When your project team and sponsors trust you, they will forgive you when you mess up, which will happen on projects.

    Samad Aidane

  • Jonathan Miller

    Great article, with equally great insights. What in your personal experience has been the best way of building trust with your team? And how does it work with the people you manage gaining your, as a PM, trust?

  • Joe Wilson

    It really just comes down to being genuine and always meaning what you say. I can’t always control the situation, but I always try to control my reaction to it. If I can stay calm and think things through logically it makes a big difference when it comes to making the right choices for my team and my clients.

  • Filippo Larceri

    You’ve got to the core. Well written.

  • Bala S Musunoori

    This is true but at the same time, I can say this is just not for any PM but also true for the EMPLOYER also. Any business runs on the capability / trust / what ever you can say, but can not run on MIS-MANAGEMENT of the CORPORATE. Afterall, a PM is an employee and bound to be like that and also SHOULD hide the FACTS of MIS-MANAGEMENT of any company owner.

    Example: PM says to his team…I am here to support you and fight with the management for your good. But, when he faces the EMPLOYER…he (most of the time) gets abused words or else non-commitment of the words…or even non-standing by HIS MANAGER..then…obviously…PM is FAILED…in all RESPECTS…!

    I apologize if I am wrong in my thoughts….!

  • Pixel8

    did you ever see Man on Wire?