Getting results through power

One of my issues with the PM Network magazine distributed by the Project Management Institute to all its members is that the stories provide only high level soundbites, failing to provide enough meaningful content about why, what, and how High Placesto implement project management.  Let me tell you the rest of the story behind quotes attributed to me in “Does Somebody Up There Like Me?” in the June 2007 issue.

One project I worked on did not go very well.  The senior manager insisted upon a certain format.  Several of us on the team decided that would not work so we implemented a productivity tool with a conscious intent not to inform the manager.  He became livid when he finally discovered what we were doing.   The resolution to this unproductive environment was for most of us on the team to leave that group.  The manager was not tolerant of other approaches, and we were not skilled enough at that time to work through the differences.

A better outcome may have been possible if we had characterized the senior manager’s style, researched the political implications of how he operated and what would be at stake if he appeared not to be in control, and collectively discussed changes in language that appealed to his operating style.  We also could have received advice from the manager’s manager about how to work with this manager.  We got that advice retrospectively, when it was too late.  He was very willing to advise us, but we had to ask. 

This example highlights the importance of stakeholder analysis to the politics of project management.  Since power is the ability to get work done, and project management is about getting work done, project managers need power.  The application of power is what politics is all about.  Very little position power accrues to most project managers, and you will get immersed in some level of politics in every organization, wherever you do projects that impact others.

Be neither a political shark nor naïve, but become politically sensitive.  A key to success is to understand these dynamics and to skillfully apply tools of the project management discipline, meshed with relationship building and constant communications.  My colleague Alfonso Bucero refers to passion, persistence, and patience as the three P’s necessary to be a successful project manager in political environments.  I agree wholeheartedly.  The last thing we want to do is set ourselves up for failure because we failed to speak up.

Our work as project managers will go unnoticed and unappreciated unless we first believe in the project management discipline ourselves and seek its rightful place in the organization.  I believe we were right in our approach to the project in the story above, but that was not enough.  We also needed to put effort into developing skills to understand, educate, and inform the senior manager about the project management processes we were using.  We also have to be flexible, see the big picture, build a coalition of guiding supporters, and constantly demonstrate the means to achieve success in fulfilling organizational goals.

Randy Englund,


1 thought on “Getting results through power”

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    I wholeheartedly agree – just getting the work done is not enough to guarantee success. Key stakeholders must have bought in and be committed to supporting that success as well. It’s tempting to plow ahead in the face of concerns and resistance. When I’m very busy working on a project and results are critical I hate to spend time working through political issues. But these issues are critical to the success of the project, and someone on the team with the patience to deal with them needs to tackle them with the same zest as an engineer adding a new feature. Thanks for your insights, Randy! – Kimberly

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