Words matter. As a project manager, you have the ability to impact your project team and your stakeholders by what you say. Here are five things that stakeholders want to hear from you.
Too often people say, “I might have a go at using the enterprise project management reporting suite,” or “We might use EVM on our next big project.” That doesn’t clearly tell project team members what you will do, or what you expect them to do. Will you take that course or action, or won’t you? What should they do next?
Use statements like “I will” to set clear expectations about what you will do. Offer the team clarity. Making firm commitments also gives people confidence that you will act on what you said. In turn, this gives the whole team a more positive attitude because people know where they stand.
“I’ll get back to you.”
Unless it is a project that reoccurs regularly, no one really knows what the project will involve when it starts. The whole point of projects is to deliver something new, something outside of the business-as-usual. So projects involve a lot of questions.
The absolute worst thing you can do when asked questions are to make up the answers. It doesn’t make you look weak or not in control if you don’t know the answer. In fact, making up an answer can often create more trouble later, especially if your answer involves committing to a new delivery date or some new piece of functionality for your project.
A better course of action is to offer to get them the information. Then, of course, you must follow through by finding out the information and reporting it back.
Project leadership includes sharing a vision so the team know why they are working on something. That is made easier by including reasons for your requests. Instead of simply asking people to provide task updates, explain why they are doing so, and what the information is used for. Instead of hassling people to complete time sheets, explain the rationale behind collecting effort data and how this improves future estimates.
“What can I do to help you?”
If you don’t already, include some management by walking around in the way you lead projects. When you speak to people in passing, ask them what you can do to help. Ask project team members in your one-to-one review meetings. Ask your project sponsor and project board members. Be known for being someone who is helpful.
You’ll also find out an interesting amount about what these individuals are worried about. This is their opportunity to raise any concerns with you, which in turn gives you the chance to fix them. In addition, it also offers you some degree of protection about complaints later. No one can say you didn’t provide them with enough information if they failed at every meeting to mention to you, when specifically asked, that this is what they would like.
You might not actually say, “Don’t worry,” but whatever the exact words you choose, the sentiment is the same. This is a message of confidence. Using statements like this shows that you are in control. If you look worried and act nervous in meetings, project team members will notice and start to exhibit the same behaviors. If you show confidence, they will mirror that – which is a much better place to be.
Of course, there are some situations where people absolutely need to be worried, like when there are serious issues that you are bringing to your project sponsor’s attention. However, you can still do this in a confident way, explaining the different options and your recommendation for the route forward. Over-confidence is equally as bad: the important thing is to get the balance right and to show leadership regardless of the state the project is in.
What else do you think project stakeholders want to hear you say?