Q: I have a position in which I have to be very clear and direct with people in terms of accountability to timelines and recommendations about actions. Lately I’ve been feeling like people are disregarding my direction, and I’m starting to question my effectiveness.
Randall, 37, project manager
A: Over the lifetime of a project, dynamics will change, so it’s up to you to remain on top of current needs. More specifically, assess the environment, the project needs, and your interactions to make sure all are in alignment.
With that in mind, take a look back in time. When you say “lately,” does that mean that things were going more smoothly previously? If so, consider in detail what is different.
For one thing, when you are in the planning stage, things can seem relatively easy. If you’ve idealized the complexity of what’s to come, you have set up everyone to just be agreeable and there’s little need for pushback.
However, once you move into the “doing” phases, problems generally surface.
This is expected, but if you haven’t been thorough on your risk analysis or realistic in your time and resource definition, you and your team may be blindsided.
Resistance, defensiveness, and other “CYA” behavior are then apt to appear.
It’s also possible that you have become more attuned to resistance that you didn’t notice before.
If you are just getting to know the folks on your team, you may becoming savvy to passive resistance.
Now look in the mirror, examining your behavior to see what you might need to modify. Consider, for example, how you respond to stress. If bumps in the project bring out your inner tyrant, you may be causing some of the resistance.
If this isn’t clear, think about it from the team’s point of view. A plan is put in place, and problems (inevitably) arise.
Instead of collaborating and empowering the team to develop the best solutions, you are swooping in with answers that may not actually work. This is demoralizing, and people will tune you out. Or maybe you keep people in the dark.
Teams don’t thrive when they don’t understand their goals, and also struggle if changes that could affect them aren’t shared.
So, what can you do?
This is a time for openness and transparency. Talk to team members to get their opinions about how well the team is functioning.
Perhaps start with one or two trusted colleagues, and then open this up in a broader meeting, so you can take in any particularly difficult feedback more privately first.
Then explore solutions. Determine what the team needs from you to succeed, and figure out how to provide it. This doesn’t mean that they are no longer going to be held accountable; in fact, it will likely build their buy-in into the solutions, making your job easier.
Find support for yourself outside the team. Look for a more experienced project manager who will mentor you and reach out to peers for moral and practical support. Getting involved in local professional project management groups may also be helpful.
Leading projects effectively requires constructive give and take; it’s just a matter of finding the right balance.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.