The Project Manager’s Survival Guide to Politics

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

Politics is an inevitable reality in organizational life. It is the fuel that drives organizational functioning. It is how things get done.

That said, mention the word “politics” to someone and ask them what they think of it, and you’ll get a litany of negative characteristics in response: “taking advantage”, “working the system”, “manipulating”, “back scratching”, “brown-nosing” and worse. When we mention politics, we see it as the worst of human behavior. And yet, politics encompasses all of human behavior.

The term “politics” is actually value neutral. There is functional politics, just as there is dysfunctional. If you as a project manager were to have a problem with the participation of one of your team members, you might escalate that to your sponsor. Not to say that we’re telling tales out of school, here; let’s imagine a (not too far-fetched) scenario where they are overwhelmed with work; in addition to your project, they are resources on four other projects also underway, and they still have operational responsibilities that take up much of their day. It’s not just that they don’t want to participate; they can’t participate (at least not to the extent that you need them to).

What might happen in this scenario? Well, let’s imagine …

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