Upward Diplomacy

Carleton is an Associate Director Portfolio Management in Queensland, Australia.

Some project managers walk in to a project steering committee meeting, shoot the breeze with the CEO about the weekend weather, present a paper asking for another million and are met with smiles and an easy “yes”. These project managers are seen as having the ear of management, and their performance is described using positive words such as “proactive”, “effective” and “strategic”. Other project managers see steering committees as the stuff of sleepless nights and tension headaches. If you are part of this latter group, then this paper is for you.

Project managers occupy an unusual position in the power hierarchy of most companies. They are tasked with changing a corporation--projects by their very nature change corporations--but seldom have the authority to decide on these changes. This leads to a dilemma for most project managers in that they are not an executive themselves, but require executive decisions to be made for the execution of a project to succeed.

A common approach to solving this dilemma is for the project to appoint one or more executive decision makers--authorised under the corporate governance structure to make decisions on the project manager's behalf in the form of a steering committee. The project manager's role then is to be able to influence these decision makers to achieve the decisions …

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