Project Management

7 Negotiating Tips for Project Managers

Hope Gibson is an award-winning landscape architect and project manager who has managed public sector projects for over 20 years. Before that, she worked as a designer for firms specializing in public projects. She has worked on parks, freeway projects—even a dive park off the coast of Washington State. Hope currently works for Pierce Transit in Lakewood, Washington, where she has designed transit center landscape improvements, and is currently managing design and construction of a new transit center.

As a project manager, you likely spend a lot of your time negotiating. If you haven’t realized it already, your skills in this area will play a key role in your success.

Yet many PMs have a narrow view of negotiating. It’s not simply an exercise that people in expensive suits do across mahogany tables. Negotiations happen whenever you’re trying to achieve something you don’t have the authority to direct others to make happen. Project managers need to negotiate, both formally and informally, to keep their projects moving forward.

Capital project managers, for example, may negotiate terms of property acquisition, permit approval conditions, and consulting and construction contract terms. They negotiate for team members and other organizational resources. As a PM, you may find yourself negotiating for more time to complete your project or for scope revisions to keep your project within budget.

It pays to be aware of how much of what you do involves negotiations—and to actively and deliberately improve your negotiating skills. Otherwise, you may miss opportunities, shortchanging your project and hindering your professional future.

There are several things you can do to improve your negotiating skills. A good place to start is to examine how you see the act of negotiating. In the past, it was popular to consider negotiating akin to a battle,…

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"If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time--a tremendous whack."

- Winston Churchill