Communicating Up and Down

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Categories: Communication

In most organizations project managers need to be skilled in both communicating downward to motivate their project teams and communicating upward to influence their managers. Yet while inefficient communication with  team members comes with its own set of issues, ineffective communication with senior management may put the whole project at risk.

Senior managers today generally operate in "command and control" mode, and most organizational processes support this view. Despite theories of team motivation based on empowerment, delegation and job enrichment, control is still the favorite with most senior management.

Project managers need to develop the skills needed to advise upward effectively. In so doing, they must align the project's objectives with the organization's strategic objectives and, more importantly, ensure the key senior managers appreciate this fact and contribute to the project's success.

The key is helping your boss look good.

This can be achieved by providing good information and analysis for decision-making; never escalating a problem or issue without options and recommendations for a resolution; and always communicating in business language with an understanding of the manager's business drivers.

A cooperative, supportive relationship is a two-way street. Project managers need to earn the respect and support of senior managers by adopting a positive approach to communicating up the ladder. Some positive options include providing helpful notes to assist the manager deal with difficult situations, and providing a full analysis of the recommendations and options for resolving issues or making decisions.

Advising upward or helping your manager help you requires a long-term view. There is no silver bullet! You must build credibility over time by developing and maintaining a reputation for being ethical, efficient and open. And above all you must be an effective project manager in your space and a supportive team player in your manager's space.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 07, 2009 10:16 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Robert Higgins
Nonaka in his book The Knowledge Creating Company describes it as "bridge between visionary ideals of the top and the often chaotic reality of those on the front lines of business" He also describes a third mindset that is typical of Japanese Company culture. He calls it "middle-up-down management style". It is somewhat interesting. He postulates that the process to go from vision to front lines creates ambiguity, confusion. But that is precisely what is need to have that break through with a new idea. ISBN 13- 978-0-19-509269 Very nice article on this important soft skill topic.

Well stated. There is always a challenge establishing relationship and respect with upper management in consulting world unless you are representing the big 5 consulting companies.

Douglas Angelone
Good article and the cornerstone to successful project delivery. In my experience the number one place PM's fall down is proactive communication. The ability to identify problems early and urgently communicate the situation to the entire brain trust usually brings a fairly painless corrective action. Identify problems late and your boss looks bad and you're team gets frustrated. Strong actual vs. budget vs. estimate to complete reporting goes a long way. However project managers need to check their ego and involve applicable team members and Sr. management in the day to day hurdles. thx

Vajee Uddin
This is a very good article.
Apart from never escalating a problem or issue without options and recommendations for a resolution.

A risks needs to be identified and communicated. Risks should never be without a Mitigation Plan and Contingency Plan. The Mitigation Plan and Contingency plans to be discussed with the team before approval on it by senior management.

Peter Kerner
Totally agree, and I see many project managers who have developed their both sides of the communication style. I'd happy to see more senior managers who wouldn't rely on their ability communicating upwards only. When PMs and the senior manager both meet half way, the project-oriented organization will succeed.

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