Project Management

Taking the Heat out of Project Politics

From the An Influential Project Manager Blog
Today, more than ever, a project manager needs to be an influencer. The purpose of this blog is to stimulate your journey towards greater influence. With influence, you can overcome the roadblocks thrown in your way, overcome opposition, align stakeholders and, enjoy your role even more. However, since I know you are busy, the posts here will be short (about a minute), thought provoking and also drive you towards action. Feel free to connect with me, ask me questions, and share what's good here.

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My bet would be, that if you split the strength of emotional reaction to workplace politics on a continuum from negative to positive, and then analysed by occupation, project managers would land very much towards the negative end of that continuum.

Of course, one should not make generalisations, but in my experience, project managers tend to be very practical, like to stick to the facts, and play things straight - oh, and do their very best for the benefit of the organisation. And, that they see politics as either a necessary evil or a complete waste of time, and resource.

Some project managers are borderline Machiavellian, playing the dark arts like pros.

Regardless of where you sit on this continuum, you are not going to avoid the need to get involved in the politics, because it will get involved with you. And if you maintain a strong negative reaction to it, it will likely get the better of you.


Because you’ll be loathe to do it, you’ll do it half-heartedly, and you’ll probably miss the nuances. Oh, and your opponents will probably be much better at it than you, because they’ve been practicing since the school playground!

Here are a few thoughts to help take the heat out of it, so you will more readily do what you need to do, for the good of your project (of course!):

  1. Note that since politics are the tactics and behaviours of influence, there are good politics as well as bad politics, it just depends how you choose to do it.
  2. Think of political activity as the activity of decision-making, either at a group or individual level, and for personal or collective gain. That’s it, just how people make decisions and try to get others  to make decisions. 
  3. There are usually only three reasons why people hate the politics: They have been personally damaged by it; They don’t understand it; They are rubbish at it. Or perhaps, all three!

So, you have a choice. Are you going to continue sticking your head in the sand, or are you going to get out there and start trying to understand how all these decisions are getting made?

More on this Topic

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Posted on: July 12, 2019 07:13 AM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Hi Colin,

Although I don’t have BMD (Borderline Machiavellian Disorder), I love the topic and art of corporate politics and believe it should be a candidate for a PMI Knowledge area. I advocate an approach that I call “Project Plumbing”, which is a process that maps-out the political structure of your project and pre-plumbs it with shut-off valves for “political waste emergencies”.

I agree with you, that PM’s need to embrace corporate politics as there is no escaping it in the enterprise. Embracing it doesn’t mean that you like it - it simply means you accept it as a reality and therefore like all realities - you create processes to manage it.

Great topic!

This is a burning topic everywhere. You become part of how hard you try to be away. It is just like on roads, if drive safe but never know someone doesn't care.
Win the race
Get the things done
Reach over the top sooner
There are multiple reasons, people do politics in corporate. The best way to avoid it..become part of it and play with rule book and be politically right!

Thanks for this article. This a is a very important lesson and your tips for taking the heat out of project politics should be thought to new PMs and included in new entrant induction training. Thanks again

Thank you for sharing this topic. I think everyone has been damaged by politics to the point we want to run screaming from it. Just look at the past 20 years of our dysfunctional government caused by politics.I almost think the PMBOK needs to define an alternate term for "politics" in the project management area. The overwhelming negative connotation of the word politics is not about to change. We need a better way to define those critical activities that help the successful outcome of a project, other than politics. Just my opinion.

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