Project Management

12 Tips to Build Sustainable Credibility

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Categories: Followership, Leadership

The Scenario: 

  1. Bert was an external hire with an impressive resume showing how he managed a team of individual contributors.
  2. Wanting to make a good impression, in his first few team meetings, Bert tried hard to befriend the team, using humor and self-deprecating comments to appeal to them. Things started off great.
  3. After a month on the job, the team started seeing inconsistencies with what Bert had on his LinkedIn profile and how he verbally described his experience.
  4. The team started asking him questions about how he handled situations in his last job, but many of Bert’s answers were evasive and vague.
  5. Bert missed a crucial deadline from his boss Eva. He never notified her that he would miss the deadline and she had to press him for the status.
  6. Bert’s interaction with his team became less frequent and more evasive.
  7. Eva grew increasingly concerned with Bert’s lack of credibility and started having skip level discussions with Bert’s team.
  8. After three months of giving Bert an opportunity to establish credibility, Eva acknowledged that she made a mistake in hiring Bert. He was moved to an individual contributor role to give him a chance to turn things around.
  9. Bert was eventually terminated, having never gotten over the credibility hump.
  10. Five years later, one of Bert’s former team members was a manager at a new company. Bert’s resume came across her desk. “No way,” she thought as she moved on to the next resume.

The Message:

Earlier in my career, I attributed credibility primarily to what I knew and how I could demonstrate my knowledge to those around me. As I experienced the hard knocks of becoming a leader, I came to realize that my knowledge was only a small part of building my credibility. Having sustainable credibility as a leader means:

  • Knowing what you are expected to know and admitting when you don’t know something
  • Walking the credibility talk with customers, colleagues, leaders, and followers
  • Delivering what you say when you say it will be delivered

As a scaled-up leader, you’ll be assessing the credibility of your followers to ensure they can drive results. This means you have internalized what makes a person credible. Internalizing the credibility characteristics means you practice them yourself. Assessing the credibility of others when you yourself have credibility issues is like the person who lives in a glass house throwing stones at others. Leaders are expected to be sustainably credible if they want to be followed.

Need to work on your credibility? See which of these 12 tips might help you get over the credibility hump:

  1. Match actions to words – There’s a reason this is first on the list. People watch what you do and listen to what you say. If there’s a mismatch, your actions will be believed over your words. This is a huge credibility killer. Always ensure words match actions.
  2. If you don’t know something, say so – It’s cringing to watch someone be evasive or try to guess their way through an unfamiliar topic. If you don’t know something, say, “I don’t know, but here’s when I’ll follow up with the answer.”
  3. Think and act “win-win” with colleagues – Colleagues want to trust you. If you look at your interactions as, “for me to win you have to lose,” then others will view you as untrustworthy regardless of your command of the subject matter.
  4. Don’t position yourself as least-worst – There are times, like competing for a job, when you do want to win over colleagues. Winning doesn’t mean berating others to make yourself look better—that says, “I may be bad, but he’s worse.” By all means, note bad behavior when you see it; just don’t use it to make yourself look good.
  5. Don’t oversell what you know or what you’ve done – I’ve seen many resumes where someone has oversold themselves, but when talking with them I saw a cavernous gap between reality and resume. Be accurate in what you know, what you’ve done, and results you’ve delivered.
  6. Don’t confuse credibility with charisma – Great leaders typically possess charisma that enhances their credibility. Not-so-great leaders rely on charisma to cover up credibility gaps. Charisma is great, but don’t let it take the place of credibility. You’ll get found out over time.
  7. Don’t let a due date silently slip by – Being credible means you do what you say, when you say you’ll do it. Going silent on an expected action raises questions about whether you’ll do what you said. Don’t underestimate this trait; it’s crucial not only for you to do but also for you to hold others accountable when they promise something by a certain date.
  8. Explain the why – As a leader, followers want to know the rationale behind your thinking, particularly when you’re making a potentially unpopular decision. Get used to asking yourself why you’re taking a particular action, even if you don’t have to explain it to others. Building this habit will be helpful when you have to expose your decision rationale to others.
  9. Be the same persona all the time – Are you an in-person Jekyll and a social media Hyde? While you may think it’s safe to express yourself freely online, colleagues, customers and followers will see your online comments and extrapolate them to predict how they may be treated by you. Don’t think for a minute you can keep your personas separate.
  10. Admit it when you’re wrong – Credible people not only freely admit when they’re wrong about something, but they can learn from it. Mistakes are going to happen; those who can’t admit it or make the same mistake over and over again never get over the credibility hump.
  11. Plan and deliver results realistically – At the end of the day, credible people plan and deliver results based on reality. Note I’m not using the “under-commit-and-over-deliver” baloney mantra that weak leaders use. Plan to reality, manage risks and issues, ask for help when necessary, and deliver.   
  12. Don’t undercut your own credibility – Poking a bit of fun at yourself or admitting shortcomings are good signs of a confident leader. However, when overdone you could inadvertently convince others you might not have the credibility to be followed. If it looks like you’re not confident in your own ability, why would others view you as confident?

The Consequences:  By not taking intentional action to build your credibility, your consequences could include:

  • You won’t be believed – No amount of words can make a non-credible person credible. Colleagues, customers and followers simply won’t believe what you have to say.
  • Your opportunities will be limited – A leader won’t give you a big problem to solve if they don’t think you have the credibility to solve it.  
  • Your non-credibility ghosts will follow you – Simply put, people have very long memories, particularly when those who are expected to be credible fall short. Today’s colleague or follower could be tomorrow’s potential customer or boss.

The Next Steps: 

  1. Look through the 12 tips and decide on your three greatest opportunity areas.
  2. Review your assessment with a trusted advisor who is willing to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
  3. Commit to being held accountable by your advisor.
  4. Put actions in place to address your top three.
  5. Review your progress with your advisor.
  6. After you’ve put new habits in place to address your top three, pick the next three, and so on.
Posted on: June 17, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (21)

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When I poke fun at myself, I do it at a personal, not work, level. That way I don't send mixed signals about my professional side.

Great post Lonnie, love it.

Dear Lonnie
The topic that you brought to our reflection and debate was very interesting.

Thanks for sharing and for the 12 tips

In your opinion, once credibility is lost, is it possible to regain it?

Great post! Thanks for sharing these tips.

Very useful. Thanks for these tips. A lot of reflection for me.

Very useful. Shared these with colleagues!

Great post. Thanks for sharing these recommendations.

Had some questions about someone else's credibility as well as how I maintain mine. Great piece and to me at the right time.

Very well-written topic. Helps to get that credibility during Covid closure and remote employees environment. Thanks for sharing.

Assessing the credibility of others when you yourself have credibility issues is like the person who lives in a glass house throwing stones at others. Sounds dangerous, right? yes! but it is necessary especially in some circumstances. For example, when you start leading a new team in a new organization.It is necessary to learn what individuals can do and assess and reassess the credibility of them to decide how much you can rely on them since they are the ones who contribute to help you to build your credibility in front of your customers and managers with on time quality deliverables. Sometimes you have to give it a chance to trust people on certain things to start with when you have no better choice but after a while you assess it based on the outcome. Sometimes it works, great, continue; Sometimes, it fails, even to a point that ruins your own credibility, analyze it, give it another chance or lessons learned, take a new approach or a new person, move on…

Awesome and helpful article. I wish that more articles of this sort would be published. You article took my thought to a position that I had once, where I worked for a manager who was exceptionally, and to my mind, intentionally vague in her requests. By the way, she is no longer with the Company that I am thinking of here. When I read through the scenario, I saw an example of the blame game in which individuals are blaming “Bert” for, to their mind, misrepresenting his professional experiences., thus bruising his professional credibility. But I have a few questions and comments
1. Did the hiring manager understand the role of a project manager? You would be amazed at the number of hiring managers who don’t know the difference between a project manager and an operations manager, viz. they are unaware of the difference between their role and a PM’s role.
2. If Bert was such a friendly person that he was able to make it through an interview, yet his demeanor changed drastically shortly after he was hired, then one has to wonder if the issue was one of credibility or a systemic/organizational culture issue in the department in which he worked. Was there high turnover? Was the manager an experienced one or a byproduct of the Peter Principle? Was the organization projectized? Were there formal processes for assigning projects and status-ing project work?
3. Did Bert work in a projectized organization in which there were status reports and frequent status updates expected by and delivered to management? If so, shouldn’t the manager have asked questions prior to a deadline being missed? Was there an issues log? I would be curious to know if regular status reports were expected and sent. This goes back again to an operations manager knowing what a project manager does and should be doing. In addition, it goes back to managerial maturity. A manager should expect status reports and expect to be informed of issues, notably those that will cause delays.
4. Was the manager approachable? Did the manager have standing meetings with the PM?
5. Also, with regard to point #8:, human beings are multi-dimensional. Its certainly never acceptable to make inappropriate comments about co-workers on social media. I personally shy away social media, inclusive of LinkedIn (just a personal preference). But I read your point #8 to imply that Bert should always be jovial and happy and that sort of thought process places individual in a box. Keep in mind, that even boxes have multiple dimensions and so do we. That’s not a justification for pettiness, nor it is an embrace of behavior that you described which involved Bert’s post on social media.
6. Was Eva interested in the project? Did she accept regular status updates (I am sorry I can’t stay away from that because my thought is that any issue should be caught at the status report level. Were there core team meetings and if so, did Eva attend those meetings? She should have also received a perspective of the project status from the core team.
7. Further, how culturally attuned was Eva? I have learned over the years, that we still live in a society where some organizations have very little to no diversity. And so those who have not had much exposure to employees who are ethnically or maybe culturally different than they are sometimes have latent prejudices that they don’t readily acknowledge.
8. If a manager is always giving feedback and the feedback is always negative, then she has to ask herself, does point # 7 above, apply to her. No employee with experience does everything bad, and if you find yourself finding fault in everything an employee does, then that’s a cultural issue that the manager has with the employee, not a professional one.
Lastly, I worked for a manager once similar to “Eva”. The manager was exceptionally vague in her requests and even told me once that I should learn to read her mind. She made the impression that I was not capable of doing things that I had done exceptionally well for years such as crafting project schedules, making status reports, presenting status reports, communicating clearly, and solving problems. She loved to give feedback, constant feedback, that was mostly negative, but she never readily accepted feedback.

So again, thanks for the scenario, but as project managers, we have a professional responsibility to dig a lot deeper than simply accepting that someone has a credibility issue when they don’t do well on a particular project, or in a particular environment, especially when they have a lot of experience. To get to the root of issues such as those that you mentioned, you ask about the culture of an organization. In the example that you provided, I am willing to bet that the organization had a lot of turnover, that “Eva” probably is no longer there, and the organization was not projectized, nor did it have any templates, a PMO or any sort of legitimate project structure.

Apologies for the long message. And that apology was intended to be self-abasing.

This was a great reminder of basics and how easily they can be compromised and/or lost.

Great article and great response by Tiko. It is so easy to blame a single person when things are not working out. We need to ask ourselves how many of us have worked in a toxic environment which instead of fostering growth and mentoring, finger pointing is the norm. That being said, I agree everyone is multidimensional and in a case like above, I would have liked to read about how the manager would have coached the employee and the team to deliver a better outcome. Not sure if this was a missed opportunity or a fait accompli.

May I add an additional comment; this is just my perspective based on 26 years of professional experience – some good and some where I completely flopped. If you have a policy, a process and a procedure, you eliminate the sort of culture that was originally written about in the article attached to this comment string. I see emerging in some facets of American business now, a culture where “coaching” replaces a valid process. That speaks to managerial and cultural maturity. If you have a process, a policy, and a procedure that can be acculturated, and in most instances repeated, and you hire the right people, then you don’t have to do a lot of coaching. When some people use the term “coaching” they are really referring to a process where they suggest that others take on their culture mores and beliefs. I had a “coachy” person ask me once if I knew how to use email. I was 43 years old at the time and had worked for some of the largest companies in the country. She viewed herself as a coach, but she was so culturally limited, that she could not see, in her view, how I could know how to use Outlook. Weird I know. Forget the fact that I scheduled a meeting with her utilizing Outlook, forget the point that I had to communicate with the recruiter through email, but her life experience would not allow her to accept the fact that I had an aptitude, even with an application like Outlook which is commonly used in professional spaces. To her mind, she had to coach me and teach me. Here is the deal. If you have a:
1. Policy
2. Processes and procedures that are acculturated
3. Clear and concise communication (as opposed to a “read my mind” and “wink, wink, guess what I think” culture
4. If you hire the right people and treat them as adults (not as kiddos in perpetual need of coaching)
Then you don’t have to do a lot of coaching and mentoring, unless the employee seeks that out.
Also, if you are hiring a project manager, know the difference between a PM and a project coordinator and expediter. The roles are distinct.
Also, with regard to the issue with Bert and Eva. Bert should have asked the following questions in his interviews:
1. Do you have a standard project management process?
2. Do you utilize a standard project management schedule template which is refitted for each project?
3. Do you utilize core team meetings?
4. Do you have a project governance structure?
5. Do you utilize a risk register and issues log?
6. What is communication like on projects in your department
7. If you don’t have these things, would you be open to me crafting these templates and processes for you?

One last thing. Show me an environment where they always want to coach and mentor and I will show an environment where they have no processes, no policies, no procedures, no templates and no willingness to have an experienced project manager help them craft those things. If “Coaching” is the centerpiece of your interview conversation for a project management role, then run for the hills. Revenue producing departments and organizations don’t have time for tons of coaching. But they are open to hiring people with real experience and they look for ability in employees – not inability.

Sincere apologies for that long message but I am passionate about this. :)

Thank you for Sharing.

Great post - all are key in characteristics of credible leaders that earn the trust of colleagues and senior leaders to deliver on BIG business value.

Very helpful.Tx!

Set a good standard for working professionals. Very good post

Thank you for the article. Very helpful!

Great piece and down to earth , thanks for sharing

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