Project Management

Team building for success - from the Project Manager up!

Passion for project management combined with a passion for people creates energy, enthusiasm and engagement. Engagement leads to success. It is when we are most engaged that we will "run through walls" for others. This blog focuses on ways to keep our project teams engaged and the way we can keep ourselves engaged and effective. As Lori Wilson ( described it "Project management is like tap dancing on a moving floor". Let's LEARN TO DANCE!

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Seeing is Believing: The Maggie Method

Appreciating the Undervalued Strength of Appreciation

#PMIEMEA19 - On tour with character strengths!

Influence, the Project Motivator’s Best Friend

Project Managers More than just Plate Spinners and Ball Jugglers

Introduction – An Accidental Project Manager

This is the first in a series of posts based on the questions I ask project managers when we explore being a Project Motivator and the concepts of strengths-based project management. I ask these questions of my readers and workshop attendees, but I think it is important to be transparent, so I share my answers too....

How much time do you spend communicating? Keep a few a journal for a few days to track your communication.

When I first did this exercise, I was totally surprised! First of all, I looked up the definition of communication – sharing of information OR building rapport. Hmmm, I thought. As a project manager that is practically all that I do! When I logged the amount of time I was communicating – by phone, in person, email, Powerpoint, using Sharepoint etc, it was over 90% of my day.

And of course, the research by Andy Crowe (shared by PMI) confirms that we spend the bulk of our time communicating. Of course, knowing that is one thing, seeing that in our own experience is another! When I kept a log of what I was doing, it was a real eye-opener.

Some days it was ALL day. Suddenly I was aware of how important communication is and also how important it is to be thoughtful about the means and modes of communication! I really started to pay attention to whether I was using the best means for each message and each member of my audience. After that, I became much more flexible.

I started to look at when I wanted to “push” information and when I wanted it to be on-demand by the recipient – “pull” communication.

I also started to think about whether we communicate so much because we need to, or whether it is because we don’t do it as well as we can!

See my upcoming post about project managers and social intelligence.

What do you do to influence others?

This was another real eye-opener question for me. Rather than just look at this question on my own, I asked other people what I did or said that was most influential. The feedback I received was enlightening. I heard that (i) I model positive behavior. Even when things are tough, I seem to believe that things will work out and that we have the means to make it happen. (ii) Connected with the first one was the feedback that I show that I believe in the team and have confidence that they will overcome obstacles and make things happen. (iii) I don’t ask others to do things I won’t do myself. If there was weekend work, for example, I was there with the team. (iv) I always make time for people to be people – some days they are on top form, others they are distracted. Some days they seem to ace every decision, other days they make mistakes. Some days they are all about work and some days they are focused on their family, their dog or some other area of their life. It is a fact of being alive!

What are three strategies you already use to be an effective project manager?

I think the main strategies I use are (i) I am always learning – about the team, about the project, about the reason for the project. (ii) I accept that priorities change and that we may have to adjust and re-plan and at the same time I recognize that constant change is not something that everyone is comfortable with and (iii) I work with the strengths of my team.

Strategies for Success:

  • Be Hopeful: Believe that you will make a difference and look for ways you can apply a strengths-based approach to your environment.
  • Each time I discuss strengths with project managers, I am reminded of things I want to build on to make a difference to project managers, projects and teams.
  • Be Curious: Observe yourself and others. Ask yourself what is motivating the behavior of the person or people in front of you?
  • I like to follow my observation up with a question to those around me. Checking in with others broadens my perspective and understanding. It also demonstrates that we are interested in what others think and feel and in hearing what they have to say.
  • Be strong: Reflect on your observations to glean insights into the working of your team and to identify actions you can take to build team connection to your goals.
  • There is lots of research that shows that speaking out loud is more helpful than an internal dialog for reflecting on learning and experiences. When we speak out loud, we hear ourselves and hear our story from a different standpoint. Writing things down has the same effect. We process experiences differently when we write about them.
  • Be Brave: Create small actions that reinforce helpful team behavior.
  • The old adage “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is well known and may be overused, but it is still true! Small changes lead to big changes. Small changes stick! We are more likely to repeat a small change that took incremental effort than a big change that was hard to accomplish. Think of going to the gym. When we lift our first weights – big effort – our muscles hurt afterward. If we up the weights from there a little at a time before we know it we are lifting twice the weight, but we no longer suffer the same muscle fatigue the next day.

Posted on: May 09, 2019 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Three more things PMs want to know about Character Strengths

Over the last few months, since the publication of my book Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management I have been speaking to project managers from all around the world about how the science of Character Strengths can help us build engagement, increase productivity and creativity and help us to get stuff done.

I have been sharing my study of over 250 project managers who have taken the free VIA Character Strengths Survey to get their personalized 24-strength ranking, which shows that on average project managers are lower in Social Intelligence and Perspective than our colleagues, but are higher in Teamwork, Perseverance, Prudence and Forgiveness.

No alt text provided for this image

Source, ALLE LLC Study (unpublished), 2019

The feedback from the audiences has been terrific, and here I am sharing the three more answers to questions I frequently receive:

Q1. Is there a difference in the PM strengths rankings between men and women?

A great question came up in a recent webinar when we were discussing the results that show that PMs tend to be lower in social intelligence and perspective than the population in general. Is there a difference between men, women, and others in the results?

I had not looked at the data in this way before, so I immediately went back to the results. Unfortunately, we do not have enough respondents in the other category to look at their data in isolation, but we do have enough in our samples of men and women. And they were very interesting.... it was a resounding NO there is no significant difference between male and female PMs according to my data.

In this colorful, and complicated graph, you can see the strengths of the US population plotted alongside ALL PMs in my sample, Female PMs in the sample (182) and Male PMs in the sample (82).*

No alt text provided for this image

In general, the results are very similar. It seems that female PMs rank creativity lower than their male counterparts, and appreciation higher, but otherwise there is remarkable consistency between the group overall and the two sub-groups.

* later this year I will review additional data that has come in since this dataset was analyzed. I look forward to reporting the updated results.

Q2 Does a person's profile change over time?

There is remarkable consistency between the survey results of an individual over time. Here is the example of my survey taken in 2015, 2017, 2018.

No alt text provided for this image

Generally, strengths don't move around much. Within the different groupings of signature strengths (typically top 5), middle strengths (approximately 15) and lesser (bottom 3-4), they may shuffle a little, but a lesser strength is not likely to become a top strength or vice versa.

There are two key ways that strengths may move up or down the ranking:

  1. Life events - marriage, having a child, a significant loss or other trauma - may cause us to change our strengths profile. Having a child, for example, may result in more focus on Love and Kindness, or Prudence and Judgment.
  2. Deliberate practice - we can focus on the strengths that we want to elevate. Character Strengths Practitioner Michelle McQuaid, emphasizes that we are not likely to achieve major shifts in our strengths from practice motivated by a sense of social validation or social pressure. It is just not enough of a motivator for change. But if we truly value a strength and are committed to consistent practices to boost the strength, great change is possible!

In my profile, you will notice that many of my tops strengths have remained consistent. The movers are Hope which has gone up from 12th to 3rd and Bravery which has moved down from 2nd to 10th. These two changes coincide with me recovering from a lifetime of struggle with a phobia and associated anxiety. Bravery was a key strength for me because it was the "feel uncomfortable and do it anyway" strength. Hope floated upwards as my outlook became more positive. Of course, the big question is did hope float because I became less anxious, or did I become less anxious because I boosted my strength of hope?

I still lean heavily on my bravery strength - it has become a phasic strength for me which is one that is generally in the middle of a profile that shows up strongly under specific conditions. For me, for example, bravery is key when I have a speaking engagement.

Q3 Where do I start with Character Strengths?

In the SBPM model, there are six stages and the first three relate to YOU. Start by taking the free VIA character strengths assessment to find out about your profile. Then pick a few strengths - the top ones are a good place to start - and start noticing how you use them, how they make you feel when you use them, and how others respond when you use them. Then look for new ways to engage those strengths. You can look for different domains to express them - work as well as home for humanity strengths, community as well as work for wisdom strengths for example. And then start mindfully modeling your strengths to others.

No alt text provided for this image

You can find out more by watching my webinars on here:​


Or by messaging me here! 

Posted on: April 04, 2019 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Follow up from the Introduction to Strengths-Based Project Management Webinar - March 6th, 2019

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Q1 Do you think we should work on our lowest strengths to improve them?

First, lower strengths are not the same as weaknesses. That said, the research shows that working on our TOP strengths to make sure we are using them optimally is the most beneficial. We can work on ANY of our strengths to boost them. We are most likely to succeed in lifting strengths that we truly value rather than believing are what we “should” have.

There is some research that shows that working on lesser strengths can be beneficial – particularly for people who feel familiar and connected to their top strengths already. Email me to receive a reference to the relevant research. 

Q2: has there ever been a comparison of VIACharacter strengths and John Wooden's Pyramid of Success? I have always leaned on the integrity of John Wooden and his pyramid.

I am not aware of any analysis or comparison of the Pyramid of Success to VIA Character Strengths. There has been some work to compare MBTI and Gallup CliftonStrengths (formerly Strengthsfinder). Email me if you would like to receive the references to the articles. 

Q3: Does this link to emorgetics?

Unfortunately, I am not familiar with emorgetics. If you can provide me with a link, I would love to learn more!

Q4: What again are the 3 Es?

Signature strengths – typically our top five strengths – are ESSENTIAL, EFFORTLESS and ENERGIZING!

Q5: As you stated that we should focus on the positive?

Character strengths and Positive Psychology are not so much about focusing on the positive, more about starting with what is strong and working from there. We are more creative, more productive, more confident, and more likely to be willing to tackle gaps and weaknesses if we first start with recognizing the positive in us.

Q6: Should you use the sandwich method to give feedback?

Generally, my recommendation is to give feedback often. That way there is no special approach required. Whatever the feedback is, you can just give it. Hopefully, for most people on most days, feedback is positive and the times when the feedback is less than positive is the exception. The sandwich technique is something that is often used when the only feedback is given at annual appraisal time or when there is a problem.  

For the giver of the feedback, there are a couple of questions it may be helpful to consider:

  1. When do I give feedback? On a regular basis? Or only when there is an issue to be addressed?
  2. What feedback does this person need to act on? Whatever that feedback is, it probably helps to get to the point.

Q7: How long does the VIA Survey take to complete? –

It takes about 15-30 minutes in your first language.


Q8: We are very surprised to hear that PMs tend to have low social intelligence. Can you elaborate on why you think that is? Is this survey focused more on a specific industry? 

The results are from multiple industries, but there is a concentration in IT and Financial Services. It is hard to say why Social Intelligence would be lower in PMs. Some audiences have hypothesized that project managers are the type of people who don’t want too much social interaction and so people with low social intelligence choose project management because they expect to have to deal with people less. It may also be related to the type of training and education that most project managers get which has tended to focus on tools and techniques rather than human considerations. An analysis of US Masters programs in Project Management shows that the number of credits in topics like team building, negotiation and conflict management are very low – particular when looking at mandatory classes rather than electives.

Q9: [When you discuss the survey results are you talking about strengths] most and least likely to show up for PMs? Or respondents?

Now that my sample size is large enough, I would say that it is both. I believe that this is a representative sample of project managers.

Q10: Is this a self-assessment – yes.

There is a Character Strengths 360 available from VIA institute that you can use to find out what strengths others see in you. Comparing that with your survey results can be very enlightening!

Q11: this is a self-assessment? I'm surprised the honesty is the highest. Has there been other data to confirm this besides project managers?

There are two reports that analyze findings across the world for all takers of the survey. One is an early analysis of the results for 54 Nations the other, more recent study is of 75 nations. Email me and I will send the references.

Q12: I'm not clear as to why spirituality is a character strength? I would think it might be a passion. How could you overuse spirituality?

Any of the CS can be passions/interests and any can be values we have so that’s right. But, spirituality – that pursuit toward meaning/purpose, dwelling with the sacred and specialness in life – is in all people. This has actually been shown on a genetic level in studies of children and adolescents (see Lisa Miller’s new book The Spiritual Child that reviews these). This is, of course, different from participating in religions/institutions/rituals which are clearly not universal.

Q13: If Character Strengths are only positive traits, does that mean negative traits are Character Flaws or Weaknesses?

The survey measures the strengths relative to each other. So, we express our top strengths more frequently and more easily than a bottom-strengths. Negative traits can be all sort of things – habits, practices, beliefs and so on. There is no measure – or definition as far as I know – of character flaws or character weaknesses. All character strengths are positive traits and at the same time, positive traits can be character strengths, skills, beliefs, talents etc.

Q14: What is the URL to take the survey?

The link is available in the handout under RELATED CONTENT in the webinar recording page here:


Related Materials:

So far (as of March 27th) about 235 attendees have taken the survey!


Posted on: March 28, 2019 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Three things PM want to know about Character Strengths

Over the last few months, since the publication of my book Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strength-Based Project Management, I have been speaking to project managers from all around the world about how the science of Character Strengths can help us build engagement, increase productivity and creativity and help us to get stuff done.

I have been sharing my study of over 250 project managers who have taken the free VIA Character Strengths Survey to get their personalized 24-strength ranking, which shows that on average project managers are lower in Social Intelligence and Perspective than our colleagues, but are higher in Teamwork, Perseverance, Prudence and Forgiveness.

No alt text provided for this image

Source, ALLE LLC Study (unpublished), 2019

The feedback from the audiences has been terrific, and here I am sharing the three most common questions I receive:

Q1. What do I do about my lowest strengths - my weaknesses?

Let's clear up this unfortunate misconception right way. It is a misconception for three key reasons:

  1. Our lesser strengths - the ones at the bottom - are not weaknesses, the survey only measures strengths, not weaknesses. These are just the strengths we lean on the least.
  2. We all have all 24. We have some strengths that are easy, energizing and empowering. We feel good when we use them. And we have others that take a little more work. We may have some that we have allowed to erode over time. But they are all there.
  3. Research has shown that we get a boost in wellbeing from working to lift our bottom strengths, but we get just much if not more of a boost from using our top strengths in new ways - expanding their repertoire.

So love all your strengths! They are all there for you when you want and need them.

Q2 What if my top strengths don't seem to have anything to do with leadership? I don't even have the strength of Leadership in my top 10!

Across the world, the strength of Leadership ranks somewhere in the middle on average, somewhere around 11 out of the 24. Being a great leader is not about using a specific strength well or a lot, it is about using the strengths you have to best effect AND about seeing strengths in others and helping them to use theirs too.

Gallup research shows that up to 70% of the difference between staff turnover between different teams is related in some way to managers. We are managers, and so we are part of that statistic. Further evidence from Gallup and other researchers show that when managers help staff see, appreciate and use their strengths at work each day, staff are more likely to report feeling engaged, and seeing work as a calling and are less likely to leave.

So don't focus on what you don't have, focus on the strengths you do have and how they can help. In the book, I share this profile and explanation from someone who was identified by management and staff alike as a leader. (Leadership ranked 12 for her.) Her self-analysis of how she uses her strengths is below.

No alt text provided for this image

Source, Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management p124

Q3 Where do I start if I want to use character strengths with my team?

No alt text provided for this image

The answer is easy! Start with you. Use the 6 step approach to strengths-based project management (left) and follow steps 1- 3. They are all about you. When you know your strengths, you target your strengths, and you model your strengths, others are automatically influenced. They see your behavior, and your mood and they will follow your lead. Humans are wired to connect and are wired to mirror the behavior and mood of others. So set the tone! Then when you are ready, follow steps 4 - 6 and start applying your strengths knowledge to the people around you!

Want to know more, watch my webinar on here: 


Related Materials:

or message me here on!

Posted on: March 27, 2019 06:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

From Stakeholder Management to Stakeholder Engagement

In the latest edition of the PMBOK, there was a small but significant change in the language around stakeholders. Instead of Stakeholder management, the focus of the PM is stakeholder engagement. What does this change mean?

Management – a definition

When I think of management, I think of control, of guidance, of constraints. Indeed, when I Googled “management definition” I got the following result “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.”

To me, the key word here is controlling. Even the notion of dealing with stakeholders conjures up images of difficult conversations, and unreasonable demands.

When we engage stakeholders there is much more sense of give and take, and exchange of information, and sharing of perspective and insights. Stakeholders are no longer to be kept at bay or at arms’ length. They are to be woven into the fabric of the project at every stage and their input is to help guide the project to success. This is quite a mindset shift.

There are four pertinent balancing tests to think about with stakeholder engagement.

  1. Who are they? And what do they want?

This is more than gathering a list of people who have an interest in the project or program. This is also the process of understanding what motivates them, how interested they are. How will they be affected – positively or negatively – by the project outcome?

And what they want is multi-faceted too. What do they want from the project? And what do they want in terms of involvement in the project? How do they want to communicate? People have different levels of interest in the project, different reasons for that interest and different ways of absorbing and processing information. We sometimes forget that!

  1. What is their organizational role? And what is their sphere of influence on the project?

This is an exploration of where they sit in the organizational structure - more than seniority or job title, this considers their networks and contacts within the organization. For example, I worked with an operational manager who had great influence over the decision making of the CIO. Knowing that helped me to position my discussions with him to take account of what the next conversation would be – the one with his friend, and consequently what my next conversation would be – with my boss the CIO.

Considering each stakeholder’s sphere of influence looks at the networks this stakeholder has, and any special responsibility they have been given for this project that extends beyond their normal formal – and informal – role. For example, in one organization, an individual had been given a special responsibility on the project to review all procurement agreements because they had experience of this in a past position.

  1. How can they help? And how might they hinder?

Every stakeholder has ways that they can help projects be successful. And those ways are not always the obvious one. Sometimes they have special knowledge, they know the context of the project, the history of past change efforts or know what the real goals are of the organization. Other times they know the right people, have a great understanding of corporate culture and have that special way of getting difficult things done. Or they may have a really good understanding of customer behavior and can help the team make good design decisions.

The other side of the coin is how they might hinder. The most obvious way is not being available when you need them, but there are subtle ways stakeholders can create a drag on a project if they don’t feel appropriately engaged and connected. They may push for conflicting projects or pull resources away from your project to a pet project of their own.

  1. What is the most appropriate form of engagement? And does this change during the project?

This may be the single most important consideration in stakeholder management/engagement. The first part of this equation is to ask:

How do they want to be engaged? What is their interest and commitment to the project and how do they want that commitment reflected?

I have had stakeholders who were willing to be contacted at any time to offer advice, an opinion or just to be a sounding board. They have come to lunch and learns, shared insights into customer needs and desires, shared the organizational vision. They have been project advisors, mentors, and coaches – they are like gold and in some places like seeing a Unicorn!
At the other extreme, I have experienced stakeholders whose role has been to give final approval on big decisions and to ensure that the project continued to align to organizational objectives. They did not want to be engaged day-to-day and their interest was one-way – what the PM and the team could do for them. They wanted cogent communications that laid out decisions based on facts and figures. Understanding their expectations is one side of the equation.
The other side is sharing your expectations. You notice I say “sharing” and not “setting”.

By sharing and inviting feedback it has been possible for me to change the role of a stakeholder. By explaining how I see them supporting the project, why we see them that way and why we want them to engage in that way, it is often possible to craft a role for them that goes beyond their initial expectation.

This is also a great time to use some strengths-spotting. It is often the case that people do not really appreciate what they bring to the table or how they can use it to best effect. I have experience of a stakeholder whose greatest strengths were kindness and teamwork. When he was first assigned to the project as the “Business Owner” he was at a loss as to what he could bring. He felt he had little expertise in what we were trying to do, and his initial request was that I just keep him updated once a week with whatever dashboard I had been using for his predecessor. We had a conversation and it was clear that he was skilled at connecting with people. As we explored his interests and his strengths, it quickly became apparent that he could provide context for the project team, connections to valuable resources throughout the organization and would show up and give the team moral support when things got tough!

Choosing the mode, frequency and content of communications with stakeholders is key. Evaluate every medium. Maybe it is a dashboard, and email update, a weekly meeting, or a phone call at a prearranged time. Or maybe it is a Vlog – a videoed update that you can put in a shared location for people to access at their convenience – a newsletter that is available for download or a weekly lunch & learn. Find out what works for your stakeholders and be prepared to communicate in many ways.

Finally, consider whether the stakeholder’s role will remain static throughout the project. Have a regular check in during longer term projects to make sure the stakeholder list or matrix is current. Review the methods and level of communication periodically to keep things on track.

As project professionals we often spend a lot of time considering our process, and yet experience and research shows the biggest return on investment is from the people. Spend time with the people, and the people will make your project the best it can be.  

Posted on: March 21, 2019 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

"There are two types of people in this world, good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more."

- Woody Allen