Good project managers are almost always good communicators. Without direct authority over many of the people who impact their projects, they instead develop techniques to engage, persuade and motivate them, from team specialists to executive sponsors.
They don't just tell these people to do something and walk away; they don't say "pretty please," either. They engage and convince. They rally individuals around the reasons behind the particular "ask" or task. They clarify a project's goals, its desired benefits, the overall strategic mission.
In other words, they influence as much as they manage.
This is why I prefer project leader to project manager when referencing the role. Because influence is a huge part of effective leadership, whether it's coming from the C-suite or the project trenches.
Unfortunately, many of today's leaders have mistaken beliefs about what it means to be influential, according to Stacey Hanke, author of the new book Influence Redefined. Hanke says the prevailing influence paradigm is outdated and ineffective, and technological advances only make it more challenging to influence others.
The good news is that influence is a skill that can be developed by anyone through consistent feedback, practice and accountability, Hanke says. Though she often addresses executives in her book, her advice is just as valuable for project leaders and team members. As she notes at the outset: Influence does not come with a title.
With that in mind, here are some of Hanke's takeaways on influence:
1. Every interaction matters. Every presentation, conversation, impromptu meeting, email, text, or phone call is a representation of who you are and determines how others experience you. Each interaction is a representation of your personal brand and establishes your reputation. And your reputation drives your influence.
2. Video or audio record yourself speaking. This reveals the sometimes painful truth of what your team members and stakeholders see and hear when you speak. You have to know your strengths and weaknesses as a communicator in order to improve your ability to influence.
3. Focus outward rather than inward. Too often we focus on what we want rather than what others need. Find common ground. Go beyond what you want to accomplish and put your energy into how you might help them. Have a two-way interaction rather than a monologue.
4. Cut to the chase. Identify the most critical information someone will need to know in order to take the action you want them to take. Plan, prepare and practice before you ask. Don't waste their time. Cover the critical information first and follow up with supporting material.
5. Consistency is key. Inconsistency leads to a lack of trust. If people don’t trust you, they won’t act on your recommendations or follow your lead. Trust is where influence ultimately occurs.
What are your thoughts on the role of influence in managing projects? Have you struggled with it? Have you improved, and how?
Artificial Intelligence is in the news every day — actually it’s in our lives every day, from driving apps and email filters to the ways we shop, network and learn. Yes, smart machines and robots are already here, and yet it’s quite evident we’re only just getting to know them. That’s scary … exciting … and, for most of us, probably a combination of both.
So here we are on ProjectManagement.com, and I’m wondering — what does AI mean to the project management profession?
Gartner recently offered its latest analysis on the impact that AI will have on business strategy and human employment, predicting that by 2022, “smart machines and robots may replace highly trained professionals in tasks within medicine, law and IT.” Really? Please go on…
"The economics of AI and machine learning will lead to many tasks performed by professionals today becoming low-cost utilities," says Stephen Prentice, vice president and Gartner Fellow. "AI's effects on different industries will force the enterprise to adjust its business strategy. Many competitive, high-margin industries will become more like utilities as AI turns complex work into a metered service that the enterprise pays for, like electricity."
Apart from being conduits of (team) energy (and strategic effort), are project managers “like electricity”? And is project management a future low-cost “utility”?
Gartner qualifies that “the effects that AI will have on the enterprise will depend on industry, business, organization and customers.” Prentice cites the example of “a lawyer who undergoes a long, expensive period of education and training. Any enterprise that hires lawyers must pay salary and benefits big enough to compensate for this training for each successive lawyer it hires. On the other hand, a smart machine that substitutes for a lawyer also requires a long, expensive period of training. But after the first smart machine, the enterprise can add as many other smart machines as it wants for little extra cost.”
Can you do that with project managers? Isn’t each project a unique endeavor? (For that matter, isn’t each trial, client, judge and jury?)
The Gartner report does address the benefits of AI technology versus human interaction and decision-making — “while AI will hit employment numbers in some industries, many others will benefit as AI and automation handle routine and repetitive tasks, leaving more time for the existing workforce to … handle more challenging aspects of the role, and even ease stress levels in some high-pressure environments.”
"Ultimately, AI and humans will differentiate themselves from each other," says Prentice. "AI is most successful in addressing problems that are reasonably well-defined and narrow in scope, whereas humans excel at defining problems that need to be solved and at solving complex problems. They bring a wide range of knowledge and skill to bear and can work through problems in various ways. They can collaborate with one another, and when situations change significantly, humans can adjust."
Sounds like project managers to me!
The Gartner report continues — CIOs should “develop a plan for achieving the right balance of AI and human skills. Too much AI-driven automation could leave the enterprise less flexible and less able to adjust to a changing competitive landscape. This approach will also help reassure employees about where and how AI will be used in the organization.”
Are these discussions happening in your organization? If you don’t know, you should probably start asking. If they are happening, you should start participating. Because you want to be part of an organization that doesn’t see project management as a utility, and that demonstrably values your very human role in its success — now, and in the scary, exciting future.