Project Management

Helping Project Managers to Help Themselves

I'm all about Building Thriving Leaders™ This blog is based on over 35 years of project management and leadership successes and failures. Get practical, concise nuggets on both hard and soft skills to help you deliver projects successfully with minimal friction.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Knowledge and Wisdom: What's the Difference?

I Just Wanna Be a PM!

The Straight A’s of Intentional Leadership

Ten Ways to Grow your Followers into Leaders

Ten Points to be a Better Up and Out Influencer


Agile, Career Development, Communication, Decision Making, Disability Inclusion, Empowerment, Followership, Leadership, New Job, project execution, Project Management, project sponsorship, Social Media, Time Management, Upward Management, Work Life Balance, Working from Home, Writing


Ten Points to be a Better Up and Out Influencer

The Scenario: 

Alberto has just been hired to head up the program management office for Aspiron Group.

Alberto prepares a 30-minute presentation to replace the organization’s status reporting system for his vice president, Irene.

Alberto and Irene will be meeting each other for the first time.

At the beginning of his presentation, Irene gets an urgent phone call and apologizes to Alberto saying she only has 15 minutes.

Alberto presents slide 1, his view of why the organization needs a new status reporting system.

Irene immediately starts questioning Alberto about his reasons for wanting to replace the current system and why money should be redirected from other priorities to the new system.

Alberto, unable to satisfactorily answer some of Irene’s questions, fumbles for answers and gives a lot of “I’ll have to get back to you on that” statements.

After 15 minutes, Irene again apologizes for having to cut the meeting short and leaves the room. “What is he talking about?” Irene thinks as she leaves.

Alberto is left alone sitting in the room, having never gotten past slide 1, feeling as if he’d blown setting a positive first impression with Irene.

The Message:

Poor Alberto. Not only is it less likely that he will get the new status reporting system, but he has also failed to establish credibility with Irene. Rather than starting from a positive or neutral credibility position, he’s now operating from a deficit position, making it more difficult to influence Irene in the future.

As a leader, there are two vitally important concepts you need to clearly understand when influencing up and out. The first is the five tollgates that I believe leaders must successfully pass to effectively influence up and out (who I will refer to as recipients):

  • Tollgate 1: The recipient believes you’re credible – The recipient agrees that you have the subject matter knowledge to discuss the problem.
  • Tollgate 2: The recipient acknowledges the problem – The recipient agrees that the problem you’re trying to articulate truly is a problem.
  • Tollgate 3: The recipient understands what you want to do about it – The recipient not only has a clear understanding of the problem, but also understands how you think the problem should be solved.
  • Tollgate 4: The recipient sees how this aligns with his/her priorities – The recipient not only understands what you want to do but also agrees with the urgency of solving the problem relative to other problems on the recipient’s to-do list.
  • Tollgate 5: The recipient gets what you expect him/her to do – The recipient is clear on what you want him/her to do to address the problem.

With tollgate 5 comes the second important concept, which is about decision ownership. There are four decision ownership scenarios, as follows:

  • You propose, recipient decides – You expect the recipient to make a decision based on your proposal.
  • You decide, recipient concurs – You decide and look for concurrence and guidance from the recipient.
  • You decide, recipient is informed – You decide and keep the recipient abreast of your decision.
  • You decide, recipient is not informed – You decide and do not inform the recipient because the recipient doesn’t need to be concerned with your decision.

I can’t over-emphasize enough the importance of these two concepts when influencing up and out. The first ensures alignment with how a problem needs to be solved and what you expect the recipient to do, and the second articulates the roles you and the recipient play in any decision-making.

Do you need to be better at influencing up and out? Here are ten points to consider:

  1. Digest the five tollgates – Truly take the time to understand each tollgate, its importance, and what you need to do to ensure your communications follow the five tollgates structure.
  2. Make sure you structure your content to address each tollgate in sequence - If you haven’t passed tollgate 1, your likelihood of making it through the remaining tollgates is drastically reduced. Build your pitch around each tollgate in sequence.
  3. Make your words count - More content isn’t better. Get your point across in as little content as possible. Make liberal use of bullets versus narrative text to better condense thoughts into consumable chunks.
  4. Be manic about watching reactions - If your recipient is signaling understanding and you’re getting the desired result for a tollgate, move on to the next tollgate. I’ve had plenty of pitches where I’ve glossed over content because the recipient was already on board with what I was presenting in a tollgate. The most important thing is to get what you want, not to showcase everything you’ve prepared.
  5. Remember absolute vs. relative priorities - Just because a recipient says, “Not now,” it doesn’t mean the recipient is an idiot or that you’ve failed. Accept that timing might not always be on your side.
  6. Structure content for the time allotted and have a plan if that allotment changes - Plenty of times I thought I had an hour to pitch an idea only to have the recipient tell me I only had 30 minutes. Anticipate what you’ll do in the event your time gets cut short.
  7. Use fewer slides with Harvey balls – Forget the 7x7 rule (7 bullets no more than 7 words each). Put more information organized in sections on a slide and use Harvey balls to walk your recipient through your pitch. It saves a lot of “go back to slide 13” requests and actually facilitates more discussion. It also helps in the event your time gets cut short.
  8. State the ask/advise/inform upfront – Your recipient needs to know whether he/she is being asked to make a decision, is expected to advise, or is just being informed. Be clear on what you are expecting your recipient to do and ensure he or she agrees with the role.
  9. Be bold about telling the recipient what you think and why – This is particularly important when the recipient needs to make a decision. You could frustrate the recipient by asking an open-ended “what do you want to do?” question and then arguing with the answer. Besides, you then have to work from the recipient’s position as opposed to putting yours out there to start with.
  10. Leverage best practice examples that have worked for others – Seek out others who have had to influence up and out to sell an idea, get a copy of their communications (email, slide deck, etc.), talk with them about what worked/didn’t work, and ask them to look at your communication before publishing. You’ll both develop more effective communication as well as build relationship capital with those you seek to learn from.

The Consequences:  Being ineffective at influencing up and out can lead to the following:

  • Others will drive your destiny – Those who influence up and out better control the narrative and get what they want, which could come at your expense.
  • You won’t be helping your followers – Your followers expect you to be able to influence your management and peers across the organization to help them do their jobs.
  • You will be viewed as if you’re out of your league – Your peers who are better at influencing up and out will be viewed as stronger leaders by your management.

The Next Steps: 

  • Review the five tollgates and ten points on influencing up and out.
  • Decide which ones you need to improve.
  • For any points you’ve identified as needing work, put an action plan together to address those influencing up and out areas.
  • Use a trusted advisor who can hold you accountable to be more effective at influencing up and out.


Posted on: August 11, 2022 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Genuinely and Humbly Seeking Wisdom

The Scenario: 

  1. Frank has just been promoted to project manager.
  2. Frank had worked under several project managers and is determined to show others what a good project manager is all about.
  3. Iris is a peer project manager with many years of experience managing very complex projects.
  4. Frank’s manager has asked him to meet with Iris as a peer mentor to help him on his first project as the project manager.
  5. Frank reluctantly agrees to meet with Iris, believing he is equipped to manage the project without her help.
  6. Frank meets with Iris several times, each time leaving the conversation thinking what he knows is sufficient and Iris’ advice isn’t necessary.
  7. Several major issues crop up on Frank’s project that Iris had warned him about and he didn’t take her advice.
  8. Seeing that Frank’s project is in trouble and he is not getting it back on track, Frank’s manager removes him as project manager and gives the project to Iris.

The Message:

I can freely admit that this situation happened to me. I was Frank. It was painful. It was humiliating. It was also what I needed to accept that I wasn’t “all that.” I needed to be humble enough to listen to others when they were telling me the stove was hot and if I touched it I’d get burned. That’s not to say I have always put in motion any wisdom given to me, but I can say that I now genuinely seek wisdom from those equipped to give it. There have been countless times my path was altered because of wisdom given, and I’m thankful for it.

Simply put, seeking wisdom is critical to your growth as a leader and can save you a lot of heartache. Give these nine principles a look and see if any resonate with you:

  1. Seeking wisdom must be genuine – Your purpose for learning from others needs to be because you truly want to learn and benefit from others who have the experience and wisdom to help you avoid mistakes.
  2. Don’t use seeking wisdom as a weapon – Seeking wisdom to get others to express a point of view in order to attempt to prove your own superiority is not only disingenuous, it’s flat-out rude. By all means, ask clarifying questions, just don’t use the opportunity to show someone more experienced how smart you are.
  3. Don’t worry about exposing your own lack of wisdom – Being guarded or cagey about seeking wisdom out of fear of being “found out” means you’ll likely miss out on opportunities to learn. Filtering questions to protect your own pride can lead to not getting the best possible advice.
  4. Don’t selectively seek wisdom to prove a hypothesis – You may have strong beliefs on a specific topic and want to learn more, not so much to understand the pros and cons but to support a hypothesis you’ve already formed. Be open to hearing different points of view even if they don’t align to what you want to hear.
  5. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from others – Being silent or hesitant to seek wisdom when an opportunity presents itself is truly an opportunity lost. Seize the moment and learn what you can from others, even if your original intent wasn’t to seek wisdom.
  6. Learn from bad behaviors as well as good – Some may share wisdom not because they’re interested in candidly sharing, but to prove a point, make you feel less significant, or just plain boast. Observe not just what is being shared but how it’s being shared, then model the good behaviors and strike the bad.
  7. Look for trends – If you ask five trustworthy people for wisdom on a topic and all five tell you the same thing, that’s a pretty good sign you should heed the advice given. Look for trends to help better inform you on what wisdom you should put to use.
  8. Make sure the person providing wisdom has the credibility to share it – We all have experienced a know-it-all, the person who professes to be expert on just about any topic. Your job is to pragmatically assess the credibility of the person providing wisdom. If they don’t have the stripes to be giving wisdom, then beware of their advice.
  9. You retain the right to decide what to do with what you’ve learned – Seeking wisdom doesn’t mean you automatically put it to use. You’ll get a lot of points of view on different topics; at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what to do with what you’ve learned. Make sure you have a reasonable explanation as to why you’ve chosen a different path and aren’t just being stubborn.

The Consequences:  Not genuinely seeking the wisdom of others can lead to the following consequences:

  • Avoidable mistakes – Thinking you know better than those with more wisdom can lead to mistakes that could have been avoided had you taken the advice.
  • Wasted time and money – Recovering from an avoidable mistake can take extra time and money that could have been avoided.
  • Greater difficulty seeking wisdom in the future – If you gain a reputation for not heeding wisdom given to you, then others will be less likely to offer up wisdom in the future. Why would someone waste their time trying to give you wisdom if it’s unlikely you’ll use it?

The Next Steps: 

  • Examine past situations where you either sought wisdom or someone offered you unsolicited wisdom.
  • For each situation, be honest and ask yourself:
  1. Did you genuinely seek the wisdom?
  2. Did you do it to prove superiority?
  3. Were you guarded about asking for wisdom, or (4) Did you squander the opportunity to seek wisdom?
  • If your motivation was to not genuinely seek wisdom, assess what your typical attitude was and is about seeking wisdom.
  • Decide that you want to genuinely seek wisdom. Remember that you can choose whether or not to accept the wisdom, but have a rational explanation as to why you didn’t do something with the wisdom provided to you.
Posted on: July 01, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Shooting the Messenger

When I screw up, I have one way that I have found effective at helping me get through it and learn from it.

I write about it.

This is one of those royal jerk screw-up times.

Patty and I stayed at a hotel where we paid about $300/night. The room was clean and the location good, but the service and amenities were definitely substandard, certainly not something we’d expect from a $300/night room. The night before we checked out, we put together a number of issues and I sent it to the hotel’s customer service site, requesting a reduction in our room rate. The next morning, I talked with the hotel sales director about some of our issues. She was pleasant and empathic and said she would talk with the general manager.  A couple of hours later while driving we got a call from the sales director informing us that the hotel would not make any adjustment.

This is where the jerk part comes in.

I told - no yelled – that the sales director was making a mistake and that we were going to publish our issues with a poor rating on the travel website that we booked the reservation. After a couple more words I hung up. Patty was silent, which meant I was in the doghouse. I said to her, “Hilton would have given us better service.” That’s when she told me (rightly so) that I was rude to the sales director, that she was only the messenger, and that I should have never talked to her that way. The next 30 minutes in the car were pretty silent; I knew she was right and just needed a bit of time to reflect. We stopped at a Subway for lunch and while we split a turkey sub I told her she was right and how I shouldn’t have done what I did. After we arrived at our next hotel I emailed her an apology which she graciously responded to. Even with the apology, I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting a Christmas card from her.

I’d like to say that my primary motivation for writing this article was to give you something to chew on; actually, it’s more a reminder to me and if you get collateral benefit then all the better. Even after reflecting on my actions I still believe that me being disappointed with our stay at the hotel was justified. However, as I look back on my actions there are four things I did wrong:

  1. I shot the messenger – The sales director wasn’t the decision maker; she was only delivering a message from her boss. I neglected to acknowledge that she was only conveying a message, and that she wasn’t the decision maker.
  2. I talked to her in a tone she didn’t deserve – I wasn’t calm and measured in my demeanor; I was angry and I wanted her to know it. I could have gotten my point across just as effectively without turning into a Tasmanian devil.
  3. I let my ego get in the way of doing the right thing – When the sales director didn’t give me what I thought I deserved I took it personally and reacted as if her actions were personal. In reality, she was just doing her job.
  4. I damaged a relationship with a potential customer – Some would say that I’ll likely never see her again, so who cares? In my profession anyone wanting to learn more about leadership, project management, or disability inclusion is a potential customer. Any help I could have given her is likely an opportunity lost.

My point to not only you as my readers but as a reminder to me is as follows: be firm in your convictions but do it with respect. You don’t have to be a wet noodle and give in to others; just don’t be a horse’s hind during the process.

Posted on: October 16, 2021 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sloppy or Shady?


Recently I received two LinkedIn requests to connect, one from a rep at a well-known insurance company and the other from a financial planner at a well-known financial services company. In the first request the rep told me that the insurance company notified him that my construction company is eligible for a special program that grants an immediate discount.

Sounds great; the problem is I don't own a construction company.

Twice I asked him to tell me who at the insurance company notified him. He finally responded with a “nobody notified us,” even though in his original message he was “notified by <insurance company> that my construction business qualifies for the discount.”

In the second request the financial planner told me he works with a few employees of and would love to walk me through his investment process.

I have two employees; myself and my wife, who confirmed with me she is not sitting on a wad of cash and investing without my knowledge.

I asked him which employees he worked with. He responded and weakly blamed it on an auto-response that he used for other clients. He did apologize for the inconvenience, but the fact that he gave a bogus excuse didn’t sway me.

I am intentionally not divulging the company names nor the individuals who sent me connection requests; there's no need to do that. Getting these two messages caused me to think more about these types of requests and the impression it left on me. With the financial services request, the financial planner blamed it on technology and didn’t take the time to review a very short LinkedIn message before sending it off to me. With the insurance request, the rep flat-out lied to me when I pressed him for an answer.

Sloppy financial planner. Shady insurance rep. Neither worthy of my business.

One can argue that the sloppy financial planner just made an honest mistake. Maybe so. However, the financial planner was pitching me on him managing my money. Do I really want someone overseeing my nest egg who doesn’t even take the time to read a simple LinkedIn message before sending it? Sorry, but no chance. The first and lasting impression he left, even though he apologized, was one of someone who doesn’t pay attention to details. Not a good impression for a money manager to leave.

Now onto the insurance rep. After he saw I wasn’t going away he sent me a response which directly contradicted with his original message to me. So, he not only sent me a bogus first message, but when he sent me the second one, he didn’t even bother to read what he first sent me. Why in the world would I trust someone with my insurance needs who doesn’t respond, then when pressed for an answer gives me conflicting answers? Not a chance.

Neither of these individuals considered not only the negative impressions they as people left on me, but also the negative impression I now have of both companies represented. I’ll probably forget both of their names, but I won’t forget either company.

The point here is simple. Do whatever you can to make your first impression positive. If something goes awry (which occasionally it does), own up to it, apologize, and ask for a second chance to make a great impression. Humbly admitting your mistake can work to your advantage and help you get the outcome you desire. Just don’t let your lasting impression be sloppy or shady.

Posted on: September 03, 2021 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

My Scaling Up Lessons Learned

My very first job was baking bagels at age 15 back in Connecticut. When my family moved to Arizona a year later, I bagged groceries and stocked shelves until I graduated high school, then sold clothes while in college. After getting my degree I joined Arthur Andersen & Co. as management information consultant where I worked in Phoenix, Chicago, and Seattle. After 11 years I went to Microsoft where I worked for nine years before leaving to homeschool our son. My professional life now is as an author, publisher, consultant, and disability inclusion advocate. It’s a journey that I never anticipated and am thankful for the great life learnings it afforded me.

Through the years I’ve experienced countless bumps and bruises, made lots of mistakes, and had a few successes along the way. One of my biggest growth areas, though, was in my scaling up as a leader. So much of what I learned came through making my own mistakes versus learning from others. To help you avoid touching the stove (trust me, it’s hot), I compiled a list of some of my most valuable (and painful) learnings. Hope they’re helpful.

Lean in during a crisis

  • Say “I’m focused,” not “I’m nervous.” Others want to know you’re in control.
  • Be calm when everyone else is freaking out.
  • Sometimes your best alternative is your least-worst alternative.
  • Don’t be evasive or “go dark.” Others will make up their own answer if you don’t give it to them straight.
  • Immediately get alignment on the goal and what needs to happen next, even if you don’t know all the steps to get to the goal.
  • Act deliberately to match the urgency of the situation.

Execute with purpose

  • Be manic about bringing clarity to chaos.
  • Think good-enough to solve the problem; don’t polish the apple.
  • Respond when asked for help, but ensure others are helping themselves too.
  • Be clear on what, who and when and hold others accountable for getting things done.
  • Be decisive but be willing to admit when you’re wrong.
  • Make and follow through on tough decisions empathically and intentionally.
  • Don’t let the urgent crowd out the important.
  • Schedule everything in your calendar, including down time.

Cultivate others

  • Be accessible, not open door; you need to get things done too.
  • Respect others’ time like you want yours respected.
  • Genuinely seek and candidly share wisdom.
  • Don’t delegate tasks to complete, empower problems to solve.
  • Do what you say you’ll do, and expect others to do the same.
  • Create an environment where others feel comfortable asking for help. 

Be a great communicator

  • Have high value per word (Two ears, one mouth).
  • Ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding.
  • Ask knockout questions to challenge thinking.
  • Watch others for verbal and nonverbal cues and adjust your actions accordingly.

Behave like you belong in the position

  • Walk and talk with purpose, not like you’re out of control.
  • Be politically aware, not politically driven.
  • Never do anything that causes someone to question your integrity or principles.
  • Know what life contentment (personal, professional, financial, etc.) looks like and work to achieve it.
  • Don’t make your position look so taxing that no one else would want it; no sending 2 a.m. emails.

I’d love to know what you think of my learnings or if you’ve got questions. Ping me here!

Posted on: August 29, 2021 03:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

"It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it."

- Steven Wright