Steaming. Ranting. Arrogant. Oblivious.
“I don’t get it. We work our <synonym for tails> off for these people, and all I get is grief. Why don’t they show a little appreciation? A little more cooperation?”
I looked at him with a combination of pity and disbelief. “Dude, they don’t like you!”
How could he have missed the signs? Here was a very capable Project Manager who did exceedingly well with the process and technology aspects of project delivery. However, he was abysmal at managing the people aspects of his job.
My last two articles discussed monitoring project communications. Keeping a finger on the pulse of how our messaging is coming across to our stakeholders, clients, team members, and management is paramount. (Refer to “Why Monitoring Communications Begins With the Ask” and “17 Common Sense Ways to Monitor Written Communication.”)
Had he done so, he might have recognized how he was perceived. He would have understood where he needed to make changes. Either he was completely oblivious, or he just did not care enough to adjust his style and approach.
You may argue that as Project Managers our job is to get the project delivered on time and within budget. We are not focused on being liked. True – if the not-being-liked part does not translate into a degradation in performance.
In this case it did. His own staff operated out of both respect and fear. I caught them lying several times – at least one time when it was critical that the information be transparent. I also had to challenge them on behalf of my client regarding inflated change control estimates.
Key client staff did not want to be in the same room with him. Their once enthusiastic approach to their project work declined to a grudging sense of duty. This was not a healthy attitude to keep them motivated to develop creative solutions and achieve project goals.
The stakeholders also developed a cautious distrust of him. They would push back on his suggestions when there was no need to do so. Outside of the meetings, they would ask me and other trusted advisors of our opinions on what he had recommended.
The signs were there for him to recognize he had a project problem. In his arrogant confidence in his project management capabilities (which were stellar), he failed to monitor the project communications that would have helped him understand and adjust:
- client staff avoiding eye contact when talking with him,
- client staff not initiating conversations with him (a non-starter for projects),
- client staff’s cheerless tone of voice and one-word responses when answering his questions,
- client staff complaining about him behind his back but vocally within hearing of his staff (interestingly, these were not passed on to him by his staff),
- his project staff begrudgingly agreeing with their client counterparts,
- client staff not responding quickly to his emails and then responding curtly,
- client management second-guessing him and challenging him in status meetings, and others.
No, as Project Managers we do not need to be liked to be successful. Though it does make the job much easier. I am often reminded of a conversation one of my colleagues had with her client about this same IT provider, “Yes, they came in on time and within budget. And we’ll never work with them again.”
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