Project communication does not seem to have a high priority in project management, although we communicate in projects multiple times a day—with team members and stakeholders. Communication is not only indispensable in our daily lives, but also in projects the means or perhaps better the “fuel” or the “lubricating oil” that drives the project forward, integrates project team members and stakeholders and reduces risks. In this article you can read why communication in projects and especially for you as a project manager is so important and what you have to pay attention to.
Communication Is One of the Most Important Tasks of the Project Manager
Project status reports, small talk in the coffee corner, discussions in the status meeting and presentations to decision makers: Communication in all directions is one of the most important tasks of the project manager—although many are probably not aware of this. If a project manager thinks they can manage, monitor and control their project via email from their desk, they are is certainly wrong.
Communication is the exchange of information, consciously or unconsciously, in the form of ideas, information, reports, instructions or even emotions and gestures.
I differentiate communication in projects in:
- Informal Communication: Spontaneous and unplanned exchange, such as on a photocopier or in an elevator on the fly.
- Formal Communication: Defined by organizational guidelines and rules in form or content or regulated by existing framework conditions.
- Unconscious Communication: Our communication or our behaviour, which we do not perceive ourselves, but which affects others.
All three forms of communication are important and contribute significantly to the success of the project.The unconscious communication you may not have expected. There is far too little talk and writing about it, but in my view it has a significant influence on how your project team members and stakeholders perceive you as a project manager and how they support you, for example.
Communication is not only an exchange of information and a means to an end, as many often think, but makes your project much more efficient, safer and brings life to your project. Imagine a project in which there is no communication, neither written nor verbal—you couldn’t carry out the project at all.
Communication in the PMBOK®.
Project communication is also an important part of the PMBOK® and is dedicated to a special Knowledge Area (Project Communications Management). The PMBOK® describes this chapter, as usual, very dry, formalistic and process-oriented. The chapter includes the following sections:
Plan Communications Management: Developing an appropriate approach and plan for project communication activities based on the information needs of each stakeholder or group, available organizational assets, and the needs of the project.
Manage Communications: Ensuring timely and appropriate collection, creation, distribution, storage, retrieval, management, monitoring, and the ultimate disposition of project information.
Monitor Communications: Ensuring the information needs of the project and its stakeholders are met.
I could now explain the chapter Project Communications Management of the PMBOK® in more detail here. However, this is not my intention, because you can read about it there yourself. However, I would like to pass on a few points to you here, which you should pay more attention to as a project manager in communication—and these are not in the PMBOK®.
The Project Manager as the Central Person in Project Communication
The larger the project, the more management tasks and communication increase for project managers. As soon as a project manager has a management level with sub-project managers, the less he or she has to deal with detailed tasks. The majority of the main tasks are then communication tasks with stakeholders. This is not only outside the project, but also includes the project team. Detail-oriented and introverted project managers will have a greater challenge here, because self-confident appearance, sociability and targeted word and tone selection are important for successful communication. However, this can be learned to a certain extent and is not innate.
The most important communication partners of the project manager are the project team on the inside and the project sponsor on the outside. Then, of course, there are the other stakeholders such as the steering committee members, senior management, line managers of project team members, etc. In external projects, the customer and his stakeholders are of course central communication partners.
As a project manager, you have to be careful what you communicate and what you don’t, and how you say it. Word and tone choice in written and oral communication is important here. What is the recipient’s interpretation of what is communicated and what could be read between the lines? Too much communication is bad but also too little. In certain situations it is better to be brief. However, there are also situations in which communication should not be spared. I am thinking, for example, of crisis situations.
In the following project areas the communication of the project manager has an important role:
- In stakeholder management
- In project marketing
- In team management
- In the decision-making process
As a project manager, you are the centre of attention, the main communicator and role model.
Communication in Stakeholder Management
Stakeholder management largely consists of communication. This has the goal:
- To inform stakeholders
- To influence stakeholders and get them on board
- To promote the project
Communication doesn’t just mean talking. Of course, this also means listening carefully to the stakeholders. But it also means perceiving resistance, concerns and potential problems and dealing with them, asking questions, obtaining feedback and other people’ views and opinions.
The importance of stakeholder management is strongly underestimated. In my article Stakeholders – One of Your Biggest Project Risks I show you that the best processes and methods do not make your project successful. People deliver the project, people do the work. There are also people who can hinder or stop your project, it doesn’t have to be project changes, cost overruns or false assumptions. Your stakeholders could be your biggest risks. In this environment, constant contact and communication with stakeholders is essential.
Good project management also includes going where the work is carried out. Asking questions, asking for opinions and concerns and listening well. This is an important management technique and project controlling activity, which I have described in this article: Project Monitoring with Management by Wandering Around (MBWA).
Listening is an important part of communication
Project Marketing is Communication
The success of your project depends not only on how well you work with your team as a project manager, but also how stakeholders perceive it. As a project manager, you must therefore sell your project well, so that it is known and perceived positively. Every project manager does project marketing, but often unconsciously and not systematically. Project marketing is an important part of your communication strategy and must be planned. My article Project Marketing Makes Your Project Even More Successful shows you what you need to pay special attention to in project marketing.
Communication Also Means Being Able to Listen
Communicating also means listening and letting others talk—and don’t interruping them. Listening is especially important for acquiring knowledge. Because be aware: you don’t know everything! Ask your team members for their opinion. Here I notice a very large deficit among many managers. . What is your opinion on this issue, problem, risk, or budget estimate? What would you do in this situation? Project team members who are asked for their opinion feel valued. Do you listen to stakeholders what their opinion is, what concerns they have or what they would do otherwise? I’m sure you will benefit as a project manager, especially when it comes to making decisions. Ray Dalio describes this perfectly in his book “Principles – Life and Work” in chapter 3.2 Practice radical open-mindedness:
- Sincerely believe that you might not know the best possible path and recognize that your ability to deal well with “not knowing” is more important than whatever it is you do know.
- Recognize that decision making is a two-step process: First take in all the relevant information, then decide.
- Realize that you can’t put out without taking in.
- Recognize that to gain the perspective that comes from seeing things through another’s eyes, you must suspend judgment for a time—only by empathizing can you properly evaluate another point of view.
Decision making is a two-step process: First take in all the relevant information, then decide.
How You Are Perceived by Others as a Project Manager
This chapter is getting more personal now and many of you may not have thought much about the following. As a project manager, you communicate daily, consciously and unconsciously, verbally and non-verbally. Have you ever wondered how your communication and behaviour is perceived by others, how you affect others?
How your communication is perceived by others has a significant influence on how stakeholders and the project team react to your communication, what they think of you and how they trust you and support you.
I have already worked with various project managers. For example, one of them was very intelligent, which he unconsciously showed in his communication. He often did not show any appreciation for people outside his project team and often described them as incapable. He rarely asked for the opinion of his project team members. Surprisingly, he was successful despite these “deficits”—because he was able to compensate for them with excellent business knowledge, intelligence and good networking. But he could have been much more successful if he had communicated differently. However, the negative image still remained with him. Marshall Goldsmith wrote one of the best books on this subject: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful.
A project manager who knows everything better and rarely asks for the opinion of his team members produces resistance and rejection, reduces trust and creates a bad reputation. What for example the project manager described above had in excessive self-confidence, other project managers often have too little and this can be seen in their conscious and unconscious communication. They seem insecure, do not represent their position well enough, and give in quickly.
What do you think about a project manager who talks badly about other people?
Get Feedback on Your Communication and Behaviour
A “mature” project manager gets feedback from his team or from trusted people. Of course, it is not easy to get honest feedback, especially when it comes to unpleasant, negative points. For example, anonymous feedback can help with a 360 degree feedback review. This is the only way for a project manager to find out what others find disturbing about them, what goes wrong with their behaviour or communication and what others think about them. They can then compare this with their self-image. Such feedback is not always pleasant, but extremely valuable if you accept it and then work on yourself.
Another possibility is to be accompanied by a management coach for a certain period of time and thus receive direct feedback.
Self-confidence in communication is also based on solid knowledge, feedback and training. On the one hand you can train daily in your environment on the other hand the Toastmasters, for example, offer a good training environment to gain more security.
This article is of course not complete, otherwise it would have been even longer! Communication in projects is essential, especially for the project manager, because their main activity in the project is communication. Here are a few short tips that I would like to give you on your way and what I miss most about leaders.
- Listen more and talk less
- Talk respectfully about other people, even if they are not your “friends” or they are not sympathetic to you.
- Go where people work and communicate more with your project team members (Management by Wandering Around).
- Ask your team members and stakeholders for their opinion on problems, risks, possible solutions, etc.
- Get feedback on your communication and behaviour
- Train your communication and leadership skills
- Ray Dalio „Principles – Life and Work“
- Marshall Goldsmith “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful”
- A book that every project manager who wants to take his communication and behaviour a big step further should read: Dale Carnegie “How To Win Friends And Influence People”
What experience have you had with project communication? Do you agree with my statements or do you have a different view? Share your experience with a commentary so that we can all get to know another point of view. Thank you!
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