Handling Political Situations As A Project Manager

Paul Naybour

All project managers would like to think they have good working relationships with the members of their team, other managers and project stakeholders but the reality can often be very different. The personalities of those involved in a project, how they deal with conflict or handle criticism and setbacks, will determine how successful a project turns out to be and it is frequently the project manager who has to set the good example, smooth ruffled feathers and generally encourage everyone to work together in a mature way.


Not all project teams can deal with problems easily or handle conflicts maturely; individuals have their own agendas, they may feel overlooked for a leading role on the project or are reluctant to be involved at all. If issues between team members, managers or stakeholders start to dominate the project then progress will suffer.


Office politics are nothing new, but for project managers the issues can be exacerbated because teams can be created only for the duration of a project without any thought for building good working relations, which often take time to develop. Political situations are usually easy to spot; they almost always involve some real or perceived grievance or a power struggle, or “awkward” personalities but project managers cannot, for the sake of the project, put their head in the sand and hope the problem will go away.


Instead you need to tackle it – not always easy if you shy away from conflict and there is no defined process to resolve such issues so you need to think outside the usual structure of a project for the answers. If the problems are with internal employees they can be easier to handle by sitting down in a non-confrontational manner with those involved and giving them an opportunity to privately air their grievances. Of course, there may be no immediate solution to some problems but the fact that you have taken an interest in solving the problem can still have a positive impact.


But sometimes the politics involve an external client but, nevertheless, a project manager has a responsibility to establish and maintain an effective working relationship between all parties involved in the project. When you decided to be a project manager diplomacy may not have been high on the list of skills you needed, but diplomacy is essential in leaders and project managers are no longer just managers but also leaders, or, at least those who are successful are.


The main point about political situations is that they cannot be ignored. You may not be able to keep everyone happy; you may have to make some difficult decisions but you must be seen to be working towards a resolution. Remember that how you behave as a project manager and your own approach to difficult situations is just as important to a project’s success as a detailed requirements document or a well-thought out plan.

So remember these tips:


1.      Every Problem Has Two Sides

There are always two sides to every problem so view both perspectives dispassionately and try to understand each point of view. Remember everyone involved is human and will have their own personal worries and insecurities.

2.      Keep it Simple

Encourage those involved to make a clear, simple statement of the problem and don’t allow anyone to start bringing up old grievances – your concern should be the current project and its success.

3.      Think About the Benefits

Remind everyone of what they personally stand to gain from a successful project; not just job satisfaction but also maintaining  their own and their company’s good reputations.

Projects are rarely easy and usually have enough problems to contend with without adding problems with people’s behaviours and attitudes into the mix so deal with any such problems swiftly and firmly. Be a leader…

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