Whether you’re a lead business analyst or project manager looking after an entire portfolio, some of your time will be spent advising senior managers and making recommendations. These people are often very influential and have a significant role to play in the success (or otherwise) of your projects. However, many people find it difficult to talk to people higher up the hierarchy than themselves, especially if most of their experience has been leading teams and managing others.
Here are five ways to make it easier to get the message across to senior executives:
1. Observe your Stakeholders
Try to find out their communication preferences. For example, don’t send an email to someone who prefers you to make an appointment via their assistant. Trying to call someone who travels a lot could be difficult, and they may be more likely to respond to an email. Talk to others who have worked with them before or ask their assistant (or them directly) about the best way to get in touch.
2. Start by presenting the big picture
Senior managers are busy people, and they haven’t necessarily got the time to understand the detail of your project.
Start by explaining the big picture: the impact on the company, the high level benefits and any major risks.
If they want more detail, they will ask for it, so make sure that you are prepared to answer any questions!
3. Show Empathy when resolving/negotiating conflicts
On many projects, programmes and portfolios there are a number of senior managers playing a part. It would be nice to think that they all have the same expectations, but that isn’t likely to be the case!
Part of your role is to identify where there are conflicts of expectations and to highlight potential problems.
If you can, work with them to come up with an acceptable way forward and to manage their expectations collectively. If you can’t do this alone, rope in some colleagues or your project sponsor to help.
4. Understand that they may not know it all
We often think of senior managers as the fountains of all wisdom. After all, they have significant authority and influence within a company and they’ve reached the dizzy heights of the C-suite due to their experience and expertise.
However, they don’t know everything, and this is especially the case for people who have only recently taken on a senior management job. For these managers, they will be learning on the job and adapting to a new role. On top of that, they are just normal people, subject to the stresses of the workplace like everyone else. So acknowledge that they might not have all the answers and could actually be looking to you for recommendations or guidance.
5. Maintain relationships and always communicate
Build good relationships with your senior stakeholders as this will pay off over the long term. It does require continual communication and an open and honest approach to dealing with their questions, but as you no doubt already know, relationships are really important for a project to be considered successful.
If the senior stakeholders change, you’ll have to start all over again which can be time consuming and demoralising, but stick with it!
Build up your personal credibility by being trustworthy and demonstrating good leadership skills in your own area and this reputation will also help you when it comes to advising others, regardless of their level in the corporate hierarchy.
Having good people skills is essential to being personally and professional successful when it comes to project and programme management, and dealing with people isn’t the easiest part of the job.
There is no single way to guarantee engagement from senior executives and while they might be supportive of your project today the situation could quickly change if the business environment does.
However, being able to communicate effectively with executives and to manage their expectations is crucial for project success, so it really will pay to establish good working relationships and to become a trusted adviser to senior managers.
Credit: Elizabeth Harrin
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