For project managers, gaining stakeholders' trust and confidence is essential for attaining full project buy-in and successful execution. Here are four ways you can help increase stakeholders' confidence in your abilities.
1. Be confident and prepared to answer questions
Bees and dogs are not the only creatures that can sense fear; people have an uncanny way of recognizing fear through verbal and nonverbal cues. The way you carry yourself, communicate, and make decisions provides stakeholders with insight into your capabilities and shortcomings. If you exude a lack of confidence in any of these ways, stakeholders will have trouble believing you are capable of leading a project.
The first step toward instilling confidence in your stakeholders is believing you are the right person to lead the project, and identifying and documenting all of your strengths before meeting with them. This may sound like an obvious cliche, but if you don't believe you can be fully effective as a project manager first, you certainly cannot expect others to believe you are the best person to lead a project.
Be prepared to answer questions from stakeholders about your qualifications and experience right out of the gate. Accept that a small percentage of stakeholders will challenge you from day one to confirm you are a leader and deserve their confidence. Remain self-assured, respectful, and transparent when answering their questions. This will help stakeholders to get to know and trust you.
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2. Don't allow the ghosts of failed projects to haunt you
If you are a project manager that has had a few failed projects, this history may follow you and may cause you constant discomfort. Stakeholders may have heard rumors, whether based on fact or not, and this may taint their views on your abilities to lead a project to success.
Take the time to analyze past failed projects and be willing to briefly discuss lessons learned with weary stakeholders. Be honest, clear, and accountable to stakeholders but do not belabor these points, as they may create additional fears. Avoid allowing stakeholders to turn the conversation into an inquisition or put you on the defensive. Rather spend your time focused on ensuring more successful project outcomes based on the lessons you have learned.
3. Aim for clearer communication, above all else
Solid communication is one of the highest level skills necessary to be an effective project manager and leader. Stakeholders often base their confidence in you as a project manager based on how often and how well you communicate throughout the project lifecycle. If they seldom hear from you, or your communication skills are lacking, they are likely to doubt your abilities to be effective.
If you suspect this is an issue, get direct feedback from stakeholders to determine where you are falling short. Make immediate changes to your interactions with stakeholders, communication style, and frequency. Then follow up with stakeholders after those changes have been implemented to confirm if things have improved. It may be necessary to get outside help through organizations like Toastmasters that can help you communicate more clearly and more confidently.
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4. Work towards building a culture of trust
If the stakeholders are your team members and you are new to the team, this can be particularly complicated and tricky. It may be one of those situations in which a lack of confidence is not a reflection on your abilities or knowledge as a project manager at all. The environment a project team and other stakeholders are entrenched in may foster a general sense of distrust for all newcomers.
Be prepared for some strife and conflict when trying to get to the root of the real issues — this is normal. You may need to engage in some team-building activities to help strengthen communication and cooperation, and establish a sense of trust. This will make increase the likelihood of gaining the buy-in you need to be successful with the project.
Also, engage teams and stakeholders in direct face-to-face conversations whenever possible to sort through any underlying barriers. Transparency and open communication can go a long way in helping stakeholders establish confidence in you.
If stakeholders lack confidence in your abilities due to your own lack of confidence, past failed projects, communication issues, or if there is a general culture of distrust, it's important to address these reasons early on before they negatively impact your ability to successfully lead the project.
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Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contributor and co-host of the "technically speaking" segment on the Price of Business Talk Radio. She has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the US and Canada. To find out more about Moira, go to www.leadhershipgroup.com.