5 tips for building better relationships with stakeholders and team members

Due to the nature of their job, project managers sometimes get a reputation for being difficult to work with. Here are five tips to get work done without alienating people.

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Project managers are tasked with successfully executing projects and providing expected deliverables that meet stakeholder goals. In the course of doing their job, project managers can sometimes gain a reputation for being difficult to work with. Keep in mind that it's impossible to please everyone all the time, but here are five suggestions for increasing the goodwill of your team when you can.

1. Help team members and stakeholders understand your level of responsibility

Project managers are seen as control freaks — and rightfully so. In addition to having and using solid planning skills, monitoring and controlling is a significant part of the project manager's role. Whether it's schedules, budgets, timing, quality, resources, or any other facet of a project, project managers are responsible for keeping projects moving in the right direction and answering to sponsors and stakeholders for any issues. Meeting the goals sponsors and clients have imposed on project managers requires a great deal of focus on tasks, resources, and timing.

As a result, project managers need to be in constant contact with team members to check in on tasks and timing, and this need for frequent updates may be difficult for team members and stakeholders to understand.

It's best to set expectations with team members at the project kick-off. Communicating the level of responsibility held to team members at the start of a project may help them to understand your role better and reduce some misunderstandings. Explaining the project needs, your role, their roles, frequency of contact, is key in setting these expectations. Leave room for open communication whereby team members feel they can voice their concerns and answer questions to clarify expectations.

SEE: How to build a successful project manager career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

2. Work in some time to get to know your team members and stakeholders

Project managers' schedules are typically packed with meetings, constant documentation and updates, issue resolution, and many other tasks, leaving little room for small talk. This can make project managers appear unsociable and disinterested in non-work discussions at times. It is vital for project managers to recognize that team cooperation and synergy relies heavily on the connection and communication between the team and the project manager. Taking just a few minutes each hour to chat socially with team members and other stakeholders can create a connection that has a large and lasting positive impact on the team and the project.

3. Balance goal attainment and relationship management

Everything in project management is centered around meeting intended goals, so it's not surprising that managers are always focused in that direction. This, however, can make the project managers appear like the consummate and constant taskmaster. It's critical to remind yourself that a significant part of project management focuses on people and trying to maintain positive relationships. Without maintaining these relationships, it is highly unlikely goals will be met.

Make sure to balance goal attainment with relationship management and communicate the importance of your team in working through the project. Set aside some time each day to build and maintain relationships with individual team members with conversation that is not centered around projects or work. Make sure to be inclusive and fair, don't leave out individuals. If you are short on time, set aside two 10-minute sessions to build rapport with two separate team members.

4. Be mindful with communication during conflict resolution

Conflict resolution can be a tricky area for project managers to navigate. They typically have to focus on the project goals and what is required to meet those goals when trying to resolve conflict. This can make them appear insensitive to the resolution, favoring one side over another.

The key to helping all parties understand the chosen resolution and reducing the chances of appearing insensitive is communicating the reasons for the choice and explaining how the decision impacts on the outcome of the project.

Carefully selecting the right tone for the conversation is also vital. Strive to talk with team members instead of to them or at them. Never raise your voice or put down anyone,— regardless of position, everyone deserves respect. Remember your role is not to intimidate anyone, your role is to smooth conflict while staying focused on project goals and team synergy.

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5. Be clear about project requirements up front

Meeting project deliverables and clearly defined business requirements means project managers have limited room for compromise. Stakeholders may be tempted to assume project managers have a significant amount of latitude to deviate from requirements, and that if project managers are reluctant to do so it is by personal choice.

To remove some of the misconception, set the stage at the beginning of a project and discuss goals, assumptions, and limitations with your team and other stakeholders to make sure everyone is on the same page. The can make it easier for all parties to understand all the requirements, as well as the parameters each individual is operating under and is responsible for.

It is important to recognize in your role as a project manager that you simply cannot please everyone all the time. However, working towards alleviating some of the reasons project managers may appear difficult to work with can help smooth over a significant number of misconceptions.

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About Moira Alexander

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 contr...

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