Many project managers feel as if their role is more of a game than a job. Some project managers play to win, some simply wait for the next roll of the dice, and others haven’t got a clue how to play. Many project managers are accomplished at playing the PM game and are able to deliver spectacular results. Others simply don’t know what they’re doing and cannot deliver because they clearly don’t understand the rules of the game.

Once you start playing the “Game of Project Management,” you soon realize that there is never enough money, people, and time, so you have to call on your interpersonal skills to get what you need to get the project delivered.

There are two fundamental aspects regarding the human side of project management that are important to remember:

  • People influence a project’s success or failure.
  • A project problem can only be resolved by people.

So, if it’s people that form the core to any project, let’s look at the way many project managers play the people game. A successful end result means everything to project managers. They cannot afford to fail because executives are always looking at two key things:

  • Who’s putting money into the coffers—i.e., delivering on time, staying within budget, keeping clients happy, etc.
  • Who’s taking money out of the coffers—i.e. missing milestones, allowing conflict on teams, going over budget, experiencing unhappy clients, etc.

Organizations therefore try and employ project managers that have the ability to deliver. The downside to the political game involves what I call “shark-like” behavior: careerism, scheming, underhanded negotiating for resources, political campaigning, and unscrupulous behavior.

Let me knock down a few myths right from the get-go. Only naïve PMs believe that hard work, mastery of Microsoft Project, and knockout project documents will make you a better project manager. This myopic approach may work for you on small projects, but definitely not on medium to super-size projects, where executives demand instant 360-degree views of budgets, resources, time, and more. So how then do you play this game? You need to be able to:

  • Understand politics extremely well.
  • Provide timely communications.
  • Build relationships.
  • Provide leadership to your team.
  • Improve your negotiation skills among others if you are to win.

Types of players
Politics and manipulation are out there and real. I was fortunate over a period of years to observe how project managers play the project management game. Next time you are on a project team, PMO meeting, or meeting with fellow project managers, take a close look at the players.

Figure A

Figure A illustrates the various types of players you would encounter in a typical project organization. A technique you could use to map your “style” is the popular Myers-Briggs personality typing indicator test. The idea is to acquire a snapshot of your personality traits and how those attributes interact with other personality types of the players on your team. Once determined, your personality type should give you insight into how you can best influence or motivate other project stakeholders.

Using your skills to win
One of the biggest reasons many new project managers don’t succeed is that they think the key to success is simply to ignore politics. It’s crucial to accept the reality of politics and learn how to navigate political situations successfully. Here are steps you can take:

  • Use positive politics to keep your project on track.
  • Learn how to recognize political red flags and not be victimized by them.
  • Neutralize negative politics that may be used against you.
  • Manage conflict better and don’t be drawn into it.
  • Learn how to increase your personal power in the workplace and be able to influence decisions on your project.
  • Learn to keep an edge on others and thereby keep your project on track.
  • Build relationships and get to know people on your project—vendors, sponsors and executives.
  • Get involved ahead of the game. By being a proactive player, you will be able to better compete for scarce IT resources.

Following these pointers should help you successfully navigate political minefields and win at the game of project management.