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The Single Greatest Quality a Project Manager Must Possess

chris kopp professional development project management Apr 21, 2021
The Single Greatest Quality a Project Manager Must Possess

There are all kinds of skills, qualities, and talents you must possess to be a successful project manager. You need to be able to see the big picture, break it down into smaller pieces, and assemble it back together again. You need to be a leader, motivator, inspector and persuader. But, all of these qualities mean nothing unless you have…

Credibility.

Credibility is defined as the quality of being trusted, convincing, or believable. Trust me when I say there is a lot of trust me in project management. Maybe the following will sound familiar:

“Trust me, the client will do what they say they’re going to do,” or,

“Trust me, we’ll get through this rough patch of the project,” or,

“Trust me, I’ve done this a million times before.”

How many times have you found yourself asking your team to trust you? Probably too many times to remember. If you are requesting someone’s trust, are you quite certain you have proven yourself to be worthy of their trust?

Why Trust is Important

For people to trust, they need to see a track record of reliability. Think about the first time you went for a small loan at a bank. They required all kinds of paperwork and a co-signer before they would loan you the money. Why? Because they didn’t trust you. That’s right; you didn’t have a track record of borrowing money and paying it back in a timely fashion.  Once your credibility was established, the bank offered to loan you all kinds of money with just your signature, because they now trust you will pay your loans back.

The same thing happens in your relationships with project team members. There is a certain level of positional credibility that comes with the job, but it still takes time to establish personal credibility within the dynamics of a team. People have to judge for themselves whether or not to take you at your word.

Three Ways to Gain Credibility

There are a number of things you can do as a project manager to gain credibility with your team. The following are a few suggestions:

  1. Do What You Say You Are Going to Do

Following through is easier said than done. It requires thoughtfulness to back up your words with actions…all the time. Your team is always watching how you behave. If you say you’re coming in early the next morning to knock out a tough part of the project plan, then make sure you show up early. If you say you’re going to talk to the client about them no longer bypassing the change control process, make sure you talk to them. Credibility starts with following through on your smallest commitments and migrates all the way up to your major promises. Not quite sure you can follow through? Then don’t commit to it just yet. There’s nothing wrong with doing a bit more research before committing, and then following through on your promise.

  1. Don’t Talk Too Much

Picture a line chart. Your credibility is the horizontal axis. The amount you talk is the vertical axis. There’s a point in time where you reach the optimal amount of “talk to credibility” ratio. But, if you keep on talking and talking and talking, you run the risk of your credibility dropping.

Case in point. I knew a fellow that by all accounts should have been over 400 years old. Why? Because his stories didn’t add up. There’s no way he accomplished what he said he did in just 40 meager years. He told stories of being a concert pianist, best-selling author, star soccer player, and world-renowned chef. He claimed to have quelled oppressive regimes in foreign countries, started up and sold scores of wildly successful companies, and on top of that he was the ideal husband and family man. At first, he inched along the horizontal slope of the line chart, establishing moderate credibility. When he didn’t stop talking and you realized most of what he said wasn’t true, his credibility quickly spiraled downward becoming lower and lower with each additional word.

Project managers need to talk. You need to talk a lot. The key is to find that optimal point at which you become and stay credible. This can be done by moderating how much you say and what you talk about.

  1. Listen to Your Own Conversations

A very helpful practice is to listen to your own conversation. Do you find yourself saying, “Yeah, but this time it’s going to be different,” a lot? It might mean that your credibility is waning, but you haven’t admitted it to yourself. Reflect on your dialogue with project team members. They’ll remember everything you say, so you should too! Remember what you say and to whom, and make adjustments if you find yourself back-pedaling on a regular basis. This will help enormously to gain credibility.

It takes years to build up a storehouse of credibility and is an asset that will serve you well. If and when you do make an honest mistake, that storehouse of credibility will help you weather any storms you may face. So remember, you may be the best project scheduler, risk mitigator, or cost controller in your company. But, all of these things mean nothing unless your team trusts you. Build a solid base of credibility and your projects will flourish!