Co-workers talking at a desk
Project managers must engage their team members to earn their trust.

by Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator

The project manager’s task is difficult. They’re responsible for seeing a project through to its successful completion, managing costs, materials and a host of logistical issues. But they also have to manage teams of people, over whom (most of the time) they have little or no executive authority.

That’s why leadership skills are critical for project managers. PMs rarely have the “you’re fired” card in their hand. They must employ other people skills to make sure the work gets completed on time and with quality. This challenge is only magnified when projects involve remote teams. Then, the PM not only lacks authority but also the face to face interaction with the team.

Here are three practices project managers can employ to get the most out of the people they need to get the job done:

Have big picture conversations.

You’re not the boss. In fact, you may only have a temporary presence in the team members’ lives. When the project is finished, so might be your relationship. So, how can a project manager get employees to invest themselves?

One way to foster that investment is to engage employees in big picture conversations. Too often in isolated projects, workers get “tunnel vision.” They’re only focused on their small part and have no idea what part it plays in the whole. Project managers have that “Goodyear blimp” perspective that allows them to see the scope of the entire project. Share this with your team members on a regular basis. Let them know about the dependencies connected to their part of the project. Getting team members to invest in you personally as the leader might not be an option, but you can get them to invest in the project as a whole.

I’m reminded of the stories about medieval cathedral builders in Europe. Many of these magnificent buildings were constructed over centuries. That meant that many workers spent their entire lives building only a section of the cathedral. But they had a vision of something bigger than just the small part they were working on.

Be aware of other obligations.

Chances are your project isn’t the only one on the plate for your team members. They have other responsibilities they’re working on. Take the time to engage the members in your team and find out what else they’re working on. That will help you to be more sensitive to other demands on their time. It may head off potential conflicts or even affect the time frame and deadlines you place on them.

Don’t be the PM who has to work through a missed deadline with a stress out team member simply because you failed to ask, “What else is going on with you?” You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and build a lot of good will by asking a few questions and not assuming your project is at the center of their world.

Take an interest in what’s going on outside work.

No, you don’t have to be “best buds” with the members of your team. What you do need to do, however, is connect with team members on a personal level. Just like other work obligations can affect the way they work, so can personal issues and obligations.

A good PM should know about impending family events that might take away time or focus on the project. Again, this doesn’t mean you have to go out for beers with your team or take a deep dive into their personal life. It only takes some time over a cup of coffee or at lunch to figure out what’s going on in the lives of your team, to express a genuine interest in how they spend the other two-thirds of their lives. Doing that can foster a greater sense of trust in you and help you manage your responses to them.

As I mentioned, this dynamic is even more complex in a remote work setting and requires a specific set of skills. RLI offers a number of outstanding courses that can help you gain these skills, including those in our Remote Leadership Certificate series. We also offer courses like this one specifically geared toward working with remote project management teams. Find out more and contact us if you have any questions.


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