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Learning to Navigate Project Management Politics: Part 1

By Demetrios Gianniris,
Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

This week we'll look at best practices around project management and strategies to manage the politics involved in the project management process. 

To most people, Project Management is generally defined as the art of accomplishing a goal through people. If we take the time to identify the mechanisms which make the accomplishment of project goals possible, politics is typically near the top of the list. Since politics are a fact of organization life all Project Managers are political beings by virtue of their position. That said, becoming politically savvy is easier said than done. Furthermore, it is not always viewed as a wholesome worthy goal to begin with.project management team meeting

Let us take a step back for a moment and understand what politics means. The word “politics” is derived from the Greek word “πολιτικός” ("politikos" or “civilian”), modeled on Aristotle’s book on government called Affairs of State. Although the term is generally applied to behavior within civil governments, it can also be applied in corporate, academic, and religious institutions.

In Book1 of Politics, Aristotle’s says, “ο άνθρωπος φύση πολιτικόν ζώον” (“The State is a creation of nature, thus man, by nature, is a political animal”). Aristotle notes that, what every being is in its most perfect state, is the nature of that being, whether it be a man, a horse, or a house. Hence it is evident that a city is a natural production, and that man is naturally a political animal, and that whosoever is naturally and not accidentally unfit for society, must be either inferior or superior to man.

The fact is, we live in a world full of intricate systems of power. Ignoring external and internal politics can and will affect the health of your project. Understanding how to successfully use good politics to manage stakeholders through leadership and influence is not only a key component to project success, but also a key ingredient to your own longevity as a professional in the industry.

Following are best practices for navigating project politics.

Be consistently ethical and authentic
Know that, in most cases, your project stakeholders would like nothing better than to be able to trust you. Be truthful and transparent. It will help you build integrity. Do it consistently, and it will help you build trust, an extremely important component of successful project management.

Observe the Shadow Organization
Although the organizational reporting structure of a project is important, its Shadow Organization is even more so. Observe your Shadow Organization by noticing who the hubs of social interaction and corporate intelligence are. Discover who has influence, who is respected, and who champions others. Create a visual map by way of who is leading the way (not just driving the bus). Classify every interrelationship, noting whether it is built on friendliness or respect, while noting the strength of each connection.

Build relationships without imposing agendas
Take the time to build your network without imposing personal agendas on your relationships. This will help you build a healthy network which will allow you to build visibility, attract opportunities, improve difficult relationships, and gain access to information. Allow your network to use you as a leverage point of solutions in a way that helps them to be successful. Realize that your self-worth is not synonymous with your net-worth.

Apply your power of persuasiveness through relevant value
Know that, in order for people to be persuaded, they need to see the immediate relevance and value of what you are saying in a way that fulfills their needs and desires. Realize that logic alone is rarely convincing unless it intimately connects to desire.

These are some of the key elements to navigating project politics.  Be sure to read Part 2 of this series where we look at how to promote full disclosure, openness and humility in the project management process. 

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Categorized under: Project Management 

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