Project Management and Politics

Project management courses prepare us with the tools and techniques necessary to manage a project successfully. However, one aspect that is overlooked is the politics of project management. There are few organizations where managers don’t indulge in some sort of politics to further their cause within the organization. A successful project manager should be willing and be able to employ political tactics in a positive manner to successfully complete projects.

Most organizations employ the matrix implementation of projects. This means we could have resources from multiple functional departments or verticals coming together for the short duration of the project and work as a team. It is not uncommon to see competition and rivalries across these verticals within the organization, leading to power jostling and vying to be the “top dog” in the room. In such circumstances individuals very often forget the common goals of the project over their own personal agendas. This article by Michelle Symonds (!9ACWj) suggest three techniques-

1. Be a good arbiter and understand the reasons for the conflict between the parties.

2. Simplify issues by laying down a common set of guidelines for the project that all should comply by , else threaten to halt the project until guidelines are met.

3. Laying down the common guidelines will also remind everyone of what the common benefits are to all within the project.

In many situations, project managers use politics as a way of making contacts, cutting deals, and gaining power and resources for their departments or projects to further corporate, rather than entirely personal. In a project matrix environment, project managers are competing for resources for their respective project. Project mangers often don’t have formal power so must rely on political behavior and various influence tactics. The better a project manager is at negotiation, the greater their influence skills are likely to be. Dale Myers in his blog(  states good politics as working the system to achieve positive results and helping to meet or exceed business objectives (i.e. profit, growth) and finding win-win solutions. On the other hand bad politics is about abusing power to win at all costs (win-lose solutions) leading to a highly demotivating and destructive environment. Some of the traits of bad politics are self promoting, aligning always with power brokers, spreading gossip, distancing from failure, exacerbating the situation without taking any ownership and  extracting information without sharing their own.

Some of the ways to practice good politics are as follows

1. Identify the politics around you by identifying the power blocks and alliances in the organization.

2. Promote successes of the team and yourself. Confront negative talk about you and the team with facts.

3. Avoid taking sides by falling into a power block.

4. Don’t bad mouth others.

5. Earn trust and respect through positive deeds and actions. This way you can build your own network that share your perspective and agree with your values.

6. Don’t shut out those who practice bad politics rather, engage them, try to understand their perspectives, and learn their patterns.

7. Always look for win-win solutions. That way you will have less enemies within the organization.

8. Stick to core values, but also expect betrayal.

Project management is much more than just scheduling tasks and managing risks and budgets. Projects are rarely easy and office politics can make things worse,  so they need to be dealt with swiftly and firmly.