Project Practitioners > Gaining Credibility

Gaining Credibility

By Alfonso Bucero

Not many organizations have a formal project management selection process in place. But all companies want to have the best project managers ready for managing projects successfully. Managers expect good project results and team members want to have the best project managers to manage successful projects–good leaders that they will follow.

Then the project manager must cultivate not only hard but also soft skills to be successful. Most soft skills are linked to people attitudes and behaviors.

            One of the lessons I learned is that organizations need project managers who are honest and competent and can also inspire people. For example: Last year I was involved in a project whose objective was to move one organization from functional to project oriented organization. I found many resistors from the customer organization and only a few believers. I tried to act honestly with all of them and in many meetings I said “This change is difficult but not impossible”. Today is a good day is my principle. Everything can be changed in the project environment. Also I was very disciplined and always did what I promised. I agreed with my customer to present a project status report every Friday at

10:00 am

and I did. I planned to meet somebody at determined date and I did. 

Credibility is built through a set of little details achieved during the project. We must learn from the results and refine our actions. That means credibility. Project management credibility has to do with reputation. Credibility is something that is earned over time. It does not come automatically with the job or the title. It begins early in our lives and careers.

A credibility foundation is built step by step during our professional career path. And as each step is achieved, the foundation of the future is gradually built. From the team member’s perspective, you do not want to follow a project manager who is not credible, who does not truly believe in what he/she is doing and how he/she is doing it.

Project manager’s credibility has a significant positive outcome on individual and organizational performance. I believe real project leaders strengthen the people around them and make others feel more important. Project leaders must act as facilitators. The most important thing is the project, not the project manager. Credibility can be defined as the behavioral evidence they would use to judge whether or not a project leader was believable. The most frequent response was “they do what they say they will do” or they practice what they preach. “They walk the talk” (Randall L. Englund – “Demonstrating Authenticity and Integrity,” PM Network).

Credibility is mostly about consistency between words and deeds. Project stakeholders listen to the words and look at the deeds. Project leaders are expected to do what they say. They are expected to keep their promises and follow through on their commitments. But what they say must also be what team members believe. To take people to places they have never been before (achieving project results), project leaders and team need to be on the same path. And to get people to join the voyage of discovery voluntarily requires that the aims and aspirations of leaders and teams be harmonious.

Forgetting the “we” has “generated” many problems for project managers. Their actions may have been consistent only with their own wishes, not with those of the people they wanted to lead. When project managers resort to the use of power and position, to compliance and command to get things done, they are not leading, they are dictating.

The credible project leader learns how to discover and communicate the shared values and visions that can form a common ground on which all can stand. Credible leaders find harmony among the diverse interests, points of view, and beliefs. Upon a strong, unified foundation, project leaders and teams can act consistently with spirit and drive to build viable projects.

I recommend following three steps to strengthen credibility – Sharpness, Harmony. and Passion – that are closely linked:

Sharpness: Commitment to credibility begins with clarifying the project leader’s commitment, needs interests, values, visions, and project objectives.

Harmony: To build a powerful and viable project, a project team needs to be in harmony about a common cause, united on where they are going, on why they are headed in that direction, and on which principles will guide their actions.Credible leaders need the ability to build a shared vision and values. Harmony exists when team members widely share, support, and endorse the intent of the commonly understood set of aims and aspirations. Not only do team members know what these are, they are in agreement that the shared vision and values are important to the future success of the project and the organization. They also have a common interpretation of how the values will be put into practice.

Passion: Understanding and agreeing to aims and aspirations are essential to the process of strengthening credibility. But we have learned that actions speak louder than words, so people who feel strongly about the worth of values will act on them. Passion exists when principles are taken seriously, when they reflect deep feelings, standards and emotional bonds, and when they are the basis of critical organizational resource allocations. When values are intensely felt, there is greater consistency between words and actions, and there is an almost moral dimension to “keeping the faith.”

Sharpness, Harmony and Passion provide a useful framework for looking at the process of strengthening credibility. But what about the daily project manager’s actions? When I ask project leaders across Europe to give me specific examples of what their most admired leaders do to gain respect, trust, and a willingness to be influenced, the most frequently mentioned behaviors are: he/she supported me, challenged me, listened to me, celebrated good work, trusted me, empowered others, shared the project vision, admitted mistakes, advised others, taught well, and were patient. These are desired universal traits that cross all borders.

All the comments are about serving others and making others feel important, not about making the project manager look important. They are about empowering others, not about grabbing power. Project managers must be consistent and work hard—that is my preferred way to overcome project obstacles. Maintaining credibility requires passion, persistence and patience, especially in the face of adversity. Often the lessons are learned the hard way, and admired leaders are ones who admit mistakes and learn from their experiences. Based on experts James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner (Credibility, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993), I derived six practices that they call the six disciplines of credibility. Here is how I adapt them for use by project managers:

1.    Exploring yourself: Explore your inner territory. Look into the mirror and ask yourself questions like: Who are you? What do you believe in? What do you stand for? To be credible as a project manager, you must clarify your own values and beliefs. Once clear on your own values, translate them into a set of guiding principles that you communicate to the team you want to lead.

2.    Be sensitive with team members: Understand that your own leadership philosophy is only the beginning. To be a leader, you must also develop a deep understanding of the values and desires of your team members. Listen to them. Leadership is a relationship and you will only be able to build that relationship on mutual understanding and respect. Team members come to believe in their leaders - to see them as worthy of their trust- when they believe that the leaders have their best interests at heart.

3.    Confirming shared value: Credible leaders honor the diversity of team members. They also find a common ground for agreement on which everyone can stand. They bring people together and join them in a cause. Project leaders show others how everyone’s individual values and interests can be served by coming to consensus on a set of common values. Confirm a core of shared values passionately and speak enthusiastically on behalf of the project.

4.    Developing capacity: It is essential for project managers to develop continuously the capacity of their members to keep their commitments. Assure that educational opportunities exist for individuals to build their knowledge and skill.

5.    Serving a purpose: Leadership is a service. Project leaders serve a purpose for their people who have made it possible for them to lead – their teams.

6.    Sustaining hope: Credible leaders keep hope alive. Teams need a positive attitude from their leaders in troubling times of transition. Optimists are proactive and behave in ways that promote health and combat illness. People with high hope are also high achievers.

Project team members expect their leaders to have the courage of their convictions. They expect them to stand up for their beliefs. If leaders are not clear about what they believe in, they are much more likely to change positions with every fad or opinion poll. Without core beliefs and with only shifting positions, would be leaders will be judged as inconsistent and be derided for being “political” in their behavior.

Managers expect project managers to lead successful projects and achieve good results. Credibility is a condition for project success that must be earned day by day during the project. “Walk the talk.”

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