Project Practitioners > They Won't Always Like You

They Won't Always Like You

By Sinikka Waugh

Dear new and emerging project leaders,

I have some very important news for you.  I need you to stop for a moment and consider what I am about to say. 

Many of you have been very well trained through formal classes and study, and access to tools and techniques.  Several of you have been taught by experience in other disciplines or other fields.  A handful of you are lucky enough to have a mentor to help you on your way.

You're no doubt filled with optimism and confidence, ready to take on the world of project management.  Sure of your finesse with the iron triangle of scope, time, and cost, you're eager to put your integration, communication, and risk management skills to the test.  Ready to manage the project at your fingertips, and any others that may line the horizon.

You know all about schedules and workbreakdown structures.  You've learned about roles and responsibilities, budgets, and risks.  You understand how procurement impacts a project, and you know how to manage quality.  You've studied up on communication, and you're ready to lead your team.

But are you ready for the fact that they won't always like you? 

That, my friends, is the message I need you to hear:  They won't always like you.

  • One day, you will deliver a message to a project sponsor that he doesn't want to hear.  You'll be the one to tell him that he can't have the additional scope within the same time frame or for the same cost.
  • One day, you will ask a team member to account for why she has not completed the task she promised to complete.  You'll be the one to tell her she's not meeting expectations.
  • One day, you will report the project status as red, because of a lack of resources or an overly aggressive schedule.  Someone will frown on you for admitting that you need help.
  • One day, you will be a part of a situation that is unpleasant, difficult, challenging, or downright ugly, and there will be no amount of effort on your part that can change the reality of the situation.  You will try, but you will not be able to lift spirits.
  • One day, you will make a mistake, and you'll let someone down.

 And it's okay.

 Here is what you must do:

  • Lead with integrity and with a commitment to excellence. 
  • Speak the truth, and speak it with grace and confidence. 
  • Model accountability for your team, and hold yourself accountable just as you hold them accountable. Be open to feedback and coaching, and ask for help when you need it. 
  • When a situation is bad, figure out the problem; identify steps to resolve it; and have the patience to allow others to cope with unpleasantness in their own way until the situation is resolved. 
  • And when you make a mistake, apologize for it; do what you can to make it right; learn from it; take action to prevent it from happening again; and move on.

Then, my friends, they will not always like you, but they will respect you.  They will trust and admire you, and they will let you lead.


Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Well written and a good read when the rare but inevitable doomsday arrives on one of your projects.

As a project manager, I always keep Khruschev's two letters at the back of my mind.

really good article!
that is the true about PM and that is real world

Interesting article.

Most often times a PM has also to lead the organisations stakeholders (directors etc.) as well as the execution team and manage expectations on a much wider level.

So, being a PM is most definitely not a popularity contest. The hardest word any project manager has to learn is NO!

Sandy - thanks for the feedback! It's nice when a PM gets to lead without the "darker days", but they do come!

Thanks for the feedback, Abhay, and to the link to the interesting note about Kruschev's letters. I try to live out integrity and personal accountability and to model solving problems together; and my experience with grace is that there's a tremendous sense of both peace and responsibility that accompany getting a clean slate.

Thanks for the feedback, Mark. I couldn't agree more. It's not about popularity, and it is about doing the right thing. A PM often has to set and manage expectations for many different audiences, and sometimes, popular or not, "no" really is the best answer!

I love it when we collectively speak the truth! When I started at my current position I told the management team that the company would be better because I was going to push hard for improvement, but that there were times where I would be causing pain and that they would want to put a price on my head! To be effective doesn't alway make you popular, but it does allow you to make an impact!

Thanks for the comment, Margaret! I love your description of setting clear expectations up front with leadership about the reality that some days you'll be less popular with them than others, but that it's for the collective good. I use similar phrases in my role as accountability coach - you won't always like me, but you've hired me to help you improve. Thanks for the great example!

The comments to this entry are closed.

©Copyright 2000-2017 Emprend, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
About us   Site Map   View current sponsorship opportunities (PDF)
Contact us for more information or e-mail
Terms of Service and Privacy Policy

Stay Connected
Get our latest content delivered to your inbox, every other week. New case studies, articles, templates, online courses, and more. Check out our Newsletter Archive for past issues. Sign Up Now

Follow Us!
Linked In Facebook Twitter RSS Feeds

Got a Question?
Drop us an email or call us toll free:
7am-5pm Pacific
Monday - Friday
We'd love to talk to you.

Learn more about ProjectConnections and who writes our content. Want to learn more? Compare our membership levels.