Project Practitioners > Reaching Up In Relationship

Reaching Up In Relationship

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


Back in June 2018, I wrote an article laying out ten characteristics every successful project manager possesses. As the questions and comments rolled in, I began wondering if I should dive a little deeper into each trait to show how to become better in each.

The result is a ten-week article series. The tenth and final characteristic I listed was “reach up in relationships.” Here is what I originally wrote:

“‘Reach up’ in relationships – having people around them who are smarter, brighter, and more creative, connected to their willingness to change, challenge tradition, grow, and do what others can't.

If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. You should strive to learn from each and every person around you. While you may have a vast knowledge base, some people have a deep understanding of niche ideas.

Pick their brains to dive deeper into something you have surface level knowledge of. Use subject matter experts as resources for not only solving intricate problems but also adding to your knowledge base.”


Now, let’s figure out how to become better at reaching up in relationships.

  1. Figure Out What Up Means


Define what you are looking for then proceed.

What is a vertical move for you? Is it befriending the senior managers in your organization? Is it networking at local PMI chapters with people of your skill level from other organizations? Sometimes, a lateral move to a different company can project you farther than building a relationship locally.

Reaching up in relationships also means looking at someone who has done what you want to do. Draw a roadmap similar to theirs and then make it your own. There is no blueprint for success, but there are foundational aspects each person possesses.

Some of these include discipline, seeing opportunities where others do not, and putting in the time. Make work the reward is what drives successful individuals to greater heights.



  1. Put the Person First, Not the Position

A CEO might not be as influential as someone with a lesser title.

People work their way up the corporate ladder. A chance meeting you had with someone five years ago could end up being your new boss. You were nice to him or her then and now he or she will be nice to you now.

I wrote about putting the person before the problem to help in decision making. The same goes for networking. Put the person before the title. The Director of BLAH! may be retiring soon and not care about connecting people or getting involved with social events. The title looks impressive but can do little for your positioning.

The ‘lesser’ titles at the same organization may be of greater benefit to you. Someone may have received a promotion to program manager and wants you as part of their team. This ‘lateral’ move might provide an increase in salary and influence at the new organization. Also, your new boss is a friend of yours making it easier to work. You have a built-in support system allowing more freedom.


  1. Help Them Help You

Give give give, then give some more. Helping them helps you.

The best way to solidify a business relationship is lending your skills to someone who needs them. Eventually, that will pay off with a job, a project, or a connection that boosts your career. This symbiotic relationship benefits both parties.

At the time, you may feel like you are giving away your services for free. You are paying your debts to cash in eventually. This process does not happen overnight. You may be giving for decades before ever starting to reap the rewards. Patience is a virtue. Your ten small favors over time can be cashed in for one big favor in a time of need.

Be careful of the expectation to receive something in return. Never expect it to come back. Again, the work should be the reward. If it is not, you are in the wrong activity.


  1. Overperform

When the time comes to perform, overdeliver. Outperform their expectations.

Not only help them but help them extraordinarily. Be the dependable person they can rely on last minute to get the job done. There are so many contractors and vendors who want the work but do not want to put the work in. They return phone calls and emails, eventually. They perform the work, eventually.

I never thought being on time and reliable was such a difficult trait to find in a contractor. They want thousands of dollars to do whatever they want whenever they want. Instead of checking off the boxes, overdeliver. They want something in three days, get it to them in two. They asked for your time next week, give it to them tomorrow.

All of these little details show your commitment to the project and the product/service that is produced. Eventually, the project will not even go out to bid. They will just get sent to your inbox.



Reaching up in networking is not necessarily going straight to the corner office and submitting your resume. It is a gradual process. The people who can do the most for you now may not be the CEO’s and Directors. A project manager going through a similar struggle may be the key to your immediate success.

Pay it forward. Mentoring is a great way to offer up these ‘reaching up’ services to up and coming project managers. Volunteering at your local PMI chapter is another great way to get involved with similarly minded individuals.

Once you form a relationship, start to overdeliver. Give them a sense of your commitment. Overnight success is decades in the making.

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