Project Practitioners > It Is The People

It Is The People

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes

When people say they hate their job or their project, what they mean is they hate the people they have to deal with on said job or project. People do not quit organizations, they quit bosses. The organization is fine. It operates. It pays on time. It provides a clean working environment. The organization tends to be an inanimate object.

The upper management tends to be the ones who talk and do not do or constantly put their feet in their mouths. They oversell and under deliver. You become the scapegoat. You are the project manager. Manage the project no matter what. You become a pawn in the project used by others to get their way — a facilitator of nonsense.

Focus on quality over quantity. One or two excelling connections can make a world of difference over being everyone’s friend all of the time. Develop those bonds that prove fruitful time after time instead of grasping at random options that appear shiny. Do not be a barracuda.

Factors like trust, mutual respect, and mindfulness are part of a quality relationship. Upper management loses trust when they start overselling the abilities of the organization. You know what you and your team are capable of, and sometimes, it just cannot. Senior managers just focus on that dollar amount. Burn bridges and scorn others on the path to financial domination. Sounds like a nightmare.

How can project managers foster relationships?


Understand Relationship Needs

What is the goal of the relationship? Some people want to know about your life before starting a business relationship while others just care about making money. The names and faces are interchangeable to those types. You can be Joe Blow from Nantucket or Susie Q from Miami. As long as the money is coming in, you are alright with them.

In my experience, getting along with the individual who you do business for or with helps the ease of the arrangement. It makes it easier to go to them and state whatever, whenever. The project is behind. You can tell them knowing an overreaction is not going to occur. The project is successful. You can tell them and share in the glory.

Mutually beneficial is a beautiful relationship. You provide the work. The contractor provides the service. They make money. You make money. The cycle continues until someone retires.


Make The Time

Like anything, you get out what you put in. If you are not focusing on those relationships, those relationships will continue to flounder. Put the effort in to ask questions about anything other than work. You may find out you have some commonalities that bring you closer together. Instead of always calling with a problem, now he or she calls to talk about the local sports teams or Hollywood gossip.

It may seem unimportant at the time to engage in these exchanges, but when you get done with a five-minute discussion on the NBA trade deadline with a contractor, that means more than telling them to estimate a garage door opener for repairs.

A kinship over professional wrestling or fishing can bring together two parties closer than a multi-million project could ever think of. Again, take the time to find out those details. Is their child on a traveling sports team and he or she is a crazy parent yelling from the stands? That means more to them than being the owner of the project you manage. Being the owner of the project allows them to cheer on their children.


Be Positive

Problems are easy to find. Take a look at your to-do list, and there is an immediate source of issues. Take a phone call from a vendor or subcontractor, and issues will flood your eardrums. Role reverse and keep the conversation positive. Let the individual vent then get it back on track with the progress being made.

Sure, the contractor is making more work of it than it needs. Sure, the tenants are unhappy it is taking so long. Sure, the appliances could be of better quality and reviewed better online. Meanwhile, the tenants are getting new appliances while the house they are renting is getting put back together. Yet, in light of getting new appliances they did not have to pay for, people still find a way to complain.

Be different. Do you want to blow someone’s mind? Stay calm and remain positive during any and all circumstances. They will start to look at you like a superhuman because you do not overreact in either direction.


Manage Boundaries

Some people will take advantage of these friendships you are establishing. While talking about the NBA trade deadline for five minutes is ok, rambling about it for 30 minutes creates an issue. Getting the life story about a cousin’s cousin’s brother-in-law probably is not the most useful way to use your time.

Personal and professional relationships should have clear boundaries. There are still things that cannot be said in the office that you can get away with in someone’s home. Getting too comfortable can get you in trouble. Do not give anyone any material to come back at you. Keep it professional, clear, and concise. The goal is to get work done with people you enjoy. The priority is work.

You have the steering wheel in your hand for everything you do. You let that conversation go too long or in a weird direction. A simple ‘I will let you go’ takes care of that ear beating. Let the rambling go on for a comfortable amount of time then shut it down. You can only be the pin cushion for so long.



The relationships you build on a project or in an organization carry you through the difficult times. Those are the people that are going to get the work done for you because they have built trust over time. You have a mutual success on projects rather than competitive angst. Instead of no one winning, everyone wins.

You get work for the subcontractor. You mark up said work. Both parties get paid. The cycle continues. In the meantime, you start to get to know each other and build solidarity. You get a none work-related call from the contractor because you have a mutual interest. Work is pushed to the side.

These relationships need to be fostered and cared for by you. Think of a plant. You build the boundary of a pot. You water it, so it grows and benefits you with the fruits of your labor. This symbiotic relationship is mutually beneficial. You have a clear understanding of the purpose.

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