Building Trust With Executives

The trust of the organization’s executive group plays an essential role in project success. Problems arise if that trust isn’t as strong as it needs to be, and any number of scenarios could require new, renewed, or improved trust-building between the project team and the executives.

New executives may join the company who have had little exposure to internal project management offices and thus aren’t familiar with the functions and benefits. By contrast, the Project Team itself may be a new entity within the organization, requiring PMP®s to establish the value of the expertise they bring to the organization. It could also be that past project challenges have eroded the faith executives are willing to place in the team.

No matter the reason, PMP®s have several strategies available to them that will help build executives’ trust, giving them the confidence to empower and support the project team.

Stress experience and expertise. Demonstrating your project team’s array of skills can go a long way toward building up trust levels with executives. The more comfortable the leadership group is about the soundness of a PMP®’s judgment—their suggestions, concerns, etc.—the more they’ll be behind the team when it matters most. But it’s important that competencies within the project office be stressed across all levels. Showcasing only those skills possessed by the most senior PMP®s may leave other team members without adequate support as they move up through the ranks to take leadership positions of their own. Instead, help executives understand the depth and breadth of expertise that exists across the entire project team.

Highlight the team’s past successes. Executives new to the organization (and possibly new to the world of project management) may be much more willing to champion a PMP®’s decisions once they understand how much value has been derived through previous projects. Even if the Project Team is a new concept—either for the executive or for the company—team members can discuss how past projects, even informal ones, have provided benefits. In addition, be sure to touch on value in multiple areas where possible, such as cost savings both in the near term and across a longer horizon, increased operational efficiency, and an ability to more quickly jump on favorable market conditions.

Provide the executives with some outside perspective. Given their strategic perspective, executives often turn to external benchmarking exercises to get a handle on where inefficiencies lurk and how they can best leverage emerging competitive advantages. You can employ those same tactics in support of the project office. Along with outside metrics that show how the organization’s project expenditure levels and results compare to regional and industry counterparts, consider also leveraging the expertise of an outside consultancy to weigh in on the Project Team’s rate of success versus peers with similar mandates and resources. These objective data points can be very useful in winning over those executives whose previous experiences with project management were less than perfect.

Always encourage a two-way dialogue. Some executives may be hesitant to place their faith in the Project Team simply because they don’t understand how the project management function works, how projects are developed, or who is involved in each stage of the process. Their own roles may even be confusing, so take the time to discuss how each phase is managed and where executive-level input is crucial to the project’s progress. Allow ample time for questions during executive briefings, even if you’re dealing with a team that’s well-versed in the details. Because any hint that the Project Team lacks transparency could put executives’ trust in jeopardy, be mindful to make every step open and understandable.