Support from your organization’s leadership group is crucial to achieving consistent project success. The influence of those in the C-suite and other high-ranking sponsors ensures your initiatives have the funds and staffing necessary to move ahead and that your projects can ultimately achieve the desired results. But that support is built on trust, and executives that don’t have confidence in their project teams aren’t likely to be helpful in driving efforts to completion. Progress may be slow, key resources could be lacking, and projects may fail in the long run.
Establishing, nurturing, and sustaining the trust of your executive team requires deliberate, ongoing attention over the course of time—it doesn’t happen overnight. Unfortunately, losing that trust can occur suddenly and with very little warning. Once executives no longer have faith in your team, getting them to fully support your efforts and obtaining their help to overcome project hurdles becomes difficult or impossible.
Below are a handful of signs that may indicate your project team has an executive trust problem. None are guarantees that your group has lost the senior staff’s confidence but all should prompt you to have some candid conversations about if, how, and where your connection with the leadership may have gone off track. You may need to focus on cultivating better engagement practices and ensuring the executives believe in your team’s ability to deliver good outcomes and provide reliable information, recommendations, and guidance.
Executives ask multiple people for the same project data. The most likely cause when your team receives repeated requests for information is a poor communication strategy, but you should also consider if there could be trust issues involved. Do members of the senior staff disbelieve what they’re hearing from your group? Do they have reason to think the data may be different from one person to the next? If team members don’t have access to a single source of truth when it comes to accurate and current project information, executives may have valid reasons for their skepticism. Some gentle prodding should uncover the triggers behind ongoing inquiries but be open to the responses you receive—you could learn you have other areas to work on in addition to any trust issues that may be plaguing the project team.
Executives ignore the data your team provides. In most cases, the leadership group has recurring needs to reference project information, such as during discussions with external business partners, strategizing sessions with fellow internal leaders, and group updates among their division or department heads. If you discover the project data used to inform these meetings is inaccurate or out of date, or that executives choose not to share any of the information you’ve given them, it’s time to find out why. When executives don’t trust the data provided by the project team, they’re unlikely to relay it to their peers or direct reports.
Executives frequently challenge information coming from the project team. As your group makes new data available—whether in the form of status updates, progress reports, schedule or budget variance notices, or other informational broadcasts—does your executive group regularly dispute the data or request reams of supporting background information to verify what you’ve told them? A frank conversation about their reasons behind these requests will help you determine if they don’t feel they can trust the data you’ve provided or if they simply don’t understand the information distributed by your team. You can then work on rebuilding their confidence or you can develop a more comprehensive education and communication strategy to ensure you’re delivering useful and actionable data rather than creating more confusion.