Communications management

Shirl Hollingsworth

Project Software and Development, Inc.


Communications, like Human Resources, provides a basic vehicle for management, especially project management. As originally put forward by Henri Fayol (c. 1916) and amplified by subsequent thinkers of the process school, management is a process that consists of:

Planning, including forecasting
Organizing, including staffing
Commanding, including motivating and maintaining activity
Directing, including coordinating
Controlling, including monitoring.

Each of these activities relies heavily on both the Communications and Human Resources functions. Therefore, an understanding of both of these project management functions is essential to successful project management. Typical communications models are shown in Figure H-3.

Communication is also a complex activity. It has many interconnected levels and facets and it becomes more abstract and complex as civilization advances. The process of communication involves four major parts: the communicator, the message, the medium, and the recipient.

  • The communicator is the originator of the message. The way he conveys the message will demonstrate how confident he is of his command of the subject; how convinced he is of the validity and significance of his message; how urgently he wishes to inform, or persuade, or even control his audience. This will be reflected not only in his actual phrasing, but also in his non-verbal communication.
  • The message we want to convey may consist of thoughts, feelings, or ideas. Regardless of its content, the message must be reduced to “code.” The “code” must be understood by both the sender and the receiver.
  • The medium, the vehicle or method, used to convey the message, will also color the message and ultimately influence its effect. A memo written in tired prose will not create the same reaction as a tersely worded oral message presented at a hastily called meeting.
  • The recipient is the player who “makes or breaks” the communication process. Until he accepts the message and makes its meaning “common” between himself and the sender, no communication occurs.

Communication is much like a game, and those who know its rules — those who have a command of good skills, play it better than those who don't.

The project manager must be a communicator: to upper management, to the project team, and to members outside the project who have an interest in the project's results. This is an important role because, with all the information coming to the project manager from many different sources in many different forms, the project manager who fails to decipher and pass on the appropriate information on time can himself become the bottleneck in the project. The communication process is not always easy because the project manager may find barriers to communication exist, such as lack of clear communication channels and problems with technical language that must be used. The project manager has the responsibility of knowing what kind of messages to send, knowing who to send the message to, and translating the messages into a language that all can understand.

Innovative project managers are constantly building consensus or confidence in decisions at critical junctures in a project by practicing active communication skills. Communication is certainly the essence of civilization. Without communication we could neither recognize nor share common interests, which means we could not easily cooperate in achieving mutual goals.

The quality of one's communication skills is probably the most important of all traits. If we are successful in communications skills, we can overcome what often seems like overwhelming roadblocks. The success of a project manager is directly proportional to their communications skills at three levels:

  • Project Team (Subordinates)
  • Support and Competing Project Teams (Peers)
  • Corporate Managers and Clients
Communications Models

Figure H-3 Communications Models

The project manager must see that information in the appropriate amounts is getting to those that “need to know” and to those that think they need to know. So important is this principle that the project manager must see that communication is redundant in that secondary and tertiary information paths are working so that if data wasn't received in one channel (i.e., written), then alternate channels (i.e., oral briefing) accomplished the task.

Communication is never easy; even between people who have an enormous background of shared values and experiences. Therefore, it behooves the communicator to use every device and technique at his command to enable the recipient to accept and understand the message. The first consideration of the communicator should be to avoid creating barriers that will impede transmission of the message. A project manager can increase his skills by paying attention to the interaction of verbal and non-verbal communication, and by making an effort to keep verbal communication as factual and objective as possible.

The job of the project manager is a demanding one. He must be able to work with and obtain desired results in a professional manner from supervisors, subordinates, colleagues, and clients. To a large degree, management's success in reaching desired goals depends on good communication skills. Since project managers spend most of their time communicating, it is important they hone their communications skills.

Figure H-1 Function Chart Communications Management

Function Chart Communications Management

Figure H-2 Function Impact Matrix Chart COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENT

These skills are essential not only to the project manager's success but also to the overall success of the project. After all, an excellent idea has no intrinsic value if it does not get communicated.

Glossary of Terms

Active Listening: Standard techniques of active listening are to pay close attention to what is said, to ask the other party to spell out carefully and clearly what they mean, and to request that ideas be repeated if there is any ambiguity or uncertainty.

Application: An act of putting to use (new techniques); an act of applying techniques

Common Sense: Sound and prudent but often unsophisticated judgement

Communication Management: Conducting or supervising the exchange of information

Conflict Resolution: To seek a solution to a problem; five methods in particular have been proven through

Confrontation: Where two parties work together toward a solution of the problem

Compromise: Both sides agree such that each wins or loses a few points

Smoothing: Differences between two groups are played down and the strong points of agreement are given the most attention

Forcing: The project manager uses his power to direct the solution. This is a type of win-lose agreement where one side gets its way and the other does not

Withdrawal: One or both sides withdraw from the conflict

Culture: The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon man's capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations

Environment: The circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded

Ethics: A set of moral principles or values; the principal of conduct governing an individual or a group

Extrasensory: Residing beyond or outside the ordinary senses (instances of perception)

Information Flow — Distribution List: A list of individuals that would receive information on a given subject or project

Intelligence: The ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations

Interaction: Mutual action or reciprocal action or influence

Interpret: Present in understandable terms

Involuntary: Contrary to or without choice; not subject to control of the will (reflex)

Language: A systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, or gestures

Management Styles:

Authoritarian: Lets individuals know what is expected of them, gives specific guidance as to what should be done, makes his part of the group understood, schedules work to be done, and asks group members to follow standard rules and regulations

Combative: A project manager that is marked by an eagerness to fight or be disagreeable over any given situation

Conciliatory: A project manager that is friendly and agreeable; one that attempts to assemble and unite all project parties involved to provide a compatible working team

Disruptive: A project manager that tends to break apart the unity of a group; one that tends to be an agitator and causes disorder on a project

Ethical: A project manager that is honest, sincere, able to motivate and to press for the best and fairest solution; one that generally goes “by the books”

Facilitating: The project manager is available to answer questions and give guidance when needed; he does not interfere with day to day tasks, but rather maintains that status quo

Intimidating: A project manager that frequently reprimands employees for the sale of an image as a “tough guy”, at the risk of lowering department morale

Judical: A project manager that exercises the use of sound judgement or is characterized by applying sound judgement to most areas of the project

Promotional: Encourages subordinates to realize their full potential, cultivates a team spirit and lets subordinates know that good work will be rewarded

Secretive: A project manager that is not open or outgoing in speech, activity, or purpose much to the detriment of the overall project

Networking: The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions

Nonverbal Communication: Involving minimal use of the spoken language; gestures, facial expressions, and verbal fragments that communicate emotions without the use of words; sometimes known as body language

Olfactory: Of, relating to, or connected with the sense of smell

Oral: Spoken communication

Persuade: To advise; to move by argument, entreaty, or expostulation to a belief, position, or course of action

Process: A series of actions or operations conducing to an end; (esp: a continuous operation)

Project Management Information System: The gathering, recording, filtering and dissemination of pertinent information for members of a project team

Public Speaking: The art or science of effective oral communication with an audience

Receiving: To assimilate through the mind or senses (as in new ideas)

Semantics: The language used to achieve a desired effect on an audience

Skill: An ability and competence learned by practice

Speed Reading: A method of reading rapidly by skimming

Tactile: Of or relating to the sense of touch; perceptible by touch

Transmit: To send or convey from one person or place to another

Understand: To have thorough or technical acquaintance with expertise in the practice of project management

Written: To express in literary form Other definitions more appropriately found in dictionaries

The Communications Cycle

Figure H-4 The Communications Cycle


  1. Acker, D.D. Skill in Communication. Fort Belvoir, VA: Defense Systems Management College, Chapters 1, 2, & 8, 1980.

  2. Albano, C. Transactional Analysis on the Job & Communication with Subordinates. New York: AMACOM, 1974.

  3. Cleland, D.I. & Kocaoglu. Engineering Management. New York: McGraw-Hill, Chapter 5, 1981.

  4. Cleland, D.I., (Ed.) Matrix Management Systems Handbook. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, Chapter 31, 1984.

  5. Dinsmore, P.C. Human Factors in Project Management. New York: American Management Associations. Chapter 12, 1984.

  6. Fisher, Roger, Yury, William. Getting to Yes

  7. Gaynor, P.M. Communicating in a Noisy World. Project Management Journal, March, 1985.

  8. Jenes, F.G. & Stroope, R.D. In Search of the Innovative Project Manager: The Human Side. Proceedings of the Annual PMI Seminar/Symposium, 1984.

  9. Johnson, E.D. The Handbook of Good English.

10. Joseph, A. Put It in Writing.

11. Kepner, C.H. & Tregoe, B.B. The New Rational Manager. Princeton, NJ: Kepner-Tregoe Inc., 1984

12. Kerzner, H. & Cleland, D.I. Management Skills for Project Managers and Project Engineers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1985.

13. Peters, T.J. & Waterman, R.H., Jr. In Search of Excellence. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1982.

14. Stuckenbruck, L.C. The Implementation of Project Management: The Professional's Handbook. Addison-Wesley, 1981.

15. Weiss, A. Write What You Mean: A Handbook of Business Communication. New York: AMACOM, 1977

16. Wideman, R.M. ESA and All That. Project Management Journal, March, 1985.

17. Yerys, A. How to Get What You Want Through Influential Communications. Management Review, June 1982.

18. _____. Effective Communication for Engineers, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1974.

19. _____. Proceedings of the Annual Seminar/Symposiums. Drexel Hill, PA: The Project Management Institute.

20. _____. Project Management Journal (Quarterly), Drexel Hill, PA: The Project Management Institute.

21. Nadler, Gerald The Planning and Design Approach; John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1981; p. 77.

22. Fayol, Henri General and Industrial Management; Rev. by Irin Gray, Pub IEEE Press, New York, 1984.

THE PM NETWORK August, 1987



Related Content