The compliance tightrope

MANAGING | Relationships

Know when to speak up and when to acquiesce to keep a project on track.


Within projects, we are familiar with compliance in a number of ways, including health and safety, quality and data protection. But rarely do we think about the compliant behavior that may seriously hinder project activities.

As project managers, we need to be conscious of our own compliance and of demanding the same from our team members. When a senior sponsor demands a call on a Tuesday morning and a key member of your team has the day off, do you require your team member to come in or do you suggest an alternate day?

Many factors influence the behavior of team members, including their:

  • Trust in the goals and objectives of the project
  • Confidence in their ability to do the work
  • Belief in the project manager

However, there are other powerful drivers that we may be less aware of:

  • Job security
  • Pressures at home
  • Fear of reprisals

There are times that we expect tacit compliance without even requesting it. We simply assume that team members will conduct themselves accordingly and act with a measure of professionalism at all times. Rarely do we discuss the boundaries for compliance, or give permission to question or challenge activities and decisions.


A truly effective project team needs an openness and honesty that transcends job titles and relative seniority, while functioning at a level of professional courtesy and loyalty. A conscious project manager seeks to create and support an atmosphere of openness so the project team can then feel secure enough to comply when appropriate and to challenge where necessary.

While the dissent may prove a little uncomfortable at first, the ability to balance progress with dialogue will help both the participants and the project outcomes. There is a real sense of motivation when individuals feel such openness. They recognize that they may challenge decisions and practices and actually be listened to.

As a project manager, it's important to recognize one's own compliance. Conscious participation in decision-making, analysis of progress and anticipation of next steps is critical to creating a sense of purpose and capability among the team around you. When a project manager is wholly compliant, stakeholders and team members may perceive this lack of resistance as weakness or lack of knowledge. Equally, if a serious decision or perception needs challenging, individuals may choose to avoid being vocal for fear of reprisal.

There are always times when compliance is a requirement, such as in an emergency. However, within less life-threatening situations, there is time and space to think about each action and to seek to consciously comply, suggest an alternative or challenge the perceived outcome.

When running projects, we are tasked with bringing about change. In order to complete such revolutionary outcomes, we have to push boundaries and evolve processes and behaviors. Being conscious of compliance facilitates awareness and therefore a more robust approach to both leading and managing successful outcomes. PM



Sheilina Somani, FAPM, RPP, PMP, is the owner of the U.K.-based consultancy Positively Project Management, a senior project manager, a speaker and a mentor.




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