PM job 1

gaining organizational support


Cultivating support for project management in the corporate culture—especially upper management—is pivotal to meeting expectations for success.

by Kenneth E. Atwater, PMP

Upper management support is

one of the causes most cited for project success, so it is in a project manager's best interests to ensure it. If you don't seel yourself and your projects to upper management, no one else will.

There are four specific and measurable categories that will maintain organizational support: an accurate and complete problem definition, a critical self-assessment of skills and self-development plan, an action plan, and (since this is an iterative process) the continuous review of all project components. Fortunately, many of the tools and skills the project manager uses every day are essential for success in these areas.

Problem Definition

A well-defined problem is half-solved. A seasoned project manager will define the project scope, which essentially outlines the product or service to be delivered. The same should hold true for the scope of organizational support.

In defining the level of support, the project manager must write and validate a problem statement. Is the lack of support due to a lack of funds or a single individual in the organization? Is it pervasive for all projects or just specific projects in particular areas? Is it a situation in which a project manager's “pet” project was not approved?

Writing a clear, succinct problem definition takes time and effort—an investment that will pay off later. Once written, the problem statement should be read for clarity, preferably by someone unfamiliar with the environment to obtain maximum objectivity.


An action plan must include a way to maneuver through the political environment.

Skill Self-Assessment

A respected “expert” project manager will have the best chance of affecting organizational change. Consequently, the project manager must assess strengths and weaknesses. Having a mentor or a colleague critique skills is one possibility. Once areas for improvement are identified, the manager must develop and implement a self-improvement plan that will help enhance credibility.

Specifics of this plan may include:

img Certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP®).

img Write and publish papers and articles on project management.

img Speak at project management organizations.

img Teach project management.

img Develop persuasion skills.

While it would be helpful if every organization had a formal development plan, this is not the case. Regardless, self-improvement begins and ends with the project manager. Aside from personal self development, professional development opportunities include:

img Take advantage of company-sponsored training.

img Attend training offered by your local Project Management Institute (PMI®) chapter.

img Maintain a professional library.

img Volunteer both for corporate and PMI committees.

Develop an Action Plan

While an action plan will differ depending on personal strengths and the existing corporate culture, most plans will include one or more of the following:

img Determine and nurture individuals that already are supporters of project management.

img Find projects that will have a bottom-line impact on the corporation and become involved using proven project management principles.

img Become comfortable with communicating with senior executive staff.

img Learn to thrive in a political environment.

Here's a test: A project manager enters an elevator with a senior executive who has authority over next year's budget. The manager is asked, “Why should money be included for project management? What value does it add?” With less than one minute, what should the manager say?

To take advantage of such situations, plan an “elevator speech.” Every project manager should not only prepare for this opportunity but also should look for it. This eventuality will offer the chance to bend the ear of executives, keying them into what PMPs already know: project management is essential to completing projects on-time and on-budget.

To gain organizational support, project managers must sell their ideas to management. Some people find it uncomfortable selling anything, especially to people in their own organization several levels above them. In Selling to VITO, The Very Important Top Officer [1994, Adams Media Corp.], Anthony Parinello dedicates an entire chapter to working with senior executives. Parinello mentions one inescapable practicality when selling to executives: You must know what is of interest to them. According to Parinello, “VITO wants to improve the company's bottom line by raising revenues, lowering expenses, or improving efficiency.” The action plan must address one or more of these issues.

Any plan to implement change likely will meet resistance. An action plan must include a way to maneuver through the political environment. If a project manager lacks political acumen, Jeffrey K. Pinto's book, Power & Politics in Project Management [1996, Project Management Institute] will help. It is a “cando” primer that shows how to “... use politics or risk being used by politics.”

Start Over

Once the problem has been defined, skills have been enhanced, and an action plan has been developed and implemented, it will be time to start the process again. Corporations are like living organisms, and like all living things, they change. Project managers must be prepared to revisit all of the components needed to gain organizational support. This review must be planned at specific intervals. Doing so will enable project managers to make changes to their action plans as circumstances change.

In organizations where project management is valued, there usually will be a lessons-learned database, or a repository of things that went well (and not so well) on previous projects. The same repository should be used for gaining organizational support.

During each step of the process, the project manager will be learning things that were beneficial as well as things that were of little help. If this information is not captured on a regular basis, no learning takes place. As a result, when the project manager starts over there will not be a road map of techniques to keep and improve—or to discard.

Kenneth E. Atwater, PMP, is an executive program manager with NCR Inc., Dayton, Ohio, which provides technology solutions worldwide in the retail, financial, communications, manufacturing, and travel and transportation markets. He also is a faculty member at Chicago-based Keller Graduate School, where he teaches project management.

PM Network July 2001



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