Trust funds

MANAGING Relationships

Invested wisely, trust can be a powerful commodity.


Trust exists in multiple dimensions and perceptions. In my assessment, I tend to operate in two specific planes: professional and personal trust. In the project environment, we create superficial relationships that can deepen into friendships. Making judicious choices on where to place trust boundaries protects your personal and professional life and emotional well-being. For example, working closely with a senior colleague and sharing a friendship that extends to socializing beyond the workplace may reflect a really good relationship. However, what happens when the relationship experiences a fracture?

In relationships where personal trust exists, honesty, mischief and celebrations will probably continue socially. But in some cases, a complete dissolution of the relationship occurs, and there's no further communication either personally or professionally. That doesn't have to be the case, if project practitioners build trust with stakeholders wisely—and consciously.



As we approach working relationships from different perspectives and experiences, it is worth consciously evaluating the boundaries of personal versus professional trust. Project practitioners lead a diverse group of team members, and differing business environments and varied geographies and cultures make determining trust boundaries difficult. Personally, I work on the basis that:

  • For a project manager, ethics demand that information must be disclosed to the affected stakeholders—including information that may impact my position or the related work, such as escalating risks.
  • With personal issues that have the potential to affect my working capability, such as a death in the family, I have to trust senior sponsors with that information and for them to use it discreetly.
  • Anything intensely personal, such as romantic relationships, should remain outside the project sphere.


Sometimes, trust is forged instinctively—and other times, through observation or experience. But what strategies help you consciously and actively facilitate building trust?

For example, a change of project sponsor brings a new person to answer to, someone whose preferences must be learned and whose trust must be attained and sustained. Placed in that position recently, I had to assimilate an alternate style from my normal communication methods. So I initially met with my new sponsor briefly and inquired about her:

  • Background
  • Preferred styles of communication (in person, email, meetings)
  • Required volume of content and style in those communications
  • Need to access archives or project repository
  • Ideal frequency and timing of meetings

Each of these factors engenders respect and a working alliance that can facilitate an environment where trust can be established.

With the project launch looming, it was a case of learning—fast. Initially, I found it challenging to assess whether my approach was working for the sponsor. I sought guidance from other senior staff members for their experiences with the sponsor, and recommendations to help augment my thoughts, intuition and observations. The feedback and commentary helped me learn what the sponsor typically expected from project managers and how she preferred to communicate. The trust I had already established with senior managers provided sounding boards for me to reflect on my understanding of the sponsor and gain confidence in my assumptions on whether I was meeting her needs.

Before long, we settled into a good working relationship. My sponsor appreciated the swift responses and my understanding and ownership of my existing project. Undoubtedly, there was a reciprocal evaluation taking place, and up to this point, it appears to be mutually agreeable. Now, with our project launch imminent, I feel positive that we trust each other to succeed. PM

img 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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