The honest truth

MANAGING Relationships

Do the benefits of an open dialogue with stakeholders outweigh the risks?


Last year, a client asked me to take on a global project, and I declined. Since it was summer, I had reduced my workload to maximize time with my daughter while she was out of school. Though I think many organizations would be openly derisive of such a reason, my client in this case simply postponed the project until the new school term began.

A working parent's constant challenge is to not only choose how to balance work and life, but also how to communicate personal preferences to organizations. As a self-employed project manager, I‘ve chosen to state my priority as that of a parent and adjust my workload accordingly.

Differing cultural perspectives on ethics and values makes this a challenging situation. I chose to be open with my senior stakeholders because I wanted them to know I didn't reject their offer for another business opportunity, but rather for a life choice. They respected and honored my priorities. The business need was clearly not so critical that they thought they had to seek an alternative project manager.


Balancing personal needs against those of fiscal prudence is more challenging in this time of protracted economic instability and financial stress. For those of us in the privileged position of being employed and aware of the scarcity of opportunity, there is a tendency to feel that we have to say “yes,” regardless of the inconvenience or impact to our personal lives.

For many project managers, saying “no” to an opportunity would be unthinkable for any of the following issues:

  • ▪ Geographical culture would make it unacceptable
  • ▪ Gender or parenthood may affect perception
  • ▪ An employment opportunity may be curtailed
  • ▪ The sharing of personal preferences may be embarrassing

Stating categorically what would be the “right” choice for anyone else is impossible. Factors to consider include one's confidence, sense of self worth, financial position, personal circumstances, energy, enthusiasm and vulnerability.

For me, knowing the organization would defer the project was better than a pay increase. It showed their commitment and respect for me as a professional and individual.

Ethically, I felt much more comfortable about choosing openness over obfuscation. I recognize my good fortune that the company could delay the project and therefore later use me as a project manager. I took a significant risk in choosing to be so open about my reasons and priorities, and for me, the result was positive.

As a project manager, I seek to understand the context of all my major stakeholders to schedule meetings, manage expectations, and deliver realistic plans and good results. Engendering an environment of trust and respect allows openness and facilitates individual choice. PM



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




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