The brick and mortar of project success

core values and key accountabilities


Leadership for a project manager is about setting direction; motivating, inspiring, and influencing others to produce results (Bristol & Yeatts, 2011). As a leader, a project manager needs to recognize the humanity team member and stakeholder. A project manager's behaviors and words build a climate of trust and respect, a culture where mission and values infuse the organization (Hesselbein, 2002). Sustained team performance comes from clearly stated work and relationship expectations. Both are essential to establishing a team culture of accountability and integrity. As a leader, knowing what to do and how to engage others is at the heart of expanding success or diminishing returns. This paper presents a pragmatic approach to understanding how to manage work and relationship expectations, resulting in improved project performance. Using this approach, project managers create trust-based relationships and inspire others to flourish.


Managing customer, stakeholder, and team expectations is the brick and mortar of project success. As stated in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (PMI, 2008), expert judgment is the tool and technique for the Project Integration Management Process and integrates the remaining eight Knowledge Areas. A project manager requires a variety of technical and management skills to invite collaborative teamwork and create high-performance teams. As a leader, a project manager draws on business, project management, and interpersonal acumen to produce on time and within budget quality results. A project manager's ability to set clear direction by articulating work and relationship expectations establishes the foundation for project collaboration.

Key Accountabilities: Managing Work Expectations


Clarity about the results each team member is responsible for, increases personal productivity and reduces role confusion. The human resources (HR) plan chapter (PMBOK® Guide, 2008) states role, authority, competency, and responsibility clarity are the components of an HR plan. Specifically, “Responsibility is the work that a project team member is expected to perform in order to complete the project's activities.” (PMI, 2009, Kindle Location 3344). Typically, organizations identify work activity responsibilities in a job description project teams use for a responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) to identify assigned project work. Although job descriptions, especially responsibilities, and RAM are essential, defining key accountabilities will significantly enhance a project manager's ability to manage work expectations.

Job Description

Kerzner states the “job description provides the basic charter for the job and is brief and concise, not exceeding one page” (2009, Kindle Location 7883). Responsibility statements provide sufficient level of detail describing the work performed and do not include the instructions or procedures for performing the job. Project managers define responsibility instructions in standard operating procedures, which are separate from the job description.

RACI Matrix

A responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) allows the project managers to depict complex work–staff relationships on a page. ”Specifically, project managers use show the connections between work packages or activities and project team members using RAM” (PMI, 2009, p 220). The matrix clarifies roles, responsibilities, and levels of authority for specific activities. “The matrix format shows all activities associated with one person and all people associated with one activity. This matrix also ensures there is only one person accountable for any one task to avoid confusion” (PMI, 2009, p 219). Project managers use a responsible, accountable, consult, and inform (RACI) matrix to correlate assigned project work with specific responsibilities. “The RACI is particularly important when the team consists of internal and external resources to ensure clear divisions of roles and expectations.” (PMI, 2009, p 220)

RACI Matrix (PMI, 2009)

Exhibit 1 – RACI Matrix (PMI, 2009)

Key Accountabilities

All positions have requirements for behavior, which produce performance excellence. When a project manager articulates the expected job behaviors to the team member, performance will excel. The benchmarking process involves key stakeholders who assess a position based on its key accountabilities, which describe why it truly exists. Removing the role-related ambiguity, a project manager clarifies the behaviors necessary for superior performance. People have unique position-related behaviors and motivators. Aligning a person's behaviors and motivators with “those required by the job, increases performance, and retention” (Select, Assess, & Train, 2012, ¶5). When the job's rewards and culture are in line with the person performing the job, the result is performance excellence. When a project manager expertly manages work expectations by providing three to five essential results each position produces.

Key Accountability Statement

Key accountabilities are the critical positional results that a team member must be able to produce. The number of key accountabilities will vary from position to position; generally, a project manager should be able to describe a position using three-five key accountabilities. The what in each statement, using a strong action verb, describes the expected results. The use of one or more modifying verbs addresses why, how, for whom, and in what surroundings. If possible, describe any specific quantitative measure. Order each accountability statement by importance, with one being the highest priority and the percentage of time spent on each key accountability not to exceed 80%.

Key Accountabilities (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2012)

Exhibit 2 – Key Accountabilities (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2012)

Accountabilities Development Process

Targeting a specific position, a project manager enrolls four to six people to work with an incumbent in this role. The project manager facilitates a discussion about the essential results expected from some assigned the position. The flowchart in Exhibit 3 shows the key accountability development process.

Key Accountability Process (Projectivity Solutions, 2009)

Exhibit 3 – Key Accountability Process (Projectivity Solutions, 2009)

When each project participant understands the results expectations, the method for results achievement becomes the team member's personal choice. This work expectation clarity allows the project manager to communicate in a more participative manner and energizes the team member.

Values: Managing Relationship Expectations

During a project, project managers produce many documents about project work. Consequently, when work deviations from the plan occur, in-flight corrections conversations are relatively easy. Rarely is the relationship expectations documented and expressed in an equally clear manner. Setting the expectation that each team member will work cooperatively is essential for project harmony. Identifying and documenting team values expertly help manage relationship expectations. In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner's (2003) research shows shared values can make a difference. Kerzner (2009) amplifies this viewpoint stating, “Shared values are the foundations for building productive, and genuine working relationships” (2009, Kindle Location 5446). Team values explicitly state expectations (Verzuh, 2005). Making these expectations explicit accomplishes the following:

  • As a part of an interdependent group, team members understand behavioral expectations;
  • The team has an opportunity to form and own its culture; and
  • A team's inherent need for structure.
Shared values effect (Kerzner, 2009, Kindle Locations 5453-5460)

Exhibit 4 – Shared values effect (Kerzner, 2009, Kindle Locations 5453–5460)


According to Ting and Scisco (2006), the alignment between inner values and daily behaviors establishes a leader's authenticity. Leading by example, the project manager infuses values into the project culture and team. Team values are the core ingredients for success. Organizational values can shape teams daily to inspire higher customer service levels, enhance operational effectiveness, better team collaboration, and deliver quality. This greater ability to fulfill the stated mission provides high personal satisfaction and thus creates a more motivated team. Motivation is indeed a necessary component to achieving success in any fully functioning organization. Quite often, the values of an organization are present but not clarified and defined. Stephen Kiesling (2000) quotes Richard Barrett:

“Organizations are living entities that share needs and motivations similar to those of individual people. The critical question is whether these corporate values are conscious, shared, and lived or unconscious and undiscussed. When corporate values remain unconscious and undiscussed, they tend to reflect the values of the leader, not the employees. The likely result: The creative potential of the employees is either crushed or they take it home to their hobbies and charities” (Kiesling, 2000, p. 37).

Duncan (2005) cites a Gallup study showing that “actively disengaged” employees cost the economy approximately US$355 billion dollars per year and that almost 25 million U.S. workers are actively disengaged, resulting in roughly 86 million days of absence from work (n.p.). Kiesling continues, “What's the bottom line performance difference between companies with fulfilled and unfulfilled employees? Citing a number of specific studies, Barrett has a number, 39%” (p. 37). Dearlove and Coomber (1999) reference Fredrick Reichfield, who estimates that the ‘disloyalty factor' from stakeholders, employers, shareholders, staff, and customers can cut performance and productivity by 50% (p. 10).

David Pendleton and Jennifer King define values as guiding principles for individuals and organizations (Pendleton & King, 2002). Charles Kerns proposes that the leader's values contribute to attitudes, resulting in behaviors (Kerns, 2004). Dave Logan and John King identify core values as “principles without which life wouldn't be worth living” (Logan, King, & Wright, 2011, p. 181). According to Thomas Ambler, organizations that have identified three to six core values are more successful than those organizations who have not taken this action (Ambler, n.d). Studies of hundreds of companies have shown that higher functioning organizations build a high producing culture based on aligning values with day-to-day operations (Logan et al., 2011).

Project teams generally reflect the values of the creating organization; when the behaviors of the members of the project team align with organizational values, a successful project outcome increases (Ambler, n.d). Team members build credibility with customers when behavior is consistent with stated values (Kerns, 2004). Unfortunately, some organizations have stated values, yet have not implemented them in ongoing operations (Kaufman, 2005). A value failing to guide behavior reduces organizational productivity and adversely affects team culture (Kaufman, 2005). In 15 years of research, Kouzes and Posner (1995) link values to individual and team behaviors such as ethical behavior, expectation clarity, solution innovation, and team collaboration. With core values in place, the project manager's mindset inspires others to find the genius in others and honor their humanity.

Values Discovery

Kuczmarski and Kuczmarski (1995) say that to define organizational values, management should actively involve the employee's perspective. Every employee's personal values contribute to the creation of the values of the organization. Exhibit 5 displays an effective values definition process.

(Kuczmarski & Kuczmarski, 1995, p 120–123)

Exhibit 5 - (Kuczmarski & Kuczmarski, 1995, p 120–123)

Values Every Day

“Genuine success does not come from proclaiming our core values, but from consistently putting them into daily action” (Blanchard & O'Connor, 2003). Using the six-step value definition process, project managers engage team member participation. Identifying a core value is an essential start; the dialogue creating action clarity is valuable. Specifically, listing bulleted points, which clarify behavior, paraphrase what that value is and is not, facilitates comprehension understanding how to integrate values into daily action. For each value, identifying and documenting a team story makes the value memorable and enriches team culture. The table in Exhibit 6 assists in creating value clarity.

Determining Value Clarity (Bristol & Yeatts, 2002)

Exhibit 6 – Determining Value Clarity (Bristol & Yeatts, 2002)

Performance Management: Managing Work and Relationship Expectations

Controlling a project blends the art and science of project management by building a strong, committed team, while at the same time making progress against the plan (Verzuh, 2005). The key to control is communication work and relationship expectations and each person operating with personal integrity and accountability.

Managing Performance Deviations

This performance management approach places the ownership for understanding how to work and relate on the team member. The seven-step process is as follows:

Step one: Elicit and communicate the current situation

Example: A couple of deliverables were not received in a timely manner.

  • The books were to close within 10 working days after the end of the month.
  • Invoices mailed no later than the first working day of the next month.

Have a conversation about the current situation: stop and listen to the response. It is important that a leader create a dialogue. Explore what the project participant does not clearly understand about the work or relationship expectation.

Step two: Establish the impacts

Once both parties understand the current situation, establish the impacts of his or her actions. Three perspectives are important: task, others and organizations, and their reputation (TOY). Initially, determine the impact of his or her action on the specific assigned task. Explore the influence of his or her actions on customers, employees, the company's mission, critical goals, and objectives. Finally, ask how his or her action affects himself or herself. With each question, stop and listen to the response. The purpose of this conversation is to reinforce the importance of team member contribution and reinforce stated work and relationship expectations.

Step three: Make a plan

Have him or her explain what they plan to do and how they plan to do it. Plans need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. It is important the team member create an action plan to get back on track and that is agreeable to the project manager.

Step four: Get a commitment

When the plan is acceptable, obtain a commitment. Some questions to ask at this point are: Is the team member able to do the plan? Will the team member do the plan? Will the team member keep his or her commitment?

Step five: Follow-up

As the project manager, it is important to follow-up on the commitment; if he or he has met the deadline, provide positive reinforcement. If he or she has not met the deadline, return to step one, and communicate to clarify the current situation.

Step six: Do not accept excuses

Ask: “how did that happen” or “what was the sequence of events…” questions while listening for root-causes not symptoms. Remember, this is about personal integrity and accountability.

Step seven: Clarify consequences

After completing the previous steps, the project manager states the consequences for continued underperformance. The consequence needs to fit the situation.

Do not give up

The performance management goal is team member motivation and inspiration. Considerable amount of time and money have been spent on finding and training team members; it is far more effective to have them contribute in a meaningful way rather than begin searching for a replacement. People rarely intentionally create problems on purpose; repair the process and train the person.

Recognizing Performance Contributions

It is vital to recognize performance contributions. A project manager has a leadership responsibility to ensure that contributions are appropriately recognized. Precision about the work or relationship actions has a positive effect on the task, organization, and how an action reflects on the team member, is often overlook or stated in a manner the team member does not connect the recognition with the action. Project managers can use the performance management steps exquisitely communicating the value of a positive contribution by:

  • Being specific about the work result or value
  • Stating how his or her action positively helps the task at hand, the team or organization, and how the action reflects on them
  • Thanking them for their contribution and encouraging them to continue the good work


As a leader, a project manager needs to recognize the humanity of the team member and stakeholder. A project manager's behaviors and words build a climate of trust and respect, a culture in which mission and values infuse the organization (Hesselbein, 2002). When a project manager creates a trust-based culture when rewarding job-required behaviors and values, the team will excel.


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©2012 Phil Bristol
Originally published as a part of 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Marseilles, France



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