Project Management Institute

Speak up

LEADERSHIP

Communication is paramount— here's how to do it well.

BY RICARDO VIANA VARGAS

I have always believed that effective communication is at the heart of good project management. The messages one communicates, and the way one communicates them, are vital to establishing a strong reputation for leadership.

What is project communication? It's the specific behaviors and methods used to lead, delegate and advise stakeholders engaged on the project. For communication to be successful, information has to flow in the right direction.

Communication affects performance. For every US$1 billion spent on a project, US$109 million is wasted due to poor project performance, according PMI's Pulse of the Profession®; The High Cost of Low Performance. And 56 percent of that is primarily due to ineffective communications, according to PMI's Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications.

This means that communication and project progress go hand in hand: If you want high-performance teamwork, effective communication is a must.

Poor communication is symptomatic of a project manager's inability to effectively lead the project. The successful project managers I have known typically were able to communicate the issues, listen to (and act on) feedback, and foster collaboration among team members.

So how do you do it? Here are a few questions to consider.

It's hard to know what to say if you don't know whom you're talking to. The first step for project managers is to identify their intended audience. Team members, for instance, want to know the direct impact a project has on them, whether you considered their specific role when conceiving the process and if you valued their input when deciding to make changes.

For instance, for the management of the humanitarian and development work we do at the U.N. Office for Project Services, our team was considering revising rollout strategies for one of the most critical project management tools. Colleagues across various offices in the developing world were consulted to assess how the project was being managed and whether they had any concerns about rollouts in the past. As it turned out, there was concern about how projects were being managed due to a lack of communication between headquarters and regional offices.

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What is project communication? It's the specific behaviors and methods used to lead, delegate and advise stakeholders engaged on the project. For communication to be successful, information has to flow in the right direction.

 

Leadership meant taking the initiative to investigate our audiences’ information needs, which helped our communication efforts become much more effective. We managed to create a strategy that our colleagues implemented across the organization.

WHAT’S YOUR MESSAGE?

Once the audience is identified, project managers should understand the project well enough to know which pieces of information are (or are not!) useful to stakeholders. Communication is about being conscientious. Remember to keep your message concise, specific and pertinent—good leaders provide their teams with information that matters. Those involved on the project need to know what's required, when it's expected, how it should be undertaken and with what other activities it should be integrated.

HOW WILL YOU COMMUNICATE?

Project leadership doesn't mean always initiating the conversation—far from it. I tell my team that “my door is always open,” because managers should facilitate communication by fostering openness. With the right information, team members can be empowered to perform their work, collaborate more strongly, and better understand tasks and objectives.

The suite of tools and techniques that a project manager makes available must be outlined in a communications strategy—this is where it all begins. The clear and concise plan should address project responsibilities and explain which types of communication will take place over the course of the project. It should be shared with team members, and they should be encouraged to offer feedback and initiate future dialogues.

WHY IS THIS SIGNIFICANT?

Because project work is ever-changing, project leaders must make frequent project plan adjustments—and consistently communicate the reasons driving such changes. Without good communication, projects can fall into chaos. Without understanding the motivation behind a change, team members might be resistant and less effective. Creating an atmosphere of openness and clarity can help minimize miscommunications and project setbacks.

Communication is the foundation of strong project leadership. Skilled leaders know that more important than stellar oratory skills, great communication requires crafting a solid communication plan, recognizing audience needs and utilizing a wide range of tools and techniques. PM

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Ricardo Viana Vargas, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP, PMP, a past PMI chair, is the director of the Sustainable Project Management Group at the United Nations Office for Project Services in Copenhagen, Denmark.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK NOVEMBER 2014 WWW.PMI.ORG

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