As a project manager, you have very little explicit authority over your team members. That is why, in an otherwise hierarchical organization structure, it is important to remember that the best work is accomplished not by authoritarian schemes of power, but by the more subtle art of persuasion. In the context of project management, this is a critical skill.
Dr. Robert Cialdini wrote of the “6 Weapons of Influence” in his widely acclaimed works on the subject, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Many writers have capitalized on the subject, but the following six principles connect well to the daily work of managing projects. As you read this list, evaluate the impact of your ability to develop each area in an effort to connect with your peers, your sponsors, and your team members at a deeper level.
Reciprocation: When you do not have explicit authority, remember that it is human nature to want to “return the favor.” Consider all the opportunities you have to help streamline the work of your team members. You are building credit through your generosity and strengthening that relationship as a result. You can count on the strength of the relationship to call on your team members in a pinch.
Commitment and Consistency: At the heart of project planning is documentation. But there is a collateral benefit hidden in the process. When your team members commit to your project plan in writing through the planning process, they are more likely to support the team over the long term. If you can commit to keeping the team active and involved in the planning process, you will achieve a higher level of performance over the long term.
Mimicry: Think of it as “social motivation.” People will do, in general, what they see others doing. This starts with you. Consider every move, every action, as under the microscope of your team from the beginning. If you model positive activities, your team will reciprocate. Are you timely when you commit to delivering reports to your team? Do you show on time with a smile on your face to meetings? These small acts go a long way to building a foundation of positive results for your project.
Authority: It goes without saying that people tend to obey authority figures. But if you are not an explicit functional authority figure for your team members, you need to build a relationship with those who are. Go out of your way to keep functional managers apprised of their staff participation and the impact these people are making on your team, and you will have a bed of support if team member performance becomes an issue.
Socialization: Cialdini refers to this as the principle of “Liking,” that people are generally persuaded by those that they like. Consider carefully when building team activities; project managers who forego what some consider “light-weight” socialization activities may be missing a great opportunity to create long-term synchronicity on the team. Friendships build on a base of compassion; team members are more willing to help one another meet objectives when there is more at stake than a slipped deadline. Take your team bowling, or to an amusement park, or to dinner to foster camaraderie and build more powerful personal and professional bonds.
Scarcity: Desperation breeds success, but only when the team is functioning at a high level. If you have built your relationship with each team member, and allowed them to foster their own, when times get tough and resources scarce, your team will be more creative, more innovative, and more compelled to deliver results together.