When I’m mentoring project managers one of the key things I hear time and time again is that they want to be given more responsibility and have greater influence over the work.
Project managers often struggle from not having budget and resource responsibility. If you don’t control these elements of the project, you don’t really have the option to take many decisions about how the work unfolds. You can’t do anything to address risk either because people don’t take your recommendations seriously. You struggle to influence the outcomes of negotiations, or your suggestions aren’t taken on board – although if someone else suggests the exact same thing, their words are lapped up and lauded like they’ve spoken some perfect truth.
This is the curse of not being credible at work.
In the worst situations, you become a de facto project coordinator doing schedule management and tracking. You get all the not-so-fun admin tasks and all the burden of making the project a success but none of the things you need to actually step up and lead the work.
Gaining credibility at work is one of the ways that you can build your career. If you are credible as a project manager, people will give you the tricky projects and the resources you require to get them done. If they trust you, they’ll leave you to largely manage by yourself without that awkward micromanaging that you may feel you sometimes get.
But where does credibility come from? And how do you get it?
Credibility Tip #1: Build Competence
You can’t be seen as credible unless you know your craft.
That means you should build your skills. You need to have the technical and social competences to be able to manage projects before anyone will consider you credible and influential.
There are several project management competence models. The Association for Project Management has one. The UK government has the Project Delivery Capability Framework. Your own project management office may have created an internal competence framework and assessment.
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter which one you use as a personal reference. The chances are, the people judging you in the workplace aren’t going to be mentally comparing you against those standards. They will simply assess whether you get the work done in a professional way and give them the outcomes they are expecting.
Technical competence is easier to get than the soft skills. You can go on a training course to learn your project management software, or the best ways to create a project schedule or do cost control. Yes, you can go on a course to learn more about leadership, but somehow it’s harder to truly internalise the changes required to lead in a different way and sustain that level of personal change over time. All soft and social skills can be learned and improved, but you need real commitment to see long-lasting change.
However, the key here is to show that you can do the job. Getting a project management credential may help you, especially if you move between organisations and your new colleagues have no idea of your previous track record for delivery. A certificate can show that you’ve achieved a baseline in competence.
Credibility Tip #2: Build Confidence
Yes, confidence matters hugely. No one is going to consider you influential if you can’t get your point across in a meeting. You need to be able to hold the attention of a room and behave in a confident way. If everything about your body language says, “I don’t want to be here and I don’t know what I am talking about,” then why would anyone consider your advice to be a credible recommendation?
Building confidence is harder, especially if you have recently joined the organisation or are new to project management – whatever your age and prior business experience. However, there are some things that you can do.
Adopt a positive attitude: a lot of confidence issues are in your head. If you think you can’t do it and that you aren’t confident, then you will come across that way. Of course, there’s a balance between being over-confident and arrogant and hitting the right notes for confidence at work. Get some feedback on your behaviours if you have concerns over whether you are getting it right.
Check your body language: sit or stand tall. Don’t fiddle with your hair, jewellery or glasses. You’ve heard all this advice before, right? Google ‘body language’ and try to pick up one trait that will help you appear more confident. For me, it’s standing with both feet flat on the floor at hip distance apart when I am presenting. I do still balance on one leg or stand with my legs crossed, but at least now I’m thinking about how I look more, and making conscious efforts to project confidence.
Do your homework: I feel least confident in situations where I know the least information. Do some preparation before meetings, especially those with senior stakeholders. Know your numbers and know what you want to happen next, so that you can steer conversations in that direction. I find something that really helps is talking to other attendees before the meeting, so that you can get a feel for where they are going. Start to socialise your ideas and you’ll find that it is far easier to get them accepted on the day.
Building credibility isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a long-term goal for you as a project manager, and focusing on confidence and competence will help you achieve it. Over time you’ll stop worrying about whether people see you as a safe pair of hands at work, and start to realise that you do have influence!
What tips do you have for building your influence and developing your confidence at work? Tweet us @2080StrategyEx. We’d love to hear your tips for improving your skills and building your credibility so let us know!
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