Talk about things other than work to get work done

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As a project manager, I am always thinking about my project: the schedule, the budget, and the endless issues that come up. And the more I work on mastering the discipline of project management, the more I tend to focus on tools and processes like Jira, which helps greatly as I track workflow, organize issues and write reports.

But at the center of every project are people, and people don’t work like machines. They have lives outside of work with families and friends, problems and opportunities, and good days and bad.  They have likes and dislikes, and they want to be treated as people – not automatons.

So in my chase for managerial success with software and flowcharts, reports and deadlines, I also have to take time to build relationships. In fact, if I don’t do this, the project slows down, communication becomes difficult and problems escalate. It’s funny, but when I only look for an easy answer, a silver bullet that will make the people and the project go super effectively, things start to go wrong.

Relationships take time, but if I take time to smile, ask co-workers about their families, or what they did last weekend or on holiday, or if they saw the latest movie, things actually go smoother and faster. As we get to know each other better, we trust each other more, and we work better together.

Building strong, effective business relationships is actually one of the most challenging parts of a project manager’s job. We need to build these with direct reports, peers, bosses and clients.  Exceptional managers are those who can make people feel comfortable. I don’t mean removing stresses and pressures to make work easy. I mean creating trusting relationships where people can count on the manager’s professional skills, and respond with professionalism too. You simply cannot expect people to be honest with you if they feel uncomfortable with you. They need to feel mutual respect and trust.

The same goes for bosses and clients. They wouldn’t feel comfortable with a robot who can recite project metrics, results, work items and dates. They want to know that their project is in the hands of a human being with emotions, habits and ambitions – someone who understands other human beings.

So my advice to project managers is to learn more about the people around you.  Talk about something besides work with them. Besides making your day and theirs better, they will work harder and longer as part of a team that values and respects them.