Effective Project Management requires many skills, including an understanding of office politics. Office politics is a recognized component of project management by PMBOK, and they are expected to be politically smart and recognize that the appropriate and skillful use of politics and power help the project manger be successful.
While most people tend to be people who just want to get to the task of delivering results and doing what needs to be done, to be a successful project manage age means you will also have to be skilled at managing the office politics of project sponsors and executive steering committees. You must be able to deal with the competitive nature of various department leaders competing for limited corporate resources. Many people see those that play office politics as unsavory characters that allow their own interests outweigh what is important to their department and company.
You might see office politics an a form of bad or deceptive behavior, poor personal discipline, a lack of loyalty, unattractive secrecy, or even outright lying. While you can assume this is unwanted behavior that you don’t want to replicate, you are foolish to ignore this behavior and assume you won’t have to deal with the people who participate in this conduct. Office politics exist and you must identify those active in the process and learn how to effectively deal with them. You must be on the lookout so they can see the early warning signs of danger, so can position yourself to survive in politically charged environment.
Just remember that office politics is neither good nor bad in itself, it simply how power is exercised in a practical, day-to-day basis in your company. Your responsibility to your future, and the future of your projects is to make sure you observer and recognize the office politics as you guide the members of your team to keep your project on track and present office politics from negatively impacting your project or your project team. If you are successful, that is a good thing for everyone involved. If you are bad at office politics, it could be bad for your immediate career.
You can use politics to your advantage to work the people involved to go more to assist you and your team to accomplish tasks to meet or exceed your project objectives. But politics can also work against you, as people might work the system to make themselves look good at the expense of others. Bad politics mean people are focused on winning at all costs and abusing power systems to impose their will on others.
You should identify those people that show the traits of a bad office politician. Some traits of you need watch for include:
- Gossip: Those people that are quick to spread rumors or bad news about people. They might be the ones you spread disinformation about you or your team, causing people to doubt your teams ability, or question the status of your overall project.
- Self Promoting: People who are quick to accept all the credit when things go well, and point fingers when things go badly. They will often take credit even when they didn’t do anything to earn recognition.
- Management Pet: Those people that spend time telling their managers what they think they want to hear, and often times hiding the truth from their manager is order to gain favor.
- Avoid Risk: They distance themselves from failure and make sure they aren’t associated with anything that might be difficult or might not be successful. They want an appearance that everything they do is a success, and will be quick to remove any support for something they think might fail to prevent any association with a project that failed. If they think your project has run into problems, they might make a preemptive move to withdrawn support from the project.
- Saboteur: These people seem to dislike anyone else to be successful, and will work in the background to toss bombs into various situations and then hide in the shadows as you deal with the results.
- Taker: This is someone who is happy getting the information they need, without ever expecting to share the information you need. You will need to broker information swaps with this type of person to get everything you need to make your project successful.
Some of the ways to counter these traits and position yourself for success include:
- Consistently meeting or even exceeding the expectations of your stakeholders. Delivering solid results brings you credibility that is not easily negated by the words or actions of the office politicians. This is best achieved by proactive stakeholder management and constant communication.
- Educate yourself on the political landscape of your company. Be aware of how office politics are impacting the people around you, even if it doesn’t have an immediate impact on your project.
- Market your reputation to keep office politics from impacting your career. Actively promote your successes and the successes of your team.
- If someone engages in negative talk about you or your team, confront them with facts to address any concerns immediately.
- Try not to become part of one of the existing power blocks, this often limits your options going forward. Instead keep your options open and avoid taking sides.
- Recruit good people into your circle of influence by offering them support, encouragement, information, input, feedback, resources and access to others in your network. Earn their trust and respect through your positive deeds and actions. Building your network with good people will take time but it is worth the effort
- Stay detached, don’t let your emotions dictate your actions, find support in your network, stay positive and, focus on delivering positive results, and don’t take it personal.
- Stick to your core values and the principles that you want people to respect. If a person or action does not fit within your core values you need to reconsider your path going forward. Don’t allow office politics to make you do things you will later regret.
- Plan for the best, but expect the worst. Trust is the key to successful engagement. If you are not prepared to trust people, they will not trust you. Keep an eye on the people you work with and make sure you quickly identify those you can no longer trust.
To avoid project failure, we have to recognise those who engage in office politics and protect ourselves and our teams from them. You must always steer clear of situations where we might violate our core values and principles. To succeed as project managers, you need to learn the skills required to identify those involved in poor behavior that could negatively impact your project timeline and manage those forces to limit the impact to your project.