Much research over the last twenty years has attempted to identify the characteristics of successful project managers. However, more recently, this has been questioned and replaced with a more interesting debate. What makes for successful project management? The argument goes that even the ‘best’ project manager acting alone without support from the organization and appropriate collaboration with peers and other stakeholders is unlikely to be successful.
In our own research on the characteristics of successful project managers, we found that the high performers were much more likely to have extended personal and professional relationships within and outside their organizations. It wasn’t just that they had more expertise to draw upon, but also that when they needed to interact with stakeholders, to further the goals of their projects, they were more likely to have pre-existing relationships to draw upon. They built up and valued ‘social capital’ in ways that less experienced project managers were unlikely to do.
Great project managers have great networks
How good are we at networking?
When I talk with project managers about this, they all agree—networks matter. But when I ask them what they have done about their networks in the past three months. Well, that’s just an unfair question!! As one senior project manager – commented – “I think I’ve become lazy and complacent about who I know in my organisation, but the truth is there are so many new people, and I don’t know them!”
Networking is made up of three primary activities:
- Extending our networks – creating new contacts
- Maintaining our network – solidifying relationships and building understanding
- Exploiting our network – calling upon the relationship to achieve goals
Most project managers will feel that they do the first two of these, but often in an informal fashion – mainly based upon who they come across in day-to-day working and who they feel most comfortable with. But professional networking is a much more deliberate action. As I sometimes cynically remark to my project managers – you know you are doing networking right when you start to have lunch with people you don’t like!
To be effective, networking must be purposeful.
The third networking activity, exploitation of our networks, is the one that some project managers can feel uncomfortable with, but after all, that’s why it’s worth putting in the energy.
To be valuable, networks must be usable in tangible ways
One of the most common and possible acceptable ways of exploiting our networks is through reciprocity – I’ll do something for you because you have supported me in the past.
Cialdini’s first principle of persuasion (see his wonderful book The Science of persuasion) states that human beings are wired to return favors and pay back debts—to treat others as they’ve treated us. The idea of reciprocity says that people, by nature, feel obliged to provide discounts or concessions to others if they’ve received favors from those same people.
But it’s also the case that people are more likely to provide favours to people they have a relationship with – people they like. This leads us to another Cialdini principle – the Principle of Liking.
People prefer to say yes to those that they like.
And what causes one person to like another? Persuasion science tells us that there are three crucial factors. We like people who are similar to us, we like people who pay us compliments, and we like people who cooperate with us towards mutual goals.
How good is your network?
If I’ve managed to persuade you that networks matter, then you might like to try a simple network diagnostic. Just click on the link below:
And create your action plan. After all, as I was once told by a group of young entrepreneurs.
Networking: Connecting you with opportunity