How to Integrate an Internal Project Manager into the Business Culture

How to Integrate an Internal Project Manager into the Business Culture
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Project Management’s Changing Perception

“The practice of enterprise project management is finally getting broad respect, not just lip service,” say the experts at Information Week. While it is clearly true that internal project managers can finally expect bigger paychecks and much more favorable recognition on the company’s stationery, these professionals are still not always getting the peer respect and departmental cooperation that their roles deserve or require.

Company executives are quick to point to the importance of a well-done project from start to finish. They also appreciate the internal project manager’s understanding of the business’s operations and corporate structure as well as climate. More importantly, this professional gets the job done in keeping with industry standards and company practices. Having this sentiment trickle down to the peer level, however, is easier wished for than accomplished.

3 Common Pet Peeves of Peers

  • Corporate change: Old-timers at the job will remember that there was a time before the project manager’s positions was created. Likely as not, they will point out that this ‘newfangled’ way of doing things is a waste of time, resources and money. (Yes, in some instances this may also be an outcropping of “sour grapes.")
  • Communication breakdown: Supervisors communicate personnel limitations to the project manager; executives dictate time lines and benchmarks. Caught in the middle, the professional seeks to make the executives happy–even as she steps on supervisors’ toes.
  • Resources management: The internal project manager needs a certain number of staff members to work on the weekend; the human resources office has not allocated the overtime. As the professional forges ahead, left holding the bag are the HR department and the managers who need to make do with a sudden change in personnel shifts to recoup some of the overtime.

5-Step Image Makeover

It is clear that internal project management professionals and established supervisors--and managers–are bound to clash. The

Wikimedia Commons Involving Stakeholders

severity of the disagreements and attitude problems depends on the disparity between floor staff needs and executive management’s ability or willingness to fulfill them.

Following along this same logic, it is vital that making over the image of the internal project manager is executive-level driven. Even though it is true that the professional can take some actions to better working relationships with peers, it is upper-level management that needs to integrate the position into the corporate hierarchy. A five-step approach highlights possible processes to improve the professional’s image, recognition and productivity.

  1. Executive management establishes the level of authority. Respect must be earned, but authority can be bestowed. Even if fellow managers may disagree with the operations of the project management professional, they are less likely to oppose a clearly defined scope of operations.
  2. Project manager operates within the scope of authority. Although it may boost the professional’s productivity to disregard some boundaries to get things done, this work ethic quickly erodes goodwill, inter-departmental cooperation and respect. If the scope of authority is insufficient for the tasks at hand, the project manager must appeal to executive management for a change in definition.
  3. Communication creates buy-in. Pretty project status dashboards are not just for boardroom meetings anymore. Making them available for supervisors, peer group managers and employees is an excellent method for getting everyone to buy in on the project. The project manager should have a dedicated column in the company newsletter, highlight frequent updates on the break room bulletin board and respond to everyone who asks with details of the project.
  4. Consistent approach to project management. For employees who become part of a project team, a consistent approach is a key element for success. These workers must understand the extent of their involvement and the expectations for satisfactory job completion. Consistency creates familiarity, which in turn makes it easier to foster respect for the project manager.
  5. Attitude of equality. The project manager who is insecure in her authority will most likely attempt to come across as infallible and all-knowing. Rather than engendering admiration from her peers or team members, she is almost certain to create an atmosphere of resistance. If she is, instead, the first to admit that she has to learn just as much as her fellow team members, the dynamics of the group are certainly going to be different.

Improving a project manager’s image calls for cooperation between executive-level management and the professional; at the same time, the professional must have a heightened level of sensitivity for concerns from peers, supervisors and staff members. Blazing a successful trail may seem like a lot of work at the onset of the process; even so, it is well worth the effort in the long run.