Managing Upwards

admin/ February 22, 2016/ Latest Podcast, Podcast/ 0 comments


Managing upwards is where you develop relationships with your senior executives and senior management within your business.



The third thing we want to do before you can go near a project is learn how to manage upwards. Now, I use a technique called the water cooler relationship and I’m going to talk about it in a minute at the end of giving you the reasons why you need to manage upwards.

Managing upwards is where you develop relationships with your senior executives and senior management within your business. Pretty much anyone who’s got a responsibility for you to deliver the project to, anyone that’s got a stake in the outcome of the project, anyone that holds resources – be they financial, human resources, physical resources – that will help you to lead your project.

And of course your clients and stakeholders can be a myriad of people even outside your organization and your direct client. But the reason you need to develop these relationships, is so, the first thing is so that you can gain support for your projects so that you have adequate resources to be successful. Any project that doesn’t have the resources it needs to deliver will fail. So, you need to make sure, that you got relationships to all the people who provide resources so that you don’t have to wait and go through the typical systems for having resources allocated whether it be going through Human Resources Department or the weekly or monthly resource allocation meeting. You need to be able to tap into some influential people, so that when you have a specific need you can leverage a person out of another job or another project or whatever.

The other thing you want to do is to stop nervous managers prying and micromanaging and overlaying – unnecessary process, they call it governance but I call it interfering. This is where they don’t have any confidence in you or your team, so they’re poking around, they’re looking in at what’s going on. They’re asking for reports every second day. You missed a milestone they want an investigation and report or develop a tiger team to go and find out why you’re running over cost or schedule or whatever. You need to develop a relationship with those kind of people so that when there’s a problem, you can go and talk to them and pre-warn them that there is a problem coming. And by pre-warning them you’re prepping them, so you’re getting them ready for bad news particularly. And also, when bad news does come, and they’ve got to pick up a phone to you and have a discussion with you and ask you what’s going on, what are you doing about fixing it. And you’re going to give them the confidence that you’ve got it under control because what you cannot have happen is that nervous manager fire off an email that is cc’d to the CEO, to the COO, any C person you can think of. You don’t want that happening because then all hell is going to rain down on you and bang, there goes the next two weeks. So, we are in a tricky position with your project anyway, you might have missed a milestone or gone over budget or something, the last thing you need is two weeks-worth of hell from your senior executives trying to explain what’s going on so they can explain to shareholders or other managers and so forth. You want to actually be able to calm the situation down and you want to be able to get on with fixing up their problems.

So, you actually need relationships with these people and you’re constantly talking to them, and constantly learning what’s going on – good, bad, indifferent news – but the key is that you’re confident that you’ll cross it, and that they’re confident – even though they might not like the outcome – but they’re confident that you’ve got it under control and you’re doing the best you can. And when you’ve got a problem, take it to them and they’re probably going to help you.

So really, what this boils down to is having goodwill. And I call it having goodwill in the bank so you’ve got this sort of bank account of goodwill, so you’ve done enough with these people, you’ve discussed, you’ve informed, and you’ve just developed these relationships. So that when a problem occurs, they’re not going to react aggressively or violently. There’s going to be calmness in the whole thing, so really, your job as the project manager, as the ring leader is to make sure there’s a general air of calmness in and around your project. So, we’ll talk about (inaudible 04:50) senior project at another time but certainly, outside your project, that can really derail you and derail you quite quickly if your senior people start losing confidence in you.

So, I mentioned earlier a water cooler relationship. Now, you don’t have a relationship with senior executives and people when you go to meetings and you talk at meetings – that’s not a relationship. That’s a reporting cycle and there’s nothing personal about that. So, when I talk about the water cooler relationship, I mean that you develop a relationship such that if you are at the water cooler and this person comes along, you could have a chat with them. You might talk some nice things about what their favorite football team is and so on, but then you could get on to quickly take the conversation to another level and say, “Well, in fact Bob, did you realize that on Friday we’re installing the main module on the process system and I do have a bit of a problem with it because some of the pipe work’s late but what I’m doing now is making sure that we’ve got a night shift starting next week so that they can put us back on schedule in a month.” So, when Bob sees that come through on the report, he doesn’t angrily react that no one told me and so on and so forth. So, what you need to do is develop these relationships over time. Find an ice breaker, like what’s your favorite football team? With guys who are acutely into his children, work out where his kids go to school, you could say how’ your sixteen year old son going, talk about school, talk about your own kids and so forth. So in developing these common threads, you need to remember what their hot buttons are and so forth, what their soft buttons are even to the point, so that when you have that opportunity you can have that conversation.

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