Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management

Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management


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How do project managers achieve spectacular results when they have no direct authority over their team members? Here's a foolproof process for engaging your team: one that begins with engaging yourself.

"This book will soon become a widely accepted standard on how to deliver a successful project on time and on budget in any industry."
—John Garahan, Vice President, Global Delivery, Broadridge Financial Solutions

Successful project managers must engage and motivate others to achieve complex goals. Ruth Pearce shows how behavior, language, and attitudes affect engagement and how leveraging character strengths can help improve relationships, increase innovation, and build higher-functioning teams. This focus on character strengths—such as bravery, curiosity, fairness, gratitude, and humor—can help project managers recognize and cultivate the things that are best in themselves and others.

Many project managers do not have the authority to direct the activities of people on their teams—they can only influence them. The most influential people succeed by focusing less on themselves and their message and more on others. They pay attention, they are brave, they are vulnerable, they are curious, and they look for and acknowledge the things that are important about and to the other person. And they model the behavior that they want to see. This book tells you how.

Pearce provides tools and frameworks for building a culture of appreciation, understanding character strengths, mapping leadership qualities, understanding learning styles, identifying team roles, and executing plans. She also explores the factors that contribute to conflict and tensions, as well as strategies for getting through difficult times. We see these tools and techniques in action through "Maggie," a project manager who is struggling to motivate her team. Each chapter concludes with reflective questions to make the ideas stick and with key strategies for success.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781523095797
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 11/27/2018
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Ruth Pearce has managed large-scale, international, complex projects for twenty-five years and is currently focused on helping project managers build coaching skills and cultivate character strengths in their teams. Ruth holds PMP and PMI-ACP credentials and is an International Coach Federation accredited coach. She is the founder of ALLE LLC, which provides project motivation services as well as coaching for project managers who want to be more engaged and more engaging in their work.

Read an Excerpt


Project managers can be a big reason for a project's success and a big reason for its failure. It is our choice which we are.

Most of this book is about doing things better. It focuses on building skills, increasing your influence, and making things better for you and those around you. This chapter makes the case for why all these things are important. There are quite a few statistics. Some of them focus on the world at large and are from organizations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI), Gallup, and the VIA Institute on Character. But a big part of this chapter is about you. I asked project managers and their stakeholders what the role of the project manager is. I asked project managers what they have to do with team engagement, how much they know about it, and how much they want to know. And finally, I asked project managers about their strengths — or superpowers — and also about their potential challenges.

Implementing the Platinum Rule — Treating People as They Want to Be Treated

Social intelligence and emotional intelligence are very popular concepts in the workplace these days, and as project managers, we need to use social intelligence at every turn if we are going to be successful.

I, like many of you, was brought up using the Golden Rule to deal with others: treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. This did not seem like such a bad rule until I reached high school and started to mix with people who had very different backgrounds from mine. At that point, I started to realize that many people did not have the same values that I did and did not want the same life I did. As someone who, even then, was incurably curious and had a passion for learning — although not always for school — my values and behaviors were not the same as those of people who valued relationship building, or who focused on their family or church community, or who loved arts and creativity. It was not necessarily in either of our best interests to treat them as I would like to be treated.

Years later, I came across the Platinum Rule, which says that we should treat others as they would like to be treated. This seems rational and reasonable, a laudable goal, except then we are pretty much left on our own to fathom how people want to be treated. Of course, we can always ask, but that is not always practical when we are dealing with dozens or hundreds of people a day in the workplace or we are communicating in an impersonal medium such as email or text.

At the heart of this book is a series of practices that help us to answer the question, How do other people want to be treated? Answering that question will help you build social intelligence and will allow you to develop a greater sense of connection with, and kindness and even love toward, your teams.

In this book, I will share some of the things I have learned and am continuing to learn. My goal is to share with you some empowering and useful tools that have taken me years to discover. They are all simple, effective, and fun. Even if you can only experience and practice them yourself, you will see a benefit — and so will those around you. If you are feeling brave, you can share all the methods from the book with others. And if you are feeling very brave, or you happen to work in a very open, accessible work environment, you can even suggest to your leadership team that these tools and practices be shared more broadly.

With this book you can start to implement the Platinum Rule — and start to treat people the way they want to be treated!

When we see people for who they are, and treat them as they want to be treated, they become engaged. When they are engaged, they are motivated. And when they are motivated, they get stuff done.

Why Do Project Managers Need Their Own Book on Engagement?

Regardless of the audience, the basic foundations we need to build engaged, connected, and empowered teams are the same. When we use curiosity to prospect for and leverage strengths, embody bravery through vulnerability, and model the behavior we want to see, teams flourish.

This may sound hard to do — especially embodying bravery! — but these components integrate naturally and are straight-forward to learn and apply. Your skill and comfort level with these concepts will grow over time, but even a little bit of each will make a big difference in your day-to-day experience.

Of course, there are many books out there about engagement, and lots of research that shows the amazing things that can happen when people are engaged. Why do we need a book specifically for project managers?

First, I think project managers are only just starting to understand the importance of engagement in their own success. A book specifically targeted at project managers accelerates the learning and understanding.

Second, as a project manager myself, I often find it hard to apply the information provided in books about engagement because they usually start from an assumption of power and control — that is to say, authority.

It appears to be much easier for a line manager who does appraisals, conducts performance reviews, and sets bonuses to implement tools and techniques to foster engagement than it is for people who have no such formal influence. Indeed, as in my own case, we are often contractors with no formal standing in the organizational structure. Many of these books have nearly lost me at the introduction because they ask me to work toward a three-ay off-site team-building event or they talk about how particular assessments and tools are "inexpensive." Of course, there are still things to be gleaned from these books, but it takes time and energy — both of which are in short supply in our field! This book is focused on your world and makes no assumption about how much authority you enjoy. It is written for you.

Finally, the sheer volume of management, team engagement, positive psychology, and organizational psychology books is overwhelming. I have spent years reading, studying, and trying out techniques from books, research papers, classes, and conferences to see what works, what people buy into, and what is nice in theory but not very practical in real project management life. I have no doubt that there are other practices that are beneficial. But the techniques I describe in this book are what have worked for me. They are tested and proven!

Collecting Evidence: What Project Managers Contribute

Over the last two years, I have asked lots of people lots of questions about project managers. The first question was, "What do we expect of a project manager?"

To find out the answer, I surveyed 266 people — half of them were project managers, and the other half were people who work with project managers.

Overall, there were three major takeaways:

1. Expectations of project managers are high. Of the respondents, 85 percent agreed with the statement, "Project managers are essential to project success." We believe that project managers are drivers of that success, providing context and purpose, making things happen, and ensuring that team members know who is doing what and when. We assign a great deal of responsibility to project managers.

2. Project managers see themselves more as holders of the big picture, keeping their eye on the goal of the project. Of the project managers I surveyed, 75 percent said they believe they have a good sense of the big picture.

3. I discovered that project managers believe that the biggest disadvantages of having a project manager are micromanagement, bureaucracy, and too many meetings. Yes, even project managers think these are our limitations!

4. Most project managers see themselves as "drivers" of the project.

Drive Matters, but What Does It Mean?

Driving is hard work. Force takes energy. It can be distressing and depressing, and it often results in pushback and resistance.

At its most negative, drive implies inescapable force, relentless urging, or coercion into an activity or following a direction. It often implies physical force — such as driving a golf ball or driving a nail into a beam. Overall, though, drive implies keeping things in motion.

Is that really what we want to do as project managers? Force team members to perform? Act relentlessly in pursuit of the project goal? Or do we want to activate, inspire, and engage team members in the goal?

Building engagement to motivate people to get the work done is much more gratifying, leads to better relationships, and results in increased personal, team, and organizational satisfaction. Leading from within, and experiencing people moving along with you, is much less exhausting than pushing from behind.

In answer to the statement, "The worst thing about having a project manager is ...," the most common responses were that project managers micromanage the resources and tasks; are too structured and rigid; are too task oriented; hold too many meetings with the wrong people in the room; have too little knowledge about the specifics of the program; and have too little skill as a project manager or are too junior for the project at hand.

It seems that we look to project managers to provide context and purpose, understand the big picture, and keep things on track (as opposed to just tracking things!). They are expected to look beyond the individual tasks to the whole and to make things happen.

But if project managers are widely believed to be essential to success, and research shows that engagement is essential to success, doesn't it follow that project managers need to focus on engagement? Are project managers engaged? Do they know — or want to know — how to engage others?

Collecting Evidence: What Others Think about Project Managers

With that same project manager effect survey, I was able to ask the same number of non–project managers what they think.

From this group, there were three major takeaways:

1. Non–project managers agree that project managers are drivers of success, providing context and purpose, making things happen, and ensuring that team members know who is doing what and when. This group also attributed a great deal of responsibility to project managers.

2. For evidence, see later in this chapter. Expectations differ when it comes to the project manager's understanding of the big picture versus his or her focus on the underlying tasks. Whereas project managers see themselves as focused on the big picture, non–project managers see them as more focused on tasks, sometimes to the detriment of the overall project or program.

3. Like project managers, other respondents reported that the biggest disadvantages of having a project manager are micromanagement, bureaucracy, and too many meetings.

Expectations are high, and this raises the question of how many of us are ready to live up to those expectations. As a young project manager, I certainly was unaware of these expectations, and had I known what they were, I would have been ill equipped to meet them. Had I gone looking, I would have been challenged to find resources to help me.

It is good to know that in response to the statement, "Project managers are essential to project success," there was remarkable agreement. The difference between project managers and non– project managers was the degree to which they agreed with the statement. Project managers feel more strongly that they are needed for a project to succeed.

Where expectations do not match, we must consider both the actual performance of project managers in the role and the communication that occurs between project managers and their team members. If project managers have a clear understanding of the big picture, for example — and 75 percent of project managers seem to think they do — how is it that only just over 50 percent of non–project managers believe this is the case?

Seeing the big picture and being the single point of contact were considered critical success factors by respondents, but respondents' concern that project managers can get in the way, possibly hindering progress, is worrying. It presents another opportunity to make things better.

This issue is highlighted in the responses to the statement, "The worst thing about having a project manager is ...," with many respondents citing micromanagement, bureaucracy, too many meetings, and too much structure or rigidity as obstacles to project success. A disappointing half of respondents in both groups seemed to believe that project managers slow down development with too many meetings, which is an indication that project managers may be perceived as brakes and not accelerators on a project.

It is most worrying, to me at least, that project managers seem to share that view.

Collecting Evidence: What Others Say about Project Managers

Looking at some of the comments provided by respondents, we see some interesting feedback.

Common responses to the statement, "The best thing about a project manager is ...," included the following:

Accountability — both having one person who is accountable (the project manager) and having that person make sure that others are held accountable for their part in the project.

Communication — with stakeholders, team members, management, vendors, and other partners. PMI identifies communication as 90 percent of an effective project manager's function.

Organization, planning, coordination, and tracking — making sure that people hit deadlines, obstacles are removed, the right resources are available, and everyone has clear roles and responsibilities.

However, the two most prevalent answers were the following:

having a single point of contact for all concerned — the person to go to for information, escalation, clarification, and organization having someone drive the project or program

What You Can Do to Put Your Projects in the "Successful" Category

Failed projects can give a project or program manager a bad rap, but there is more to project management success than project success. For example, a project manager colleague of mine, early in his career, was instrumental in getting a program canceled sooner rather than later, thus saving the organization hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. He had to summon up his courage to challenge the previous decisions and make the case for canceling the project.

And there are lots of projects that fail!

In the 2016 Pulse of the Profession Report, PMI reported that only about half of all projects were completed within budget, only about 60 percent met the original project objectives, and fewer than 50 percent of projects were completed on time. Losses were estimated at $122 million for every $1 billion spent. That is 12.2 percent of project budgets!

By 2017, the latest Pulse of the Profession Report showed that project success rates had improved year over year and that costs of failure had been reduced to $97 million per billion. Hopefully, this is the start of a trend, but project managers can help ensure that it is by building engagement, getting our teams behind our projects, and creating environments in which stakeholders are emboldened to speak up when things are going off course, needs have changed, or the project no longer makes sense.

In the 2013 Project Management Talent Gap Report, PMI forecast that between 2010 and 2020, 15.7 million project management jobs will be created worldwide, with 6.2 million of those in the United States. There will be more of us, and we will be involved in industries and projects that will shape the future. We will interact with a wider variety of team members, doing ever more novel tasks in ever more flexible, diverse, dispersed working environments. Relationship management, influence, and engagement will become more and more important if we, our teams, and our projects are to succeed.


Excerpted from "Be a Project Motivator"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Ruth Pearce.
Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Introduction: An Accidental Project Manager 1

Chapter 1 Project Managers: More Than Just Plate Spinners and Ball Jugglers 13

Chapter 2 Seeing is Believing: The Maggie Method 41

Chapter 3 Influence: The Project Motivator's Best Friend 70

Chapter 4 Building a Culture of Appreciation 93

Chapter 5 Building a Culture of Appreciation for Our Stakeholders and Teams 119

Chapter 6 When Strengths Go Wrong 147

Chapter 7 When Other Things Go Wrong 175

Chapter 8 Completing the Circle to Be a Project Motivator 193

Chapter 9 Creating the Implementation Plan 205

Bibliography 213

Acknowledgments 219

Index 223

About the Author 231

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