There are several things to manage and being worried in a project, Communication remains always a priority element where focus of project manager is highly required to achieve the project success. It can be done between different channels of project matrix such as communication with team or client, but most probably the frequent one is to COMMUNICATION WITH TOP EXECUTIVES.
Before listing and describing the four best communications approaches to use with senior management, lets try to understand it’s criticality and importance in terms of project as well as your career.
Why effective communication with top executives is critical?
Project manager has to manage a project from all directions and most of the times from senior executives such as CEO, COO or Functional Head. Ineffective communication at this level can be wrong for both project plus career of a project manager as there has to be solid ground available while communicating with top management such as facts, style, clarity on contents, etc.
Always remember the major difference between information and communications on general management ground as purpose and techniques for both are very different and following quote from Sydney J. Harris is a perfect example of difference between Information and Communication.
The two words Information and Communication are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.
4 Best Communication Approaches to use with Top Executives
Optimize your attitude
Attitude plays vital role in communication. Factors like volume, pitch, emotions or tone are important and to be taken seriously. While communicating with big people, watch your attitude carefully as it can push back things very badly to a project manager.
Recently, we had an internal meeting with senior management to report statuses of few critical projects running at one of our strategic client. After posting regular updates, one of our delivery lead started directly pointing us about ideal way to escalate things by defending the wrong commitments of his team.
In response, we could have become a vociferous, get angry and use harsh tone but this all will be profligate and probably he will never show his interest in future. Instead, we carefully listened him with appropriate attitude, composed our self by taking deep breath and started responding his each accusation sequentially by showing proofs and facts. At the end, that delivery lead was satisfied with our responses and started giving alternative solutions instead of showing resistance on wrong doings of his team.
Simplify the contents
Believe us, people belongs to senior management layer in any organizations like COO, CIO, HODs love simple messages. They do not have time to read / listen detailed updates about each project and just want quick and result oriented information. To achieve this, try to clean and simplify messages while communicating with senior management.
For example, One of our client submitted a detailed project status report based on three pages to our bosses for escalating one pending item. Being a Project Manager from our end, I got a call from my Portfolio Manager after two days to inquire about that escalation.
See, because of too much information on that report an important escalation did not work as it should be and seniors took two days to realize that email as an escalation. In these two days, we had already sent the fix to client so no such quality issue was actually reported to our seniors plus efforts to write such lengthy status report went crass.
A best way to keep message clear and crisp is to use template and restrict them to limited information such as issues in one highlighted box of report or awaited decisions required from steering committee to proceed further in any point.
Fortunately, you can get similar templates from our free resources section.
Think like top executives
This would be the best approach from all remaining four techniques to use with senior management. Senior management are an important stakeholder for any project and understanding the stakeholder is the core responsibility of project manager so he/she can manage them accordingly. If project manager can understand his stakeholders including their challenges, needs, expectations then movement of communication in specific project becomes easier at every level.
In my last organization, some team members used to have serious conflicts with the decisions of senior positions because of technical / vision level restrictions at their end. Being PM, I started conducting group sessions with problematic team members to make them understand about importance of requirement or decision on which they are showing resistance. To avoid wasting my own time, I also started inviting their team leads in relevant top progress meetings so they can feel the same heat and pressure.
By wearing shoes of top executives, project manager can avoid a risk to have negative disagreement on strategic level requirements. Additionally, it will help project manager to ignore technical barriers while addressing expectations of senior management to project team.
Select appropriate method
PMBOK of PMI ask project managers to develop a detail stakeholder management plan so it can be used during execution or monitoring & controlling phase of project. In same stakeholder management plan you can produce a detailed communication matrix that might cover type of communication, frequency and appropriate method against each stakeholder.
Not every tool can be used to communicate with every senior executive for each type of communication in a project. For instance, a project manager cannot just share a two liner status on Skype with his CFO. He might require a proper status report covering financial aspects and send it through official email account. Similarly, same project manager cannot put issues in plain email and send it to his PMO Head as escalation. For this, a project manager probably should produce a issue list covering other details like reporting date, status, nature, resolution target, etc so it would become relevant and easier for PMO Head to take action.
Understanding senior management and their comfort with methods of communication is an important element for a project manager. It will not only help in conveying message but decisions and actions also.
To summarize, discussion or communication is always important in project management and consider as one of the core responsibility of a project manager. Above four techniques to communicate with senior management in an organization are based on best practices. We would like to hear what more approaches you use while talking to top executive in your projects. You can share it in following comments section or here.