Whether you’re a professional PMI certified project manager or juggling projects on top of your day job, you know your credibility matters — a lot. Even if you’ve got everything under control, one simple mistake can cause a cascade of doubt that will undermine your influence. Your “Don’t worry we’ve got this” no longer cuts it, and you spend more time working on updates than working on the work.
In our work with thousands of project managers all over the world, we’ve found these five mistakes are the easiest way to needlessly tank a project manager’s credibility.
1. Unbridled Tenacity
You’re like a dog with a bone and a git-er-done attitude. After all, your job is to ensure this project succeeds. Tenacity is a powerful leadership skill.
And, when taken too far, tenacity will diminish your influence and tank your credibility.
We’ve seen too many project manager’s careers stall because they pushed too hard for their deliverables, without considering the greater good. The best project managers have mastered the art of strategic tenacity. They know exactly when to turn up the burners and sound the alarms — and when to back off the gas.
Ask yourself: How can I ensure this project succeeds AND be supportive and respectful of people’s competing priorities?
2. Hiding Behind Your Sponsor
Your credibility is directly correlated to YOUR influence. YES, keep your project sponsor informed and engaged. Listen deeply and get all the advice you can. Ask them to come to your project kickoff and advocate for what you need at the senior level. AND never forget that the minute you have to start dropping names to get work done, your credibility suffers.
Ask yourself: What relationships must I nurture to build more trust and influence? Before I escalate, how can I dig deeper to understand the push back I’m getting? How can I build deeper cross-functional peer relationships at my level?
3. Inability to Answer the Obvious Questions (with a well articulated, concise answer)
The project’s complicated and you’re all over the details. You’ve got pivot tables for your pivot tables. There isn’t a question you can’t answer — given enough time and access to the right spreadsheet. But here’s where we see so many hard-working, well-meaning project managers get into trouble. They get lost in the data and find it hard to articulate answers to the obvious questions.
Be sure you’re prepared to answer the big picture questions in any hallway conversation that may arise.
Ask yourself: Is this project on-schedule? Do we need anything? Is this project still relevant given (insert the big strategic change that just happened here_______)?
“Well, he talks a good game,” one of the phrases most likely to come before the word “but.” Yes, you’ve got to be able to tell a great story — just be sure that it’s true. One of the best ways to gain credibility as a PM is to be a highly-articulate truth teller.
Ask yourself: Am I able to clearly articulate the true story, including vulnerabilities and mistakes?
5. Avoiding Tough Conversations:
If the project were easy, you wouldn’t need a project manager. Great PMs know how to talk about the tough stuff early and often. If this tough for you, try our I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model.
Ask yourself: Am I willing and able to put the needs of the project ahead of my own discomfort? Do I have the skills to hold people accountable in a way that strengthens both results and preserves the relationship?
What did we miss? What mistakes have you seen jeopardize a project manager’s credibility or influence?