RESPECT – How NOT to be the Rodney Dangerfield of Project Management

Do you go around saying “I get no respect!”?  Project managers who say they are not getting respect usually mean that their comments, warnings, suggestions, and requests do not change the behavior of those they work with and for. Perhaps that is true. However, it is also possible that the power distribution scheme in your company is not setup to recognize or utilize the contributions of project management.  

Sixty or seventy years ago, when your parents or grandparents began working for corporations, the internal organization—and power structure—was setup around product groups and profit centers. Each group had a manager responsible for all activities and personnel necessary to get a product out the door and to make a profit. Product managers were respected.

Then in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, large corporations started merging into giant corporations. Lockheed, Martin, and Loral became one company; Boeing and McDonnell Douglas were married, Citi merged or acquired Traveler’s Insurance, Smith Barney, Salomon Brothers, The Associates and many more. To ensure that the mergers made financial sense, these mega-organizations looked for ways to cut costs. Within the product-oriented organizational structure, they found (OH NO!) duplication of functions. To the rescue came the “matrix organization” (You can read a description of this in chapter 2 of the 4th Edition PMI PMBok Guide).

In a matrix organization, groups are put together based on functions or skills. This organization style means that project managers are often in reality project facilitators with only informal control over personnel. They must rely upon the functional managers for project resources.

To receive respect in a matrix organization and to achieve the goals of your project, you need to utilize some of the same behaviors and attitudes discussed in previous posts such as Working with Support Organizations and The Accidental Project Manager Part 2. However, there is more to gaining respect than getting along. You must:

  1. Know where the power lies. Managers within the functional organizations wield the power to assign resources and establish priorities. To gain their respect takes research, insight into motivation, and time. One useful strategy is to figure out how to help them by offering advice and information they can use to do their jobs.
  2. Know your job and back up your requests and assertions with data. Give trust, but more important BE TRUSTWORTHY.
  3.  Keep your relationships “adult-to-adult” within the matrix. Adults negotiate; strive for consensus, resolve conflicts, and respect each other’s opinions according to Paula K. Martin, CEO of Martin Training Associates.
  4. Don’t play childish games. Here are a few games—interactions with ulterior motives—from Eric Berne’s classic transactional analysis book, Games People Play that you should avoid:
    • “Why don’t you…yes, but”
    • “Ain’t it awful”
    • “I’m only trying to help you”
    • “If it weren’t for you”
    • “Look what you’ve done to me”
  5. Ask for help. People, including the managers within a matrix organization, are more likely to respect the person who asks for their help in getting a job done than they are to respect someone who acts as if they have all the answers.  The trick to making this strategy work and increase the respect you receive is to be sincere.

    I am not suggesting you learn to fake sincerity. I am saying you really have to want to know how to get Group A to do what you need done for your project. If you have failed in the past to gain respect or support, start your discussion with an admission about the past, followed by the request to learn how to do it better.

  6. Be professional.  Even when you are being treated with no respect and others are playing games, you should be professional and respectful in your actions and attitude.  While this may not seem to work in the short term, it has huge long-term benefits. 

I am sure readers of Fear-No-Project would appreciate your experiences in successfully gaining respect for you and your project within a matrix organization. Please share via comments.

2 Responses to “RESPECT – How NOT to be the Rodney Dangerfield of Project Management”

  1. Chance Spann Says:

    Thanks for even taking the time to write. Im sure those in the PM field will benefit from such. Great read! Write more!

    Chance Spann

  2. Project Manager: The Enemy? | Journyx Project Management Blog Says:

    […] to be largely out of the project manager’s hands. Our partner, Cognitive Technologies, has published a blog post that addresses this issue, offering advice on how to get more […]

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