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4 Steps to Build Better Relationships at Work

Building relationships at the office is a skill and asset that project managers can use over and over again through their careers.

Why Project Managers Need to Build Relationships

  1. More opportunities. Project managers working on contract are always marketing. Building better relationships will send more opportunities your way.
  2. Build influence. Project managers often have limited traditional authority over staff in their work. By having friends who know, like and trust you, persuading people to work on your project will be much easier.
  3. Greater productivity. By understanding the people you work with more deeply, you will be able to communicate with them better and achieve your goals in less time.
  4. Enjoy more satisfying work. When you get to know people better at the office, your workday will be more enjoyable. As a 2013 Harvard Business Review article points out, having friends at work makes people more productive and engaged.

Now that we understand the value of developing relationships at the office, it is time to get started. As with any change, it is best to start small. You can go a long way by connecting with one new person a week. That’s a commitment that should be manageable by everyone, no matter your workload.

A Four-Step Process to Improve Relationships, One Person at a Time

Relationship-building is an important skillset. However it does not come naturally to many of us. Earlier in the year, I presented a webinar on “How to Succeed as an Introvert Project Manager.” It was a popular session with over a thousand people in attendance. If you identify as an introvert, this process will still work for you. My advice is to go through the process slowly, take breaks when you need to and focus on the benefits of getting to know more people.

1. Choose one person at a time.

Relationships are best developed with focus. Start by thinking of one person you would like to get to know better at the office. It is best to start with someone with whom you have regular interaction.

For example, a project manager may build a relationship with the project’s subject matter expert in finance. Managing cost effectively is much easier when you have strong finance support.

2. Pay attention to the person.

Building a relationship starts with noticing them. For example, use the observation strategy to connect better with your manager. How do you pay attention?

Look for trends in how that person behaves in meetings. Does that person seek out conflict or avoid it? What topics do they keep bringing up in their questions? These points will give you some hints on what that person cares about.

3. Strike up a conversation.

Observation is a good place to start but it is not enough. You need to take the initiative and have a conversation. You could ask them to join you at Starbucks, (I’m a semi-regular there.) or you could take a different approach and use the cookie hack to get to know them better.

4. Look for a way to help.

As you continue to interact over the next few weeks, look for a way to help your new friend. You might share one of your favourite Excel techniques, or donate to their charitable fundraising campaign. As a general principle, go for quality over quantity help.

As you continue to work through this process, you will build better relationships.

Now it is time for you to take action!


For more brilliant insights, check out Bruce’s website: Project Management Hacks

About Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham, PMP, is the editor of, a resource for growing IT project managers. Bruce’s experience includes leading projects in the financial services industry and in higher education. Bruce received his Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto, Master of Arts (History) from the University of Western Ontario and Master of Information Studies degree from the University of Toronto. Outside of his professional pursuits, Bruce’s interests include history, world travel, wine and science fiction. Bruce lives in Toronto, Canada. You can view Project Management Hacks at the button below.

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