Project Management

The 4 Ways Project Managers Build Trust

The only way to understand others is to foster a sense of trust. Trust is the building block of families, corporations, and whole societies. And for the project manager / change manger, trust is paramount. The reason is simple – leaders cannot be followed unless they are trusted. At her blog, project leadership coach extraordinaire Susanne Madsen discusses the four components of effective trust building.

Without Trust, all Goes Bust

Where trust is lacking, individuals become withdrawn and are unlikely to cooperate beyond formal exchanges or outside of established lines of authority. This is undeniably bad for productivity, bad for the proposed change or project, and bad for the organization as a whole:

Lack of trust on projects comes about when managers fail to communicate important information, deliberately withhold information or when they are not truthful, reliable or consistent. Actions speak louder than words, so if something is not appropriately done or communicated it will create barriers even if the intentions were genuine. 

Madsen says there are four basic elements to building trust:

  1. Competence
  2. Honesty
  3. Connection
  4. Communication

The first order of business is competence. Of course, no matter what level of professionalism we rise to, there will always be awkward moments where we realize there is still a lot to learn. But we don’t have to be perfect to be capable. We just have to be careful, structured, and reliable. The point is that we need to foster the perception that we are in control.

It is said that honesty is the best policy, and for a project manager this is no different. The challenge here is to match intentions with realities. It’s not so important that you’d like to deliver X item on time. What your affiliates will want to know is if you can deliver on time. Honesty is often about looking an individual in the eye, and telling them what they need (not want) to hear.

Since all people are unique, building trust requires that you go just a bit deeper and connect with them over a common interest. If your identities are perceived as being irreconcilable, then no forward progress will occur. Trust requires empathy, and empathy requires mutual identification – ask anyone with a psych degree!

None of the other trust-building factors work without the fourth component of communication. You’ll not cultivate a reputation for competency if you’re not in control of your verbal / written interactions with others. Intentions and realities must be clearly communicated. And lastly, no one gets to be an effective leader without properly articulating their identities and inquiring into others’ interests. In other words, just keep it real.

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