Posted by: kerrywills | December 7, 2009

Tip: Build relationships early

Building relationships early during a project is critical to success for Project Managers. It is important to have established a relationship early on a project so that when the contact is called upon when something is needed, it is not the first time that there is an interaction with this contact. This way it is more of a “friend calling in a favor” as opposed to being seen as “just calling because they want something.”

The Project Manager should start with understanding and identifying who the influential people for their project are. That might include key team members, resource managers, vendor partners or sponsors. Then the Project Manager should set up a strategy to build a relationship with those people which can include the following techniques:

  • Setting up an initial conversation to discuss the project. In the first meeting discuss the project, background, scope and expectations of the roles. Recommend to schedule follow up meetings and as they become more frequent look for opportunities to build a deeper relationship.
  • Looking for things in common with that person. One effective method is to schedule an introductory meeting with that person in their office. Once in the meeting the Project Manager can glance around their office to look for something that they might have in common with that person.
  • Set up regular meetings to catch up.
  • If the person is in the same building or company complex as the Project Manager, the Project Manager should consider stopping by occasionally to “say hello” and catch up on project or non-project topics.
  • Look for opportunities to do small favors for people. While there shouldn’t be a feeling of being “owed” something in return, it does set the stage for future negotiations. This can include helping with a presentation, sharing a skill such as creating spreadsheets or letting them borrow a resource if a crisis comes up.

By building relationships with key people early and fostering them as the project progresses, it is easier to leverage those relationships as issues or conflicts arise. This can also be very effective for working with shared service team members who have competing priorities from other projects. It is human nature is to help out acquaintances more than people who aren’t known as well. When a shared service resource has requests from four or five Project Managers to perform work at the same time, having an established relationship may get a Project Manager to be first on that list.

Building successful relationships is a combination of the above mentioned techniques and practice. A Project Manager should consider the following activities to build their skills around successful relationship management:

  • Observe other successful Project Managers to see how they approach project relationships. Make note of what works and what doesn’t work based on the approach and the people involved.
  • Understand the corporate culture to see what is acceptable and not acceptable regarding professional relationships.
  • Gain experience for what works and feels natural to the Project Manager. If a Project Manager is uncomfortable with fostering relationships then the approach may come across as “fake” or awkward. It is imperative that the Project Manager comes across as genuine in their interactions with people.

Note: This is an except from my upcoming book and will be copyrighted material


  1. Kerry,
    I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and I’ve subscribed for regular updates. Congratulations on the upcoming book, as well. I wanted to comment on this post, since the value of relationship development is something which I think extends beyond project management and into managing your career. There are several other points I thought valuable in this discussion.

    The first is that in managing complex projects and programs, there is inevitably the challenge of managing external resources and dependencies external to your project. A strong relationship with these external parties is an excellent step toward insuring your own success.

    Second is that relationship development is a two-way street; to extract value from your relationships you must find ways to deliver value to your partner. You’ve done a nice job of identifying the “small favor” as a means to start this. I’ve found that offering help to clients (especially in consulting) often pays long term dividends.

    And finally, I think there are a number of informal mechanisms to build relationships. They can be in person (i.e.- catch up over a cup of coffee, informal lunch, meet in their office and observe the surroundings, etc.), through social networking tools (i.e. – LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) or by sharing valuable assets to them in an ongoing method (i.e. – sharing interesting articles, making valuable introductions, etc.)

    Josh Schwartz

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