4 Ways to Attach Yourself to the C-Suite as a Project Manager
Ah, the C-Suite. If you’ve worked in a corporate environment for any length of time, you know this is the place to be. The C-Suite is where the Executives do their thing. Visions are envisioned, Strategy is strategized, and Tactics are relegated to the masses. Not to mention that the corner offices have a better view, the coffee always seems to taste better, and the executive washrooms leave the rest of us jealous.
Regardless of whether you aspire to inhabit one of these offices or not, it is important to attach yourself to the C-Suite as a Project Manager for a number of reasons. The C-Suite is where DECISIONS are made that affect the projects you work on, your future OPPORTUNITIES for growth and even your viability as a “going-forward” employee. Tough decisions are made in the corner offices about the organization and you want to ensure these decision-makers see you as the value-added project management resource you are.
The problem is that Project Managers sometimes have a hard time relating to the rough and tumble environment of the executive offices. We have a pre-disposition for our Gantt Charts, online collaboration software, Work Breakdown Structures, risk mitigation, and the predictability and certainty on how our day unfolds. Executives, on the other hand, are all about opportunities, risk taking, the unknown and uncertain, and many times may deliberately throw chaos at something that appears to be working just fine.
How can these two mindsets come together? First, it’s up to you as a Project Manager to change YOUR mind-set to think like an executive. They will not change THEIR mind-set to think like a Project Manager. This will entail leaving your comfort zone and stretching a bit. However, you will soon find the benefit of thinking like someone in the corner office puts you in an entirely different league than run of the mill project managers.
Next, you will want to implement the following 4 suggestions on how to attach yourself to the C-Suite:
1. Learn to Speak in the Language of an Executive
Executives are about return on investment and increasing value. They love innovation, uncharted territories, and business opportunities that will propel the organization forward. They like growth, efficiencies and process improvement. They don’t like excuses, complaining, stagnation, inactivity, or wasting time.
Your challenge, then, is to translate the current project you are working on into language that will resonate with the executive. Let’s say you have the proverbial 30-second ride up together in the elevator and the CEO asks you what you’ve been working on. You have a choice to make. You could say “I’m working on implementing a new project management software package”, or you could say “You know, we recently ran a study and found that there were missed opportunities when it came to project collaboration which resulted in 30% loss of productivity. To fix this problem, I’ve been working on an enterprise-wide initiative that will not only recapture that 30% loss of productivity, but also introduce an additional 20% increase on productivity once this new project management software is implemented…which, by the way, will be done in the next two months.”
What a difference between the two responses!
The CEO undoubtedly knows about this initiative since it is company-wide, however, he will appreciate and make note of your excitement about the opportunity, the cost-savings it will introduce and the fact that you understand the impact to the business that your project will have.
2. Don’t Talk to an Executive in Project Manager-ese
The opposite of the above is true as well. In Project Managers roles we have our own jargon and expressions we use to move projects forward every day. For example …“Is the WBS complete so I can begin on the project schedule to allocate resources to determine if we need to crash or fast-track this project and develop the necessary contingency plan based upon the probability and impact of the associated risks…” may just leave us giddy with excitement. However, you can be assured that talking to the CEO, CIO, CFO or other Executives at this level of detail will be sure to make their eyes glaze over. Worse yet, they may mentally banish you in their minds as someone who can’t see beyond the tactical level and grasp the big picture.
There’s a time and place for project manager-ese. You just need to be judicious on when you break into this dialect and make sure you are not losing your C-Level audience.
3. Present the Idea of a PMO
Depending upon how your company is set up and where they are in the lifecycle of Project Management maturity, floating the idea of a Project Management Office is a great way to attach yourself to the C-Suite.
There may only be a handful of Project Managers that work for individual departments with varying degrees of effectiveness and success. The appeal of a Project Management Office is the ability to establish consistent process and provide visibility into what is happening within the organization.
One component of a PMO is a regularly scheduled meeting where upper level executives in the company come together for a quick debrief on where all project activity stands. This is a great opportunity to talk about the business value that can be realized from projects that are in the works, enlist the help of executives to clear obstacles out of the way, and provide an overall pulse on how things are going within the company. Many times, a PMO will report directly to a top level executive to remove any conflicts of interest or interdepartmental infighting. Another great opportunity to attach yourself to the C-Suite as a Project Manager.
4. Market Yourself and Your Team
One final aspect of being visible at the C-Level is to market yourself and your team. You need to let them know the business value you continue to bring to the organization. We’re not saying always going around patting yourself on the back, but tastefully letting people know that you and your team’s contribution bring value to the organization.
Here’s an example of how that can be done. You’ve just received an email from someone who benefited from the project you finished implementing. It may be the project collaboration software project. The email states that it’s easy to use, saves them a lot of time, and has indeed increased their productivity. All you need to do to market yourself and your team is to forward that to your manager. Your manager will then forward that to their manager, their manager will forward it on to their manager, and up the chain it goes. This type of feedback makes everyone look good, and your name, along with the team are attached to another successful project.
Whether or not you feel comfortable with marketing yourself, we can no longer delude ourselves with the feeling that “our work will speak for itself”. Business moves too fast and there are so many distractions that your work will quickly be swept under the carpet unless you take a moment and have others pause and reflect.
It’s up to you whether you want to be an executive or not. But, it’s also up to you to maintain your viability as a project manager in any company you work. By implementing some, or all, of the suggestions above you will find yourself attached at the hip with the vision, strategy, and future of your company.
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