Influence and persuasion start with confidence. If the people around you don’t detect that you are confident in yourself and what you are saying, then neither will they be. This means conveying confidence is an essential trait for a project manager because a large part of our work is in winning over team members, stakeholders, and clients to our point of view.
Often, the stereotype of a project manager can be one of a brash, arrogant professional. But we know the truth of it. Not only are the best PMs rarely brash nor arrogant, but we frequently find ourselves in challenging situations where confidence can be hard to summon up.
So, the reality is that you’re one day likely to need to convey more confidence than you feel. What are the secrets that will get you there?
1. Fake it
I’m no advocate of lying to your stakeholders. But sometimes we do need to put on our “game face” and portray more confidence than we really have.
The old and somewhat creepy saying is “fake it till you make it.” I don’t like this. But I do like the reframe that Amy Cuddy offers in her 2012 TED talk, which has garnered of 52 million views, as I write this.
Fake it till you become it. In our context, my first secret is to convey confidence to buy yourself and your team the time to earn that confidence.
2. Right-Size Your Confidence
Confidence is good, but people can sense over-confidence. And no-one trusts a cocksure attitude. It clearly signals hubris, and we don’t want to be part of the fall.
So, my second secret is to be confident in yourself, your team and your process. Know that you have the capacity, integrity and resources to do a good job. This is what matters, rather than a blind confidence in an outcome you may not be able to fully control.
How you greet people is the first indicator of your level of confidence. And this one is easy to get right. It indicates your level of professional self-assurance. And there are two secrets here, although, I doubt they are all that secret!
The first secret is in your handshake. Make it firm and equal. That is, aim for a solid grip, without maiming or causing bone damage. Ease off to match their style.
Be equal too, in the angle. This means the flat of your palm should be vertical, with your palm facing neither up (a submissive signal that can betray a lack of confidence) nor down (a dominant gesture that can indicate a foolhardy attitude to risk).
And when you shake hands, don’t forget good eye contact.
For some people, eye contact comes easily. They feel comfortable with it. But others need to work at it, because it feels awkward.
We read holding eye contact as a signal of strength and confidence. So, the second secret is to make the effort to practice making eye contact.
But do so in moderation. Too much feels like confrontation, aggression, or plain weirdness. So be alert for that feeling that the other person is about to feel uncomfortable, and take that as your cue to break contact. This can be very important when it comes to stakeholder management.
4. The 3 Ps of Confident Body Language
We cannot not communicate. I don’t know who said that first, but what it means is that, even when we do or say nothing, our bodies are communicating our feelings and sense of confidence or discomfort. And the secret to good body language is in the three Ps: Posture, Position, and Poise.
Head up, shoulders back. This gives you your full height and maximum impact. Neither submissive nor domineering. Just confident. The opposite is to let your shoulders drop, which is exactly what we do when we feel insecure.
Imagine a puppet string fixed to the top of your head is pulling you lightly upward, if it helps.
The second part of this tip is to stand—or sit—square on to the person or people you’re talking with. And get the distance right too: not so close you intimidate or become intimate, not so far that you are distant. Using space is a signal of confidence. And the orientation of your body tells us where you are focusing your attention.
Plant your feet in a stable structure (from hip width to shoulder width apart) and hold still. Move when you want to move, by going straight to your next position. Shuffling and changing your posture is a sign of nerves. So, the third aspect of the body language secret is to be still when you can and to move confidently when you need to.
5. Fight the Fidget
Nothing betrays uncertainty like fidgeting. So be aware of the things you do, to spot them, and to stop. The main ‘tells’ (giveaways) of nervousness are playing with your collar, tie, necklace, or your sleeves, watch, bracelet, or cuffs. Slightly less so is fidgeting with your fingers, but that’s not ideal either.
Keep your hands still. Take everything out of your pockets (if you have them) to avoid the temptation to play with them.
What about the pen you’re holding? If you have a tendency to fiddle with it or put it in your mouth, put it down. A tip is to place it very deliberately—in a specific place and at a particular angle.
Hair touching is also a sign of nerves. That goes for your ears too. In fact, as a rule of thumb, the lower down your body you go, the more nerves you betray.
So, in terms of giving away a lack of confidence, the worst of all is body-hugging or thigh touching. We find these gestures reassuring when we are nervous, so if you catch yourself doing it, stop. Everyone watching will be as aware of it as you are—and maybe more so.
It’s important to slow down. Nervous people hurry. Confident people take their time.This is true for both your movements and your speech. Walk into a room slowly and deliberately. Be calculated in how you place your notebook on the conference table.
And measure your words—especially with the opening words of your comments or of any presentation. Show that you are completely in control and know what you are going to say and do.
7. Speak with Confidence
My last secret concerns how to convey confidence through the way you speak. And we’ll start with the verbal equivalent of fidgeting.
I think you, er, know what I mean here. It’s like, sort of when you, um, inject like extra words and, er, part words. Avoid this at all costs. Try using pauses to gain conscious control of your speech.
Not only do they give you control of what you are saying… They also slow down the overall pace of your speck. Which is good, because that too conveys confidence. It’s when we are nervous that we gabble.
When I am training presenters and speakers, I also talk about the power pause. This is a deliberate pause to survey your audience, before you start to speak. It’s a way to get and hold attention.
One way that helps you avoid verbal tells, and increases the confidence signaling, is to structure your conversational responses. Whether you need to make a point, or answer a question, put your message into a neat package. Examples include:
- Point, Example, Repeat Your Point for Emphasis
- Context, Concerns, Options, Recommendation
- Question, Meaning, Answer, Justification
- Situation, Subtleties, Your Compelling Insight
Another benefit of structured responses is that they have a clear end point. This makes it easy to stop when you need to.
Stop, before you run on and on. And on. And on.
Stop, when you seem to need to repeat yourself, and again.
Stopping appropriately indicates that you are confident. Conversely, when we repeat ourselves, it sounds more like we feel in need of convincing the people around us. Indeed, it can even sound like we are trying to convince ourselves. So, if you are confident about your point of view, when you finish speaking, my last secret is to just stop.
Bonus Tip: A Thorough Plan Brings Confidence
Having a project plan that you believe in can go a long way to conveying confidence as a project manager. Few tools allow you to build a more thought out plan than a Gantt chart. With ProjectManager.com, you get an online Gantt chart that allows you to map and schedule every task and phase in your project. You can even assign tasks, create dependencies, add comments and add files all from the Gantt view.
Plus, as team members complete their tasks, their progress gets updated in real time. That way, you can be confident that your plan is proceeding as expected. Even if some tasks fall behind, you can easily drag and drop the timelines to adjust due dates and reassign workload.
Confidence is an attitude, but it’s also the knowledge that you’re prepared. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that has the tools you need to feel confident. Features include online Gantt charts for collaborative scheduling, kanban boards to visualize workflow and a real-time dashboard that charts progress as it happens. Build your confidence today by taking this free 30-day trial.