How to Lead Through Communication

ProjectManager.com

Over the last several years, I have found myself being called more and more to deliver conversations, lectures and programs that revolve around interpersonal communications. What I have discovered is that many organizations have challenges when it comes to clear, concise, and consistent communication.

As I have told audiences all around the world: “Leading is communicating.”

I say this because as leaders of teams and organizations, we can only ever be as successful as our teams allow us to be. So by consistently and effectively communicating our goals and objectives, we enable our teams to help us reach our goals.

To maximize your ability to achieve a positive outcome from your communications, I always advise PMs to make their communications clear, concise and easily understood whether they are articulating project goals, discussing status reports or presenting to the board.

This is a pretty simple framework, and it will help you improve your communication immediately. Let’s look at each in more detail:

Be Clear

The first key to communicating in a way that allows your teams to fully and completely get a feel for your goals and objectives is to make sure that your message is delivered clearly.

For many of us, we have a high degree of industry and sector specific knowledge, and this knowledge can encourage us to use acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon that our team members may not fully understand.

Another challenge we encounter is that because many of the members of our team are specialists or experts in one specific area, they may not fully grasp the overall picture of the project. This can create issues when the need to truly understand the entire project scope in order to integrate their work is undervalued.

To help bring clarity to your communications, it can be effective to do the following:

• Try to phrase your communication in a way that allows beginners to understand your point of view and instructions.

• Attempt to remove any unnecessary jargon, buzz words, or corporate lingo that may not be common knowledge, at least in the beginning.

• Encourage your team to engage with you and ask questions to clarify your instructions and ideas. Too many failed projects end up that way because the project team doesn’t feel like they can ask their project leader questions. So encourage questions, they will quickly help guide you to clarity.

Be Concise

I was at a seminar recently and the presenter asked the audience what was one of their biggest challenges, the gentleman next to me held up his hand and said with complete sincerity, “I talk too much.”

For many of us, that is a problem. We get caught up in our own thoughts and details and forget that what interests us and what is important to us, likely isn’t important to anyone else, even if they are on your project team.

To be effective as a communicator with your team, you need to keep your communications tight. Brevity helps your clarity and it helps your team better understand what you are doing. If you are encouraging your teams to ask questions to help with the clarity of your directions, being too concise won’t be a challenge because if you haven’t given enough detail, your team will ask you for more specifics.

Be Easily Understood

The capstone to creating an environment where you can use your communication skills to create an environment where you can maximize your leadership is to have your message understood.

In many cases, you are going to find focusing on clarity and concision will be enough to help you craft communications with your team that help set proper expectations and create an environment of constructive communications.

A lot of times, clearing out the lingo, buzzwords, and jargon will help you be much more easily understood. But in the instances that this doesn’t fully help get your point across, it is best to go back to the idea of conveying your message much like a newspaper does, where many of them write at about an 8th grade reading level. By keeping the same idea in mind, you will find yourself more carefully wording your instructions and statements and doing a much better job of communicating.

Communicating in Different Orgs

As the leader of a team or an organization, you have to recognize that there are tons of barriers to positive communications and productive environments.

In government projects, there are particular challenges like permanent employees versus contractors, classified information versus non-classified information, and an environment where promotions can weigh on how little trouble you cause…even if your lack of communication results in a poor or failed project.

Enterprise projects can suffer from the same sorts of communications as the government, coupled with other issues that are maybe more common in the private sector like more reliance on remote teams, profit motivation and more.

And, no matter what type of organization you are in, there are common challenges to communications that can exist anywhere like poor listening skills, unclear messages, too much technical jargon, remote teams, inconsistent work schedules, and too many changes to scope and specifications.

So how do you know if you are communicating effectively?

Monitor for Communication Success

As the PM, you need to always keep your ears open for communications and information, both good and bad.

Depending on the size and nature of your project, this listening can happen in a formal manner through meetings, memos, emails, and other types of structured and scheduled communications. Or, if you have a very small or tight project team, you can often do most of your listening and monitoring informally through quick chats, informal meetings, and by creating a general environment of openness where everyone feels comfortable in communicating about the issues they are dealing with.

Encourage Communication From Your Team

The ultimate goal as a project manager on any project is to deliver the project to scope, on time, and on budget. One of the most direct routes to keeping your projects on target is by encouraging and eliciting communication from your team.

By now you know that I believe in creating an environment where your team and you as the PM can communicate back and forth in an open and constructive environment.

But you may still find yourself in need of encouraging and eliciting the type of communication necessary to see your project successfully completed. If you are in this situation, think about the following as ways to get even better communications from your team:

• Pull aside specific team members for small or individual conversations.

• Create a database for your team to list challenges and issues in an open, non-judgmental environment.

• Holding brainstorming sessions with specific challenges submitted anonymously beforehand.

The key thing to remember is that the bulk of your job as a PM and a leader is to communicate with your team and your stakeholders. Without your team, you are not going to be successful.

So when you are shaping those communications, successful communications can be as simple as remembering that your message needs to be kept clear, concise and to the point, and make sure you use language that makes it easy to understand.

For further tips on best practices when communicating in project management environments, watch Jennifer Bridges, PMP, in this short tutorial video, “Improving Your Project Management Communications.”

Use tools for your project that can promote open and effective communication across the organization and teams. ProjectManager.com uses a social collaboration interface, along with messaging systems to make sure your team is kept up-to-date on the latest project communications. Start a free trial today.