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What makes an effective communicator in Project Management?

Would you risk 56%?

The Project Management Institute’s 2013 report Pulse of the Profession revealed that US$135 million is at risk for every US$1 billion spent on a project. Of that, a shocking 56 percent of is at risk due to ineffective communications. 56% of $135 million = $75 million dollars!

As a project manager, how can you ‘make effective communication happen’?

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Let’s look at some simple things you can do to focus your team:

Talk the Talk

You know how important it is to know what’s happening in your organization. Now, stress to your project team how valuable it is too. In project meetings, make sure your message is understood. Check in with your team, especially if it appears there may be confusion. They may not solve all your communication issues but they do convey how valuable good communication is to you:

  • Is everyone clear on this?
  • I want to make sure there is no misunderstanding.
  • What is not clear?

Admittedly, all three of the tips are too often reduced to clichés. But there is truth in them. Back in my theatre days, I, and many other actors I knew, often worried about playing stereotypes and clichés. A very good acting teacher used to tell me, “Embrace the cliché. It’s there for a reason. Find the truth in it!”

Walk the Walk

Keep language as uncomplicated as possible. Be polite but be clear.

A German manager, who worked internationally and used English in Live Meetings, once told me, “the challenge is that we are sometimes not strong enough in English to understand these problems, or sometimes we don’t realize that there ARE problems.” And therein lies the risk. Not only might you miss the complexity of problem, you might miss that a problem even exists.

Recognize that not everyone is at the same level when working in a foreign language. Different project management methodologies use some different terminology. You might be come from a PMP background but your colleagues might mostly understand the language of PRINCE2. Or your organization might use its own language to discuss projects. While using different terminology may be necessary (more in the 3rd point below), try to keep ‘jargon’ to a minimum.

Get Everyone on the Same Page

Although different project management methodologies boast unique language, it’s a good idea to be able to adapt in such a way that you are able to communicate with all stakeholders.

Have a standardized communications plan. 

The Pulse reports that high performers are almost three times more likely than low-performing organizations to use standardized practices through the organization. As a result, they achieve better project outcomes. Making sure your language is standardized defines outcomes, invites trust, manages conflict, invites commitment, and embraces accountability.

Embrace the cliché!

Any good project manager will tell you that project outcomes are never guaranteed. No project manager can control everything. But keep these tips in mind and you will be ensuring that one of the most important aspects of project work which is under your control – communication – helps make your project, you and your team be as successful as it can be.


3 replies
  1. Jennie Wright
    Jennie Wright says:

    Yes Gerhard, you are right – often no-one says “no – no idea!”. Maybe it’s better to say things like:

    Let’s summarize our tasks before we finish = we do this for a minute at the end of every meeting and it is very effective
    What have I missed? = this makes it more about the speaker than the people
    What still needs to be clarified? = again, this phrase makes it more about the speaker than the people

  2. Will
    Will says:

    I would like to share some words commonly used in project management contexts:

    • An advocate = someone who strongly supports an idea
    • Constraints = limitations
    • Guaranteed = promised to be certain or secure
    • Magic bullet = a total solution (i.e. by doing one thing you will solve all problems with it)
    • Mandatory = you must do it

  3. Gerhard
    Gerhard says:

    “Is everyone clear on this?”
    To express uncertainty may establish a picture, that harms your reputation. That’s why people usually don’t ask back.

    “try to keep ‘jargon’ to a minimum”.
    Often you have to use jargon, because you are used to it. I guess you can’t express your ideas fluently and effortlessly anymore when you have to think about how to avoid special terms and abbreviations.

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