Project Management

by Alan Harpham, Tony Kippenberger, Graham Bosman

Managing the people

Top tip

The only way to get things done is through people, so manage the people well!

It is a fundamental part of a manager’s or team leader’s role to achieve results – and the only way that can be done is through the efforts and endeavours of the people who are being managed or led. For success to be achieved, those people need to be motivated to undertake the tasks involved. So managers and team leaders have to put effort into motivating their people, rather than just supervising them and their work.

They also have to manage upwards (for instance, keeping the project board well informed) and outwards (to keep the other stakeholders on side).

What is motivation?

The first thing to recognise is that motivation is a state of mind and/or emotion that determines human behaviour. This has two important implications: that it is internal to the individual and so cannot be ‘done to’ someone without their compliance, and that the quality of work produced will depend on how they ‘behave’ in a working environment. We have all seen the difference between someone who is clearly unmotivated and someone who shows high motivation and commitment.

The point is that managers and team leaders have to work at generating motivation, using a wide array of opportunities that are, to a greater or lesser degree, at their disposal. These vary from, for example, changing job content to providing the necessary support and resources, and from choosing an appropriate personal leadership style to offering incentives and rewards. The critical thing is to overcome two common misunderstandings – that the same things motivate everyone, and that what motivates you will also motivate others. Although both may be true in certain circumstances, it is not generally the case.

There is a whole topic on Motivation, so we’ll just take a quick look at the different groups of people you may have to manage:

Within the team

Clearly, managing members of the project team itself is a crucial element in guiding a project through to a successful outcome.

Team leaders and individuals are the key people that the project manager manages internally. This requires the full array of leadership skills, because you need to recognise the skills, competencies (or lack of them) and the needs of each individual, and then apply the style of management and leadership that best matches them and their current situation.

Fortunately, this resource has a huge number of topics to help you do this. For example it will prove valuable to look at the following:





Creative thinking



Listening skills

Questioning skills




Conflict resolution

... and many more.


Managing the ‘boss’ is and always will be a key part of being an effective manager. This is about keeping them well informed, not holding back bad news but always suggesting ways to overcome bad situations and trying to influence the ‘boss’ to use their skills and authority to the best ends of the project.

Much depends on the project sponsor and on the relationship between the sponsor and the project manager. The project manager should expect considerable support from the sponsor – politically and personally. The sponsor should be prepared to use their seniority, power and/or influence to overcome issues and barriers that the project manager may face, internally inside the organisation as well as externally, with suppliers, customers or stakeholders. This means that the relationship needs to be managed well. (See also Managing Upwards.)

How do I avoid surprises?

Quite simply, by staying in touch. Many project sponsors are busy senior people and in such circumstances it is not unusual for the sponsor to name someone else to chair the project board. As Chair of the Board (the Executive in PRINCE2), the nominee is the first line of reporting for the project manager, but it may prove beneficial to get agreement from both the sponsor and the nominee that the sponsor is copied in on various documents and reports. It is all too easy to lose touch with the sponsor and therefore to lose the influence and help that they can bring to bear. But beware, there may be politics around and you do not want to be seen going behind the nominated chairperson’s back!

When do I go for help?

Again, as we’ve said before, when you actually need it! Don’t go running to the sponsor (or the board) on a matter that they might rightly expect you to deal with. ‘Don’t cry wolf...’ But equally, don’t hesitate to take serious matters to the person who, after all, ‘owns’ the business case and should be the project’s customer.

What kind of help can I get?

This is likely to depend on context, but if you have struck up and maintained a good relationship, you should be able to ask for many forms of help because, as the project’s customer, the sponsor should have a vested interest in it succeeding. Regrettably, some project sponsors need reminding of this fact!

Outside the team

There are various external contractors who may need to be managed, both by means of the contract, but also through recognition of their hopes and fears for their assignment. This will also call on your motivational skills and may require you to build a relationship with their immediate management.

There are also the stakeholders. We have addressed these elsewhere, but again their personal motivation is an important topic for project managers to consider and understand. A stakeholder is anybody who is either involved in the project (they have a stake in it) or is likely to be affected by it. On some projects, this can be a great number of people. (See also Stakeholders.)

What is their purpose towards the project?

Well, this can be anything on a spectrum from wholehearted support and commitment to downright opposition. So, given this sweep of possibilities, it is critically important to manage them well – retaining the support of those who want the project to succeed while trying to negate the attitude and behaviours of those who would like to wreck the whole thing. Most important are those who are in the middle; work on them and make them supporters!

What is their power and influence?

Obviously, depending on who they are, this can be relatively insignificant or very considerable. Part of the management process is to determine this, so that some level of prioritisation is possible. But don’t be fooled into thinking that one powerful person is necessarily more important than a large number of less influential ones. Yes, a senior manager can be instrumental in damaging a project, but so too can a large number of end users who don’t want to change.

Can they help the project manager? They all have the power to help or hinder. So take stakeholders seriously. They can deflect, delay or stop the project, so beware!

On the other hand they can also help. By understanding what motivates your stakeholders, you can determine what help to ask from whom.

Five types

It is suggested that there are five identifiable types of people outside the project team who you may need to manage.

The overt saboteur

This person can be readily identified because he or she makes no secret of their intentions. They argue forcefully against a project – even after it has been approved – and use project boards or steering committees to limit the scope of a project or change its direction.

Passive resisters

These are trickier to spot because, rather than raise any specific objection to the project going ahead, they will continually sidetrack decisions by raising red herrings and will try to derail the project by quietly undermining the arrangements and actions needed to make progress.

The non-committed

They will watch from the sidelines, being neither helpful nor unhelpful. Supporting the party line on public occasions, they will bide their time before deciding which way to jump. If pressed for support, their own priorities and interests will come first. One thing to remember is that if there are ‘overt saboteurs’ or known ‘passive resisters’ among the senior management of the organisation, that fact in itself is likely to increase the number of ‘non-committeds’.

The well-wisher

This person, while supporting the project and its aims, is too preoccupied with his or her own problems. They are unlikely to volunteer help because the project is low in their priorities, but will often lend a hand – reactively – when asked.

The fully committed

These are prepared to put themselves out to make the project a success. They take a keen interest in it, demanding progress reports and volunteering to contribute in ways that enhance the project’s chance of success.

How to minimise any negative impact?

Talk; communicate; try to understand why they are adopting a negative attitude; develop careful arguments, or look for helpful compromises. It would be useful to look at the Political Intelligence topic.