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Communication is key when you are in the middle

As the middle man or woman, a large part of a project manager’s role is communication. Project managers need to know how best to communicate up the hierarchy to senior management, clients, stakeholders; as well as down to teams, freelancers and contractors.

Read on to discover the important roles communication plays in a project’s success and how a communication plan could benefit your project.

The roles of communication

The way you communicate varies depending on who you are speaking to. People in different roles communicate differently and think differently. So, know your audience and frame your message accordingly to achieve far better outcomes. Learn to speak your audience’s language and you will be better understood.

To senior management, clients or stakeholders

Updating clients, stakeholders and senior executives is at the core of your role. They are directly affected by the project, so it is to be expected that they will want to monitor its progress. Nurturing your relationship with these groups will keep them ‘on side’, which is crucial when they have a strong influence over the project.

Senior management and clients alike require regular communication. Reporting should be clear and complete, but avoid information overload. Bear in mind the focus for these groups is both the outcome and strategic thinking. Keep information concise. (That said, you should always be prepared for providing more detail if asked.)

Delivering information ‘up’ can be particularly challenging when these parties have mixed or even conflicting interests in a project. It is down to you to spot this in advance and mediate if necessary to keep all parties satisfied by the project's progress.

To project teams

Communication ‘down’ to teams, staff and contractors can be just as challenging. It is essential that you strike the right balance between being directional and motivational – letting them know what needs to be achieved whilst inspiring them to do so.

The key here is on-boarding your teams. Clearly communicate what success looks like for the project and what you are working towards. A shared vision and a common aim will unite them and be instrumental in achieving a positive end goal.

Take steps to build trust too. You should communicate with your project teams in a way that makes them feel valued and respected; for example in a private, scheduled meeting, free from distractions. This allows them opportunities to ask questions and for you to iron out any uncertainty or doubts they may have around the project. Actively listening and acting upon any issues will build trust and improve morale.

The value of a communication plan

Just as you wouldn’t map out a project without a schedule, you must not overlook the importance of a communication plan when strategizing. A well-devised communication plan should set out how you are going to get project information to those who need it in a way that is clear, understandable and actionable. It should take into account information that is time-sensitive, as well as how best to keep people in the loop with minimum disruption to their busy schedules - whilst also ensuring critical information is not missed or overlooked.

Beyond conveying your message, communication is two-way, so your plan should also define how others will communicate with you too. Know your environment, how communications have been handled previously, and take time to reflect on what has worked in the past and what works for you. By outlying these from the start you set the expectations clearly.

Communication plans are important in small projects as well as large. Scalability should be considered. Your plan should also be scalable to allow for project extensions or growth in future phases.

Tips for stronger communications

Assign ownership

Have someone who is responsible for communications. This can make messages less scattered and more effective.

Record your plan

Making a record of your plan will mean you can have it to reference and will help keep the project on track.

Review, monitor and adjust your processes

Periodically look for areas of weakness where your communication plan isn’t working as effectively as it could be and tweak the process.

Choose the right tools for the right teams

Ensure you know your teams’ preferred style of communication. For example, a senior manager who is on-the-go a lot may prefer a quick phone catch-up over a lengthy meeting.

Follow up with an email

You can always follow up a conversation with an email. This is particularly important for reiterating messages, clarifying understanding, record keeping and even for filling others in on your discussion.

Opt for face-to-face

It is important to recognise when communicating in person is more beneficial. Email or online chat can be misinterpreted and body language can be hugely important.

Avoid jargon

Where possible, avoid technical jargon as it can be a barrier to effective communication.

Be transparent

Transparency will go a long way to being a trustworthy project manager. It will also have a positive knock-on effect for future communication.