Key Interrelationship

Ethics, trust, and integrity are interrelated. A breakdown in ethics, for example, can lead to a decline in trust that will result in a loss of integrity. The linkage can occur in different sequences. However, that is not the key point. The key point is that whatever order they influence one another, a breakdown in one ultimately leads to a breakdown in credibility.

When credibility falls , many problems can arise that affect goal attainment . Some problems include a lack of teaming; reluctance or unwillingness to share information; poor communication, both vertically and horizontally; lack of coordination; no creativity; and self- absorption . The overall consequence is that a goal is not achieved or marginally so.

Credibility is a very important topic from a project leadership perspective for several reasons.

  1. Project managers often lack formal, functional control over team members . They must establish credibility very carefully and maintain it to be effective.

  2. Project managers must communicate constantly by virtue of their roles. The slightest action that negatively affects credibility will cause people to question the veracity and reliability of their communications.

  3. Once credibility is lost, managing other projects can prove quite difficult because the reputation often precedes them. Loss of credibility, therefore, can be a career-limiting event for project managers.

General leadership theorists recognize the importance of credibility. In their classic work Leaders , Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus note that credibility has great value nowadays and is constantly being watched. [2] This scrutiny makes credibility very important; it may be the number one quality of leadership. That is why Kouzes and Posner emphasize the need to protect it. [3]

Credibility like fame, of course, can be fleeting. Indeed, credibility must be built continuously because the opportunity to tarnish it always exists. Charles Handy observes that credibility is also very situational, depending on one's constituency. [4]

Credibility should not be taken lightly, therefore, because it impacts a leader's effectiveness now and in the future. It is perhaps the most important factor in determining whether or not a leader will be followed. [5]

The public agrees. In 1996, Kouzes and Posner conducted a survey of 15,000 managers across the globe. The survey was on the characteristics of the "most admired" leaders. Honesty finished number one. [6]

Although literature lightly covers credibility and project management, some acknowledgment of its importance exists.

In his monumental classic Project Management , Harold Kerzner notes that credibility is a key variable when dealing at least with senior management. [7] In the Project Management Journal , Dean Sitiriou and Dennis Wittmer cite that integrity is an important "influence method" when tied with project expertise. [8] Albert Einsiedel identifies five qualities of an effective leader, ranking credibility first. [9] In Project Management , Skulmoski, Hartman, and DeMaere observe ” in a study of threshold and superior competencies ” that trust appears in both, writing that both project managers and team members need competencies in open communication and trust. [10]

Credibility of project managers is important for several reasons.

  1. Stakeholders need to feel comfortable that their project managers are trustworthy. That is, that they will provide honest information and feedback.

  2. Stakeholders need to know they are not being used for some "hidden agenda." They want to rely on project managers for honest feedback and to be "above the board" even at times when their projects face difficulties.

  3. People just need to trust their project managers. Without trust, they will be less inclined to share information and maintain open communication among themselves and with their project managers.

  4. People want someone to count on to lead them through difficult situations. If people lose credibility in their project managers, they will be less inclined to follow them through difficult times, simply because they are unable to trust them.

Project managers, due to their position and responsibilities, constantly feel the pressure to sacrifice their credibility. Yielding to the pressures can result, intentionally or accidentally , in causing credibility to erode because everything they do pertains to ethics, trust, and integrity to one degree or another.

Project managers face pressures to satisfy cost and schedule as well as to meet quality standards. These pressures can be so intense that they can yield very easily to the temptation to over- or underreport status as well as "massage" feedback to create an inaccurate impression .

They also face the pressure to get along with stakeholders because they need the cooperation of people over which they lack formal control. Sometimes this pressure can be so severe that they will sacrifice credibility to obtain that cooperation. This only results in lowering the respect of the project managers.

Project managers find themselves in a difficult position. They must report on what is supposed to occur, e.g., expectations, and what actually happens. Either way, the temptation is to skew feedback or "spin" in a way that will eventually cause credibility problems for them. Once they become "spin masters" and then other stakeholders do the same, credibility between everyone deteriorates.

Identifying the key elements of credibility is also very important. This task is difficult, but Kouzes and Posner [11] have done so on an abstract level, recognizing that credibility is really a composite of honesty, competency, inspiration, and the ability to be forward looking. [12]

Their insights can be translated into three essential ingredients of credibility: ethics, trust, and integrity. Breach any one and leaders will lose and tarnish their credibility.

[2] Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, Leaders , Perennial Library, New York, 1985, p. 11.

[3] James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Ten lessons of leadership, in A Systems Approach to Small Group Interaction , 6th ed., Stewart L. Tubbs, Ed., McGraw-Hill, Boston, 1997, p. 196.

[4] Charles B. Handy, Understanding Organizations , Penguin Books, New York, 1986, p. 137.

[5] James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge , Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1987, p. xvii.

[6] James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Credibility , Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1993, p. 14.

[7] Harold Kerzner, Project Management , Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1995, p. 496.

[8] Dean Sitiriou and Dennis Wittmer, Influence methods of project managers: perceptions of team members and project managers, Project Management Journal , pp. 12 “20, September 2001.

[9] Albert A. Eisensiedel, Profile of effective project managers, in Leadership Skills for Project Managers , Jeffrey K. Pinto and Jeffrey W. Trailer, Eds., Project Management Institute, Newtown Square, PA, pp. 4 “6.

[10] Greg Skulmoski, Francis Hartman, and Roch DeMaere, Superior and threshold project competencies, Project Management , 6(1), 14, 2000.

[11] James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Credibility , Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1993, p. 14.

[12] James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Credibility , Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1993, p. 21.

Leading High Performance Projects
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