At this point Bob and Uma went before the steering team. Uma talked with passion about the project, highlighting how it was going to help build customer relationships. She did a good job convincing Mark and Gary. Peter raised the question, "Why is this project more important than a new research and development initiative which is being pushed to the next quarter?" Uma answered him, saying that this B2B project is important to our existing customers and is in alignment with our business philosophy of partnering with customers. Peter's department (engineering) will gain help in automating the transfer of engineering drawings and expediting production schedules. Mark as CEO added his comments and vision for the future of the company and indicated that he felt that the project should be approved. At that point everyone on the executive team agreed.
What we have observed in Bob and Uma's meeting with the steering team is the culmination of an ongoing dialogue. It appears they have done a good job in laying the groundwork for top management support of their B2B project. The approval came quickly at this point, indicating that there was probably informal communication with the key leaders prior to this meeting. Uma's skillful handling of Peter's question, showing him how his department would benefit, left him no option but to agree and diffused his criticism. Possibly Peter's question suggests that Bob and Uma may not have informally answered all of his concerns in advance. While project leaders try to head off problems, frequently a few questions remain.
Wise project leaders will open multiple informal channels of communication and keep them open. One key lesson is: Never surprise your boss. It is prudent for a project leader to think of the entire steering team as multiple bosses. While open communication is generally a good idea with supporters, there may be one or two members of the steering team who are so antagonistic to a particular approach that convincing evidence should be developed before communicating with them.
Developing top management support is vital since any senior executive who is hostile to a project may find a way to sabotage it. A project manager does not want a difficult project to be accepted by a vote of five executives for it and four executives against it.
Project managers often need to coordinate the efforts of various workers from different disciplines over whom they have no authority. While this may be challenging it is often a reality in modern leadership—and is also a helpful experience for moving up in the leadership ranks in an organization. The exposure that project managers have in developing top management support provides an excellent opportunity to develop their leadership skills and stature within an organization. Junior project managers should see this wooing of top management support as an opportunity for visibility and should make every effort to perform this responsibility well, both for the immediate sake of their project and for the long-term sake of their career.
A Project Leader Needs to:
Accept the true concerns of various top managers in the parent organization
Have the courage to challenge top managers' concerns that are the result of narrow or biased thinking
Exercise the wisdom to know the difference between these two types of concerns.