Whether you manage projects or entire portfolios, some of your time will be spent advising senior executives. Knowing how to speak their language is essential for building your own career as a leader.
Because senior management can influence the future of your projects, it is key to learn critical communication skills to effectively present information that lands on listening, not deaf, ears.
Many managers find it difficult to address people higher up the chain, especially if their focus has been on the technical aspects of their job and not the more strategic business thinking required of leaders today.
In order to communicate up, you will need to keep five elements in mind:
1. Start Big, Go Small
Executives’ calendars are constantly overbooked. Don’t waste their time with the details. Offer up the Big Picture and only provide details when they ask for them (most likely they won’t.) Be prepared to deliver all information if required in a concise and impactful manner.
2. Identify Communication Preferences
It makes no sense to send an email to an executive who prefers the phone — and vice versa. If the executive travels extensively, ask his or her assistant about the best method for getting in touch. Even the most thoughtfully crafted communication that ends up being ignored is a serious waste of time for everyone.
On many projects, programmes and portfolios there are a number of senior managers playing a part. Competing priorities amongst the highest ranks can lead to conflicts. Part of your role as a project leader is to identify where there are conflicts of expectations and to highlight potential problems.
If you can, work with them to come up with an acceptable way forward and to manage their expectations collectively. If you can’t do this alone, bring in your peers or your project sponsor to help out.
4. Find the Knowledge Gap
Just because their title gives them seniority does not mean that all executives know everything all the time.
While they have authority and influence within a company, senior executives are not omniscient. They are human beings, subject to the stresses of every day demands, especially if they have just recently taken on the job themselves.
You can put yourself in the position of advisor by identifying their knowledge gaps. If you prove yourself to be a trustworthy source of information, your leadership role will be secured.
5. Build Relationships
Building solid relationships with senior stakeholders will pay off in the long run. It requires continuous, open and honest communication, especially when dealing with their questions. While it may be hard to admit project times are lagging or resources have been wasted, honesty when communicating up is always the best policy. After all, relationships are essential for a project to be considered successful.
Even if you experience turnover in the executive suite, continue to build relationships with the new senior stakeholders. It can be frustrating to have to start again, but it is also worth the long-term investment.
Demonstrate your leadership skills in your area of expertise. Build a good reputation as the go-to person. Pretty soon you will see, regardless of your level in the corporate ladder, your position as advisor will give you unimaginable influence. And with that influence, you will become the leader you were always meant to be.
Is there a time when you engaged in upward communication and it didn’t go as well as you wanted?
Why was this? What would you do different?
Creative Commons image courtesy Erich Ferdinand.