VOICES Project Toolkit
Project managers manage in all directions, including up. But it’s not always
easy to talk to a superior as freely as you would a peer, especially if you
disagree with his or her point of view. We asked project practitioners:
What communication techniques do you use
with senior management?
De-clutter the Message
It is important to spend time examining
what roles communication and
governance play in ensuring a single
version of the truth. While each situation is different,
misunderstandings commonly happen.
A simple way I avoid this is by maintaining effective
program or project update reports. Make sure they
are simple enough so all levels of the business can
—Alex Brindle, multichannel projects manager,
Home Retail Group PLC, Milton Keynes, England
Managing a project requires
understanding senior management’s
expectations, and managing them. There
is no better way to do this than by trying to understand
their motivation, challenges and expectations.
Watch Your Tone
The biggest lesson I have learned about
speaking to executives is to maintain
a steady cadence and avoid emotional
tones of voice. That helps keep the discussion on track.
Recently, I was in a meeting with senior leadership.
After going through a status update of current projects,
I opened the floor to any thoughts or concerns. One of
the senior executives in the meeting began berating my
team, my manager and me, and questioned the purpose
of the projects.
The easiest thing to do would be to get angry at
these accusations, respond to them, and ruin any
chance of changing this person’s opinion. Instead, I
took a second to breathe, which helps me compose
my thoughts without conveying frustration with my
body language. Then, calmly and with an even keel, I
discussed each of the executive’s points objectively.
This senior executive began to soften his stance and
joined the discussion in a more productive and calm
manner. But if I had responded angrily, I could have
put my team and myself in the crosshairs of a senior
executive. As someone who is responsible for my team’s
work, that would have been rash and unprofessional.”
—Kevin Waugh, e-commerce project manager, Modern
Builders Supply, Toledo, Ohio, USA