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You don't have to be a "good communicator" to be good at communication

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Not all communication is the same. When we talk about communication on projects let’s be clear what we mean.

I wonder sometimes if project managers shy away from communication because it is perceived as something that is about being out-going, chatty with lots of small talk. Of course, these are great skills but do not in themselves enable successful project communication.

For me, communication in a project context is a planned activity with the aim of helping the project to hit its milestones and deliver its benefits. Often it seems communication is only discussed in terms of interpersonal communication or leadership communication. Discussion around these forms of communication can also sometimes seem a bit too conceptual and frankly intimidating. They matter of course, but I would argue if the focus is just on these we are missing the bigger picture and project managers may withdraw from communicating completely because it all just seems a bit too difficult.

A planned approach to communication will encompass these anyway. The great advantage of looking at project communication from a planned perspective and with tangible outcomes is that interpersonal and leadership communication are given a clear objective. When you know why you are doing something, it becomes a heck of a lot easier.

A good communication strategy and plan will identify the stakeholders to be engaged with, to what end and set out who will do that engagement. A good project communication lead will identify the best person to lead on engagement with a particular stakeholder and this may or may not be the project manager. The sponsor may be best placed, or maybe someone else on the project who has an existing relationship with a stakeholder or detailed knowledge of a particular area.

So let’s start talking about project communication as a planned activity with clear outcomes.


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  1. Ann Pilkington
    Ann Pilkington 24 July 2015, 11:16 AM

    So pleased to have sparked interest with this one... I agree with Sonal that politics, both with a large P and a small p can play a huge part but I think with a planned approach we are better placed to spot things coming and decide the best approach. It won't always be for the project manager to deal - the sponsor will have a key role here too.Thanks for reminding us about Lynda's work too Patrick. She wrote a blog for the People SIG earlier this year too.Helen, I am in total agreement with you about likeability. I would add (at the risk of sounding like a Spice Girl) positivity. There is too much focus sometimes on trying to make people like the project and "view it positively" - that can come in time, but first you need people to understand it and give them the opportunity to get involved. I touched on this in my blog last year when I busted what I believe to be a few change communication myths.Jonathan, you are right of course that having the skills you mention matter. However, some may feel unsure if they have these skills and that can be a blocker - but it doesn’t have to be. When there is a clear purpose to communication as part of a well thought through plan it all becomes a lot easier.Finally, thanks Adrian!  I agree APM is going great work on the People side of things. For me, the key is to keep it simple, good communication isn’t rocket science and is mostly common sense.  It is at its best when it is part of a structured plan so if anyone should be good at comms it should be project people! Jonathan will be delighted with your comments about the Handbook. Perhaps I can also pop in a cheeky mention for my Gower book on project communication too.Ann

  2. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 23 July 2015, 11:14 PM

    I agree in fact with Ann. The People aspects of our profession remain the cinderella of the ball. Most in our profession hide away among plans and risks and costs and reports. The professionals climb out of their comfort zone and a structured approach to stakeholder management and communications - even a simple - really helps.APM is still light years ahead of other BoKs in the value it places on the People stuff. And I still point folk at what the Gower Handbook of Programme Management says about SHM and Comms. Its a bit long in the tooth now and I have long since included the use of social media in my work, blogs and lectures on Comms. But there is life in the old book yet.Way to go Ann!

  3. Jonathan Norman
    Jonathan Norman 23 July 2015, 04:17 PM

    I agree in principle with Ann but I also don't underplay the value of good communication skills. If you are empathetic, imaginative and able to use stories and analogy, then these are all factors that can help you engage your stakeholders. These are skills you can learn and develop so I agree good communication is not about your inherent social skills.

  4. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 23 July 2015, 06:32 AM

    Dr. Lynda Bourne has been talking about the three types of stakeholder communication for a while, PR, Reporting and 'Directed Communication'.  PR and reporting are ‘push’ communications and generally only need planning and writing skills.  ‘Directed Communication’ is focused on achieving a change in a stakeholders attitude or actions to benefit the project - this does need real communication skills but I agree with Ann, this does not have to be ‘chatty’ or socially focused (but it can help).  Fro more on the ‘three types’ of communication see:

  5. Sonal Shah
    Sonal Shah 22 July 2015, 03:51 PM

    I totally agree project communication should be planned and would like to add when communicating on projects or programmes that 'politics' do sometimes play a part so elements of planning can sometimes assist to deal with the unexpected or peoples political agendas but mainly experience helps when dealing with these difficult situations.  NLP is another effective approach to our project communications.  Wholly agree with you that project communication is different to the way others perceive it.