Most projects have two factors in common i.e. they involve people and they bring about change. These two factors are fundamental to the success of any project yet they are given only scant reference in the ‘models’ of project management. The psychology of managing the human factor in projects and change is increasingly emerging as a significant success factor in project management.

1. Make Sure That Your Project Manager has the Right Skill Set

Research has identified various Project Manager attributes related to project success e.g.: Experience of Change Management, Leadership Ability, Ability to Motivate, Ability to build a team, Being a Good Communicator and Decision Maker. Being Able to Manage Conflict and the Ability to Create a Structured Project Environment.

2. Make Sure That Your Project Manager is Able to Flex his Leadership Style

Strong leadership is essential to the success of projects and there is no formula that tells us which leadership style to use in which situation. The important thing, however, is that the Project Managers is aware of the leadership style(s) that he is most comfortable with and recognises when he needs to use an alternative leadership style.

3. Develop and Empower the Project Team

Project Managers, need to understand the relative strengths of their team members. A better understanding of how people relate to each other in teams can be reached through the use of tools such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, the Belbin Team Roles questionnaire, Positive Psychology Signature Strengths and Transactional Analysis.

4. Fully Engage Your Stakeholders

Research has identified the key drivers or engagement which indicate that your Stakeholders are more likely to be engaged with the project when they: feel ‘Valued and Involved’, ‘Involved in Decision Making’, ‘Have a Voice’ and ‘Feel Enabled to Perform Well’.

5. Make Communication an Interpersonal Process

Communication is crucial to project management and it is important to be aware of the communication preferences of your Stakeholders. The Project Manager needs to be aware of his own stereotypes and cognitive biases as they will impact on how he behaves towards others. Equally he should effectively manage his non-verbal communication i.e. tone, body language, gestures.

6. Manage the People Side of Risk

The literature on project management suggests that mathematical formulas and logical linear thinking will be sufficient to effectively manage risk. Unfortunately, this view forgets the unique contribution that individual personalities contribute to risk. When managing risk, Project Managers should take three elements of human behaviour into account i.e. individual factors, group factors and organisational factors.

7. Use Conflict Constructively

Conflict is often ignored or handled badly, which can be detrimental to a project. Project Managers‘should learn how to manage conflict effectively so that they can anticipate it and use it constructively to further develop and strengthen the project team.

8. Manage Change Effectively

A project manager who wants to deliver a successful project should incorporate a ‘Change Management’ plan, into his project plan, which takes account of the highly charged emotional atmosphere that change can engender. ‘People’ diagnostics should be utilised to understand the change process and resistance to change e.g., Kubler Ross model of individual change, Lewin’s ‘Field of Forces’.

Make sure you pay the human factor in projects sufficient attention.

About Guest Contributor

Sharon De Mascia is the Director of a business psychology consultancy by the name of ‘Cognoscenti. She is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and a member of the Chartered Institute of People and Development. She is also Prince2 qualified. She is a visiting Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and a Supervisor on the global MBA at Manchester Business School.