15th Dec, 2015 - 1:21
Have you found yourself unexpectedly out of a job in recessionary times? Were you requested to deliver something “tomorrow” in an area you have not mastered? And in both cases, were you able to draw support from your existing network?
At the moment a challenge arises, if you have not already started building and relying on your network, If you have not already taken the opportunity to be someone else’s lifeline in times of trouble, it may be too late to avoid a career-limiting setback. The time to build your network and become an active participant in it is yesterday.
As a Project Manager (PM), you may have little to no formal authority, yet you still have great accountability. To be successful in influencing the whole team, you need to set a precedent, to establish a pattern of cooperation and success. Talent and knowledge are a start, but a network of supportive individuals is invaluable in finishing any involved task. The ability to draw on a team of experts for support is not sufficient, but is necessary for a successful project manager. If the PM hasn’t already established his or her network, the first order of business is to establish one in fast track mode.
In this article we’ll discuss how this is done.
What is professional networking for Project Managers ?
Armed with professional or academic project management credentials, you step into the arena of the PM job market and find yourself immediately — ignored. You check your suit and your hair. Your smile is bright, your teeth are clean. Fingernails are manicured. Your CV is impeccable. You’ve done your homework and posted it on all the best sites. You’ve heard nothing except good news about the PM job market. You answer ads that seem to have been written with you specifically in mind. And still the phone isn’t ringing. You have the experience, the knowledge, and the credentials. What’s going wrong?
To win the position of your dreams in these highly competitive times you need advice in advance, feedback in the middle, and favorable decision-fostering assistance at every step of the process. Unless you have family or friends in the industry you can’t count on them for career assistance. Nor can you count on associates in academia if they are not close to the PM profession. For successful networking you need a different category of person in your professional circle: professionals and subject matter experts in the project management profession and in the industry in which you would like to work. They should think and behave in accord with you. Your relationships should be comfortable and mutually beneficial. Your network should include not only peers, but those more advanced in their spheres of influence, in their career path. In the beginning you may not be able to help others in your network in ways exceeding moral support and passing along information and opportunities that you come across. But in the future, others in your network will be those who are just beginning, where you might be today, and you’ll be able to “pay forward” the help you’ve received from more senior people in your network.
What are the benefits of networking?
In the beginning your success begins with you; your education, your dedication to your future, making yourself as valuable as possible to the marketplace. Thereafter success grows as a result of and in direct proportion to your relationships and associations with people. Simply put, you cannot succeed on a grand scale all by yourself.
That is why networking is so important. The relationships you develop with others create the foundation of your greater success. Building and maintaining a professional network takes time and effort, but the alternative may take just as much effort, albeit in a less rewarding career position. And time is going to pass whether or not you are developing and maintaining personal and professional relationships, so why not make the most of it?
What can you do to enhance the effectiveness of your network? Experts suggest practicing a few simple techniques that can be placed into two broad categories: career enhancing and present job enhancing.
Career enhancing networking
- Have positive attitude. To be good at networking, attitude is key. At all times and in all circumstances you must project a winner’s attitude. If you are up-beat and enthusiastic people will want to be around you. People want to be associated with a winner, to be part of a successful team. To be part of your winning team they will be ready to pitch in, to work harder, exercise their creativity, and then to recommend their friends and associates to you. Every voluntary human relationship benefits all connected parties. They may benefit physically, monetarily, or only psychologically, but the benefit will be mutual.
- Personal branding. People who know who they are, stand loyally behind a worthy cause, who behave, act and appear in the media consistently reinforcing the same message, are the most successful networkers. They know what it is that makes them unique and how to present their uniqueness in a way that inspires and attracts others.
- Live, eat, and breathe your personal brand statement. Your “elevator speech,” that thirty-second sound bite that tells others who you are and summarises what you believe in and do, when said confidently will cause people sit up and take notice of who you are. Your elevator speech must roll easily off your tongue, and your wording should be flexible enough to slip into any conversation, whether it’s a black tie affair or a backyard barbecue with friends.
- Build your network as you go.Take advantage of everyday opportunities to met people. You can make excellent contacts just about anywhere. You never know from what seed your next valuable relationship will sprout. It pays to network with diverse people, from potential clients to industry peers and community groups. Networking is not just about who you meet and connect with, but also about who those connections may refer you to.
- Be a leader in your association(s). At a minimum you should be a leader in your main discipline. For purposes of this article this means Project Management. A PMI chapter and a chapter meeting is always within reach. The second area in which PM’s should concentrate is the industry in which they are employed. Effective networking and relationship building takes more than paying dues, putting your name in a directory and showing up for meetings. You must demonstrate that you will take the time and make the effort to contribute to goals of the group. What kinds of things can you do? For starters, you can volunteer for committees or serve as an officer or member of the board of directors. The other members will respect you when they see you roll up your sleeves and do some work. This will also allow you to spotlight your people and organizational skills, your character, your values, and your leader’s attitude. Leaders are in the minority; most people are looking for someone to follow. In most cases, all you need to be that person is a simple decision to “just do it.”
- Serve others in your network.Serving others is crucial to building and benefiting from your network. You should always be thinking, “How can I be of service?” instead of “What’s in it for me?” If you come across as desperate or as a taker rather than a giver, you will not find people willing to help you. Going the extra mile for others is the best way to get the flow of good things coming back to you. How can you serve others in your network? Start by referring business leads or potential customers. In addition, whenever you see an article, a PM template, sites of interest, or other information that might be of interest to someone in your network, forward the document, the URL, or the material to that person.
- Be selective when referring. Don’t refer every person you meet; respect the time of those in your network. Referring “unqualified” leads will reflect poorly on you. Ask yourself whether a particular referral is really going to be of value to your network partners. Keep in mind that the key is the quality, not quantity, of the leads you supply. Add value by filtering, by discerning the true talents and abilities of another and matching a potential demand with a qualified potential offer of service.
- Give references professionally.If you refer someone, make sure that the person mentions your name as the source of the referral. Be explicit. Let’s assume you are about to refer Sam Smith to your graphic designer, Jane Jones. You might say to Sam, “Sam, give Jane a call, and please tell her that I referred you.” In some instances, you may even call Jane and let her know that Sam will be contacting her. Then, the next time you see or speak to Jane, remember to ask if Sam called and how it turned out. You want to reinforce in Jane’s mind that you have her best interests in mind.
- Express gratitude for every service received.When you receive a reference or helpful written materials, ALWAYS send a thank you note or call to express your appreciation. (Follow this suggestion only if you want to receive more useful references and more help from your network!) If you don’t acknowledge that person sufficiently, he or she will be much less likely to assist you in the future.
- Send congratulatory messages or a card.If someone in your network gets a promotion, award, or celebrates some other occasion, write a short note of congratulation. Everyone loves to be recognized, yet very few people take the time to do this. Being thoughtful in this manner can only make you stand out among the crowd, especially nowadays when the crowd seems increasingly ignorant of simple social graces. It is also appropriate to send a card or memorial gift when a family member passes away. LinkedIn facilitates electronic notifications enormously, but an electronic greeting card, something you can dash off in fifteen seconds while browsing a social networking site, will not get you noticed. The old-fashioned paper card will have an astonishing effect.
- Call or send a short message to people from time to time.Do this just because you sincerely care. (If you don’t sincerely care, you’re not going to fool anyone anyway.) How do you feel when someone calls you on the phone and says, “Hey, I was just thinking about you and was wondering how you are doing?” I’ll bet you feel like a million bucks! If that’s the case, why don’t we make these calls more often? Every now and then, make it a point to call people in your network simply to ask how they are doing and to offer your support and encouragement.
Present Job Enhancing Networking
As a PM, after being entrusted with a new project, whether you’re new to a company or an old hand as a staff member or consultant, being put at the helm of a project demands reinforced networking. If you were already building your trusted links internally, that’s a good start. Now it becomes imperative. Compile a list of executives—the sponsors and influencers at higher levels, their personal assistants, all the mighty door openers, agenda keepers, line managers, anyone with decision-making authority over human resources. Learn the first names, study their faces, and carefully craft your elevator speech about the project and yourself. Make it personalized and make sure you mention the advantages your project brings to each one of them.
There is no second chance to make an excellent first impression. As a project manager you become the CEO of the part of the enterprise covered by the scope of the project. As you will be on stage very often, pay special attention to your appearance when you drop by “accidentally” and informally to introduce yourself and your project. Pay attention to your mood. Be enthusiastic! Pay attention to your physical self–men should be well-groomed and shaved, all should have nails cut of manicured, hair done in a business-like style, and shoes shined. If there is a company dress code it should be respected. Make eye contact. Be open and warm and use a firm, confident handshake. Respect the length of your elevator speech—30 seconds is ideal. If your listener wants to continue, it becomes chatting, laying the first bricks of a peer-to-peer professional relationship. At the end of your tour select three or four colleagues to convert them into close networking partners through your work. Render them services spontaneously, whenever and wherever appropriate to achieve this.
Here’s a short list of easy but critical steps you can take to enhance your current job networking.
- While leading a project render yourself reachable.Have new business cards printed (when appropriate) with your up to date coordinates. When you’re not available someone else should be, so consider including alternate phone numbers and email addresses. Check that you are in the phone directory both for your landline and mobile number. Ensure your email address is easy to find. The same may be said for the entire project team. If you are candid, you will have all team members’ pictures published with their respective project role and contact information. As you may often be meeting people for the first time, display your company badge visibly high on your chest, on the right hand side, not on the left as usual. Have a second phone for emergency calls always with you. Those, and they are many, who have difficulties remembering names will appreciate your tactfulness.
- Be a good listener. In a meeting, workshop, or normal work have you ever been in a conversation with someone who goes on and on about himself, his business interest, his problems, and never takes a moment to ask about you? We have all run into the “Me, myself, and I” types and they are the last people you want to assist beyond the normal call of duty as a PM. So don’t be this person. In your conversations, focus on actively listening to others. Do not inundate them with your problems and requests. Let them talk about their interests and problems while focusing on the agenda. In return, you will be perceived as caring, concerned, and mindful of the business at hand.
- Mingle with a variety of people from different departments. Don’t support and sit with the same group at every work opportunity. While it is comfortable to talk with friends, you will reap greater benefits if you make the extra effort to meet new faces, assist new people in their endeavor to deliver their part on your project. By helping others and going the extra mile you will earn the right to request assistance from others. Don’t be shy. As you serve those in your fledgling network within your project, they will be more than willing to return the favor either now or later.
- Treat every person as important. This doesn’t apply to just the “influential” ones. Treat each person with respect, dignity, and without condescension—even the junior members and support staff. You will be remembered and respected and your network will grow.Every level contributes to the success of the project or organization and you never know who may develop into a senior role in the future. While you do want to prioritize your time and attention—giving more to executives and other business superiors—still, it is never acceptable to disrespect your team members or anyone else in the organization.
- Follow-up. After a first meeting with any team member send a prompt note or e-mail to her or him. Explain how much you enjoyed meeting and talking with them. Reinforce the message about their benefit in participating and what is expected from them in return. Enclose as much information as useful that might be of interest at this stage. Ask if there is anything you can do to assist them. Be sure to send the note or e-mail within 48 hours after your initial meeting so that it is received while you are still fresh in your contact’s mind.
Some of these suggestions are easy to remember; some people just do them naturally. If you’re not part of that small minority, it doesn’t hurt to write these down and refer to them at the end of each day to remind yourself to follow up on them until they become a habit. Soon you’ll join that small minority of expert networkers. But here’s the secret, just for those who have stuck with us to the end of the article: Doing these actions habitually will make you a more valuable person not only in the organization you work for, but in virtually every area of life. Developing a network of helpful, like-minded people is only a side effect of your growing success.