It’s Offensive When You Get Defensive as a Project Manager

Here’s the scenario. You spent day and night over the past week to make sure the project plan is 100% perfect. You checked, double-checked, and triple-checked the facts. The dates are right, the math is flawless, and the scope is impeccably tight. The project plan is a masterpiece and just right!

The next step is to present it to the functional managers within your company. No problem! You’ve got this wrapped up and are looking forward to the opportunity to present it to the group.

The room is now full of subject matter experts who know what they are talking about. You fire up the projector and bring the plan up on the wall. Then disaster hits…there is one person in the group that asks you the only question you did not contemplate and cannot answer! How can that be? You’ve obsessed over the plan for scores of hours and this one question stops you dead in your tracks.

You now have two choices to make as it relates to your response:

  • Go Ballistic on Them and Get Defensive – This response sounds something like this…”What?? Don’t you know how much time I spent on this plan? Of course I thought about that. I didn’t miss a thing and you don’t know what you are talking about.” This is followed by denial, back-pedaling and unraveling of your credibility.
  • Thank Them for Bringing This to Your Attention – This response sounds something like this…”Thank you for bringing this to my attention. That’s exactly the purpose of this meeting and I appreciate your insight and feedback. I’ll make sure to incorporate this into the plan. Anything else?” This is followed up by candid and useful feedback designed to uncover issues sooner rather than later.

It’s obvious which choice is the better approach, but unfortunately we’ve all seen project managers get into a defensive posture and just make all of us look bad! Don’t let that happen to you. We’re not perfect. We will miss things. If we own up to the fact that we may have missed something we will (ironically) come across stronger and more confident as a Project Manager. Plus, the other person feels better as a result and ends up as an ally rather than an adversary.

One caveat…to pull this off you do need to know what you are doing as a Project Manager. The ‘miss’ that comes up from time to time needs to be of a deeper or more obscure nature and not painfully obvious. If there are obvious omissions that occur time and time again you may need to sharpen your project management skills to prevent that from happening.


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