Political Behavior

Read this section, which discusses why political skills will be necessary to make deals and resolve conflicts with stakeholders who project managers may have little formal authority over.


Buchanan and Badham (1999) suggest that political behaviour can be usefully evaluated against four criteria to help determine whether it is acceptable or whether it is not:

Four criteria to determine whether political behaviour is acceptable

  1. Is the behaviour ethically acceptable?

  2. Does the initiator of the behaviour have a reasonable warrant for carrying it out?

  3. Can a plausible account be constructed to justify the behaviour?

  4. Is the initiator’s reputation left intact?

In the case quoted in Example 1, the benefits of the change project for the organisation as a whole seem to suggest that, on balance, the consultants’ behaviour might be justified. It can certainly be argued that they had a reasonable warrant for behaving in this way, given the overwhelming necessity to bring about change, that a plausible account could be constructed to justify their behaviour in that it was necessary for the project to succeed, and that their reputation probably remained intact, given their close relationship with the chief executive. Whether you find their behaviour ethically acceptable is a matter of personal preference! Whatever your opinion is about this, it is difficult to imagine that a project of this kind could be managed successfully without some recourse to political behaviour.

Political skills

A project manager will encounter politics – the struggle to acquire and maintain power – on a daily basis, as he or she competes to secure resources and support for their project. This is inevitable, given the probable diversity of backgrounds and expectations of those with an interest in the project. Political skills will be necessary to make deals and resolve conflicts with stakeholders, over whom project managers may have little formal authority. Managing the following aspects needs to be addressed:

The political environment – The project manager keeps aware of perceptions about performance on the project, the reputation of project stakeholders, expectations of the project manager's role and key organisational values.

Power structures in an organisation – While an organisation's structure indicates the formal distribution of power in an organisation, it may conceal the true locus of power. Project managers need to ascertain who has informal status and power in an organisation, since their support may be vital.

Maintaining visibility – A project manager needs to maintain contact with the significant stakeholders on a project in order to demonstrate its significance to the organisation, especially to senior management. This can include having an influential senior sponsor which can be very helpful in this regard and drawing attention to project milestones and achievements.

Managing the perceptions of interested parties – Not only must a project be visible, but it must be seen to fulfil the perceptions that its stakeholders have been led to expect. This is especially true of the behaviour of the project manager and the project team, who must both be seen publicly to be performing the roles expected of them.

Giving the impression of success – A project manager should always try to give the impression of success, even if he or she believes the project to be close to failure. Constantly seeking help from management will give the impression that you are not in control. Showing signs of weakness lays both the project manager and the project open to attack from those who do not support it.

Source: Open University, https://www.open.edu/openlearn/mod/oucontent/view.php?printable=1&id=1422
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Last modified: Wednesday, March 1, 2023, 8:53 PM