Episode 76 – Successful Stakeholder Engagement

Original Air Date

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39 Minutes
Home Manage This Podcast Episode 76 – Successful Stakeholder Engagement

About This Episode

Laura Butcher

How adept are you at stakeholder engagement? Do you successfully build and maintain trust with your stakeholders? Do they rave about you after the project is complete? In this episode our guest Laura Butcher offers excellent advice on this topic of stakeholder engagement. Laura describes insights and tips for determining the opinions and expectations of key stakeholders.

Wisdom comes from experience. Laura shares expert advice gained from her diverse work with projects and teams around the world. She first began in human resources at GE Appliances and GE Aircraft Engines, then at NationsBank, where she led teams in the initiatives following the merger of NationsBank and Bank of America. Next, Laura was based in London as she served as the Director of Human Resources for Delta Airlines at their European headquarters. Today, Laura travels the globe as the co-founder of Blue Key Partners, a consulting practice focused in the areas of learning and leadership development.

Listen in to hear how to overcome cultural obstacles, as well as how to represent your company’s headquarters in a foreign setting. What happens when a policy practice from headquarters isn’t suited to a particular culture? How do you assess a new environment? What approaches help a PM set up for success when “inheriting” projects? These are just some of the questions Laura and the Manage This team discuss in this podcast.

Favorite Quotes from Episode

“being able to …… look at the situation more broadly, to see things from other people’s point of view I think has been very important to my success, to the fulfillment that I receive out of the work that I do, and hopefully to my clients’ and customers’ success.”

Laura Butcher

“I began to really appreciate working with people who see the world differently from myself.”

Laura Butcher

“I always have believed that great leaders are great learners, people who are constantly challenging themselves to explore new things, to push themselves out of their comfort zone.”

Laura Butcher

“…step back and say, you know, what am I presuming about this situation that I ought to be questioning, rather than assuming?”

Laura Butcher

The podcast for Project Managers by Project Managers – Stakeholder Engagement

Table of Contents

00:53 … Meet Laura
04:21 … Learning and Development
05:18 … Working Internationally
11:44 … Representing H.Q. Remotely
15:56 … Culture Differences
17:11 … Inheriting a Position
22:30 … Stakeholder Engagement
24:56 … Reading a Room
28:21 … Empathy and Humility
30:47 … Building Trust
33:27 … Mistakes to Avoid
36:38 … Closing

LAURA BUTCHER:  I think, because now my work is largely about serving clients and building relationships with clients who are my customers in my work now, I think stakeholder engagement is so essential.

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  This is our time to meet and talk about what really matters to you in the field of project management.  Our desire is to give you some perspective, some ideas, some real-life examples of what success looks like and how to get there.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are the two guys who guide our discussion, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And today we get to talk with someone who truly has a global perspective as a project manager.

Meet Laura

Laura Butcher is an organization and leadership development consultant.  She began in human resources at GE Appliances and GE Aircraft Engines; then at NationsBank, where she led teams following the NationsBank/Bank America merger.  After that, she made the move to London as Delta Air Lines Director of Human Resources in Europe.  Laura is the co-founder and principal of Blue Key Partners, a consulting practice focused in the areas of learning and leadership development, including executive assessment and coaching,  Laura, thanks so much for being here with us on Manage This.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Thank you for inviting me.

NICK WALKER:  We want to talk with you about working with global customers and engaging with stakeholders around the world.  But first of all, can we just take some time to get to know you a little bit better?  Tell us a little bit about yourself and what your first experiences were like with GE as you traveled internationally.

LAURA BUTCHER:  So my background in corporate America was with GE, Bank of America, and Delta Air Lines for about 15 years.

ANDY CROWE:  Small companies.


LAURA BUTCHER:  And then began my consulting practice about 12 years ago, largely in the areas of organization development, leadership development.  But my early experiences were in the human resources function, where I became very passionate about learning and development.  I had experiences supporting many global joint venture partners with GE Appliances and GE Aircraft Engines.  I did some work with GE Crotonville, which is the corporate leadership training institute in Crotonville, New York, where I was part of an adjunct faculty to take some of the GE Work-Out and Change Acceleration Program training to our colleagues in Asia and Europe.  So I was bitten with the bug of working internationally in my early days with GE.

NICK WALKER:  What kind of prompted you?  What was it that bit you about working internationally?

LAURA BUTCHER:  I think I always enjoyed the experience of seeing new places, experiencing new things, eating new cuisines, seeing sights and the history of places.  But I think beyond that I began to really appreciate working with people who see the world differently from myself.  So I think that’s what I found particularly engaging about it.  So oftentimes the work that we’re doing in human resources or in training and development is complex anyway because we’re dealing with human behavior.  But when you add the dimension of culture differences on top of that, it can be quite interesting work, and fulfilling.

NICK WALKER:  What countries did you deal with when you were with GE?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, we had joint venture partners in Asia.  So we were establishing a joint venture site with a Korean firm, but the site was in China.  So we had multiple cultures that we were bringing together there.  We also had a joint venture partner in India, so I traveled to those places, working with our partners in the learning and development function largely.  So a lot of what GE brings to its partners around the world is its culture and its reputation for excellence in training and development of people.  And so that was a great foundation for my career to begin, and it provided me a launching pad to continue to do what I’m doing now.

Learning and Development

ANDY CROWE:  Laura, it’s funny, I got asked about a decade ago by somebody what my opinion was on the state of L&D.  And when I heard that, I thought, L&D?  What is that?  And I’m thinking, is this – I could not get past the fact that I’m used to thinking of it as labor and delivery, not learning and development.  It was just funny, you know, you hear this, these terms put around.  But why are you passionate about that?  Why is that a particular passion for you?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, I always have believed that great leaders are great learners, people who are constantly challenging themselves to explore new things, to push themselves out of their comfort zone.  And so I think that’s a principle on which my career, my interests have expanded.

ANDY CROWE:  You know, I’ve seen great leaders are almost always great readers, so that ties in with what you’re saying.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yes, yes, absolutely.

BILL YATES:  True, great leaders.

International Perspectives

NICK WALKER:  There’s got to be a learning curve, though, when it comes to working with people internationally.  Did you find it initially challenging?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Oh, I found several occasions, and I continue to find occasions where it’s challenging.  I’ve had the great fortune this past year to continue to work outside of the U.S. with clients both in Europe and in Asia.  And it’s always challenging.  It’s always challenging not to fall into the trap of seeing things from your perspective only.  And I think that’s something that I have to challenge myself to step back and say, you know, what am I presuming about this situation that I ought to be questioning, rather than assuming?

BILL YATES:  Laura, one of the experiences that you’ve had that’s really unique is you’ve also lived and worked outside of the nation that you were born in, in our case the U.S.  When you were working for Delta Air Lines – another small company – you had the opportunity to move; and you served as the director of human resources for Europe, and you were based out of London.


BILL YATES:  So you moved to London.


BILL YATES:  That had to be an exciting, but intimidating, opportunity for you.

LAURA BUTCHER:  So I did the triple challenge, I guess.  I changed jobs and changed companies.  So when I moved to Delta Air Lines my first assignment with Delta was in the U.K.  I moved homes, so I left a comfortable place in the United States for the unknown of moving house and all of those things.  And then I had a child, all at the same time.

BILL YATES:  Oh, wow.

LAURA BUTCHER:  So those things are not customarily happening all at the same time for someone.

ANDY CROWE:  Because anything worth doing’s worth overdoing; right?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Exactly.  Exactly.  Right?

BILL YATES:  So there were a bunch of obstacles, I mean, this is an amazing opportunity.  But one of the obstacles that I wanted to ask you about, because I know we have listeners who have these kind of opportunities, how did you overcome being the American in another nation?  So in this case in the U.K.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, in the U.K. I always have a funny saying that we’re two countries divided by a common language; right?

ANDY CROWE:  Common language, yes.


LAURA BUTCHER:  So again, the assumption that, simply because we both are speaking English, that we’re communicating effectively is not necessarily a good assumption.  The other thing is just being able to adapt your style and approach to be more like that of the people that you’re interacting with.  So understanding that the sense of humor can be different, that the use of language can be different.  People can be far more direct or indirect.  The way people view authority in the organization and how decisions get made and how influence is managed, all of those things have a cultural dimension to them.  So even understanding between the U.S. and U.K. what those differences look and feel like.

You know, I also in that role had responsibility for supporting 13 countries ranging from Russia, Turkey, India, Greece, to the U.K.  So we had a range of cultures within that, and experiences of the staff and teammates that I work with.  So that was – it was just a great personal and professional experience because it added that dimension of culture on top of the professional function that I supported.

NICK WALKER:  I’m wondering if you can think of any examples of maybe communication difficulties.  Anything off the top of your head?

LAURA BUTCHER:  I can certainly think of times when I had to almost rise up out of myself and look at the situation as if I were watching it as a movie.  I found myself one time, we were having to restructure teams in various countries to downsize or to outsource certain functions.  And one of those occasions happened to be in Greece.  So I found myself on the four-hour flight from London to Athens to meet with the Labor Minister of Greece.  And I’m thinking on the flight, I could never have predicted that this would be where I would be, you know, a year ago.  I’m not quite certain what will happen when I get here.

And so the saying “It’s all Greek to me,” that was exactly what this experience was like because the meeting took place, and all that was spoken in the meeting was in Greek, and I had to work through translators.  Of course the emotion level just in a normal conversation with people of Greek origin tends to be a little heightened from our own here in the U.S.  And so all of those cues were sending off so many things in my mind, and me trying to understand, what’s my role here?  How do I influence the outcome when I’m not working within an element that I’m comfortable?  So it was really an interesting experience.

ANDY CROWE:  You touched on something that made me think.  When you said there are many times I have to rise up out of my own situation and look at it, that is one of my favorite tools to use, not just in cultural situations, but any time I’m in maybe a crisis, some problem that’s really weighing on me, is to stop and think, okay, if I were a consultant, or if I were a friend, what advice would I give a person in this situation.  And it helps to – I don’t know what it is about that, if it just breaks that cycle of anxiety or stress or whatever.  But it’s a helpful technique you kind of touched on there.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yes.  Well, I think it helps to step out of your own position.

ANDY CROWE:  But that’s hard.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Oh, it’s so hard.  It’s so hard.

ANDY CROWE:  You make it sound easy.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, we get very invested in our positions.


LAURA BUTCHER:  Yes.  We like to be right.  We like to have the answer.  And we like to be seen as the expert. I think it takes a degree of humility to step back and say…

ANDY CROWE:  Ego gets in the way.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yeah.  I don’t always know the answer, or I shouldn’t presume I know the answer.

Representing H.Q. Remotely

BILL YATES:  Right.  That brings me right to another obstacle that I’m assuming you had to overcome.  So Delta is based in the  U.S.  You were sent – there you are in London.  You’re working with all these other nations then out of London.  But you’re still the one sent from HQ.  Now, I can relate to that a bit where I was kind of the person sent out to the remote location.  So how did you overcome that obstacle?  Because sometimes those people are seen as the snitch or the insider or the one who’s going to be toeing the company line.  So how did you overcome some of that?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yeah, I think it’s not uncommon for the finance leader and the human resources leader in multinational companies, for those two leadership roles to often be people who’ve been deployed from headquarters or from the home country, if you will, into those field assignments, whether those are even in the U.S.  You’ll oftentimes see that the HR person, the finance person or leaders are from the headquarters organization.  And I think that’s largely because finance is the steward of the fiscal elements of the organization, and human resources often is the steward of the culture or the values of the organization and ambassadors to take that out and to ensure there’s some orientation to that in all the locations.

So I think that that’s, in sophisticated multinational companies, that’s probably not uncommon to have people deployed from headquarters.  But I do think that part of building trust in those roles is to acknowledge when headquarters doesn’t have it right, necessarily, or to help translate what headquarters is trying to accomplish.  And maybe they’re not going about it in a way that’s completely aligned with how the region or the field organization might choose to implement.  But providing a feedback, a conduit of information and feedback from the region to headquarters, if you have strong relationships back at headquarters, you can often elevate issues that wouldn’t otherwise get attention at headquarters.

So when you can take on something that’s important to the people that you’re supporting in that region and be successful in influencing an outcome that’s favorable in their view or that recognizes how they might be different from headquarters…

BILL YATES:  Your stock goes up.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Your stock goes up.

ANDY CROWE:  But you know what, those two functions that you named are both kind of intimidating, too, to a lot of people.  A lot of people, their stomachs tighten up when they see somebody come in from finance or they see somebody come in from HR because those two a lot of times are imposing some kind of compliance or trying to bring people into compliance in some areas – fiscal compliance, fiscal oversight, HR compliance.  And it’s intimidating.

You know, one of the things you see in corporations around the world all the time is they’re either going from a centralized model where headquarters is very strong and in control and sort of distributing out that compliance, or the power is swinging out to the markets, and the markets are coming back, and they’re making their own decisions, and there’s a little bit of independence.  And there’s a constant expansion contraction about that, and it’s really funny.  You hear all the markets say, “Headquarters is out of touch.  They don’t know what’s going on.  They’re coming down with all these rules.  We’re the ones making the money.  Leave us alone to run our business.”  Up to a point.  Then all of a sudden the chains come on and the walls clamp down; right.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yes, because there is no one right answer to that.

ANDY CROWE:  No, it changes.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Centralized or decentralized.  And I think that organizations course correct over time because they find they’ve pushed the boundary too far in terms of autonomy of the regions, or they’ve pushed the boundary too far in terms of centralization functions.

ANDY CROWE:  The healthy ones course correct.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yeah, right, right.

ANDY CROWE:  But that’s the job of leadership is to constantly be monitoring that and feeling which way it’s going, and is it headed the right direction, or is it too much the Wild West.


Culture Differences

NICK WALKER:  And that’s got to be an especial challenge when you’re dealing with different cultures.  You said as the HR person you were sort of the keeper of the culture.  But when you’re dealing with a different culture, did you ever run into a situation where they said, “You know, we just don’t do it that way.  We do things differently here.”

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yes.  I have certainly experienced situations where there was a policy or a practice that was being emanated from headquarters that this is something we want to have implemented throughout all of our operation, which culturally wasn’t well suited in some cases.  I’ll go back to the example that I shared about the outsourcing and my experience in Greece.  Well, outsourcing was a customary practice in a lot of corporations for certain noncritical functions.  But in some countries, that procedure and that process is culturally counter to what people believe about how organizations, you know, what role organizations and companies play in one’s life or livelihood.  So those experiences, yes, you see the clash very clearly.

Inheriting a Position

BILL YATES:  When you look back over your experience, Laura, with Delta Air Lines in London, based in London, I know you’ve got a lot of lessons learned.  One of the ones that you and I talked about was the fact that you were walking into a situation and inheriting.  It wasn’t a new position; you were inheriting a position.  There are so many of our project managers that can relate to that.  There are leaders who are stepping in and replacing a leader who was there before.

ANDY CROWE:  Always really fun to jump on a horse midstream.

BILL YATES:  Right, try to figure things out.

LAURA BUTCHER:  What direction are we going.  Right, exactly.

BILL YATES:  You brought out such a great point of, boy, it’s good to know what you’re stepping into.  It’s good to know the history.  Talk a bit about that.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, I’ve had an experience of having a number of jobs, some of which I followed people who have been perceived as less than effective.  And sometimes you follow people who have been perceived…

ANDY CROWE:  They’re legendary.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yes.  They’ve already put the plaque with their picture on the wall and – yes.  So understanding the context in which you’re taking on a new assignment, whether it be a new role formally in the organization, or a new project or program that you’re taking ownership for, I think is particularly important because how you approach those early days in those new assignments can vary dramatically in terms of things you can do to be more effective and more likely to be successful, and things that you can do that actually are obstacles to your success.

BILL YATES:  So how do you do that homework?  What’s appropriate to ask or dig into?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, certainly from the person that you’re working for, to understand what is the history of this role in the organization?  What’s the reputation of this role?  How do people view the work that this role is responsible for?  And then learning a great deal about your predecessor.  What was working well that your predecessor was doing?  What were things that people still see opportunity for improvement?  Those might be the early places that you want to focus on.

And certainly to be respectful of things that are working well because I think so often people jump into jobs, and they’re trying to make a difference so quickly that they don’t take stock of things that are important to other people that be maintained, or some consistency that people want to feel so that not everything is changing all at once, but that you’re being very selective and intentional about the things you’re choosing to change and the sequence of those.

BILL YATES:  Humans fear change.  Great point.  The team that you’re inheriting, they fear change.  Their leader has changed.  So be aware that don’t try to change everything at once.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, that’s, you know, taking away uncertainty from people.  I think when people feel uncertain, people tend to stop what they’re doing, and that slows the organization down.  So if you can remove uncertainty for people to say, you know, what we’re doing here is very, very important, and we need to keep our foot on the gas.  Move forward and don’t let the change of my coming into this role be an impediment to us continuing to make progress on that.

ANDY CROWE:  There’s a cynical old truism that, if you’re new in a role, the first person you can blame is the guy or the girl who just left.  And then the second one you blame is the vendor.


LAURA BUTCHER:  You do have that honeymoon period, though, I think, where you can ask a lot of questions.  You can not feel like you have to have all the answers.  You can demonstrate that you are a good listener and that you care about what other people, what motivates other people, what needs they have, how you can be responsive to them.

ANDY CROWE:  I’ve seen so many people struggle coming into that honeymoon period, though, when they’ve got it all teed up, everything’s laid out beautifully for them, and they struggle to get traction.  And I’ve watched it happen over and over.  Some people do, I mean, the successful ones do, the ones who are going to move on in their career.  But there is a significant percentage of people who walk into a new situation, and I don’t know if they’re suffering from imposter syndrome or they truly freeze up and don’t know what to do, but instead of walking in and saying, okay, I’ve got a plan, and here we go.

And so one of the things that Bill and I work on is coming up with a 90-day plan for somebody when they start to try and at least illuminate, okay, here’s what success could look like, you know, here’s a series of steps.  Because it can be intimidating.  Somebody walks into a new position halfway through a project or halfway through or even at the beginning, and they don’t know what to do.  I don’t know if that’s it.  I don’t know what it is.  Something goes wrong in there and disrupts that.

LAURA BUTCHER:  I think the idea of having a structured plan to orient someone to a new role.  And if that’s not provided by your manager, you need to create it yourself.

ANDY CROWE:  Do it yourself.


ANDY CROWE:  It’s almost negligent to just bring somebody into a position, drop them and leave them and say, well, figure it out.  Some people will.  You know, the really smart ones, the really successful, driven, Type A people will.  But a lot of people don’t know, I mean, they don’t even know what success looks like, so at least give them some vision.

Stakeholder Engagement

NICK WALKER:  I want to draw on your experience a little bit.  You’ve been in human resources.  You’re a consultant now.  You are able to sort of bring a broad perspective to some of the issues facing project managers these days.  One of those issues is face-to-face engagement, stakeholder engagement that we’re seeing so much more of these days.  What advice would you give to folks who maybe are seeing more of this in their job descriptions that maybe they haven’t before?

LAURA BUTCHER:  I think, because now my work is largely about serving clients and building relationships with clients who are my customers in my work now, I think stakeholder engagement is so essential as a practice, and to have strong skills in that area; to understand people’s goals, to understand your clients’ or customers’ goals, to understand their needs, to understand their motivations, their personal aspirations.  So the more you can understand all of that is context, the better you can support them in achieving those things.  And if your client can achieve what they’re after, you will achieve what you’re after.  So I believe that that’s a mutually complementary situation.  So stakeholder engagement to me is essential to success as a consultant.

BILL YATES:  One of the things that I should let our listeners know, too, is I’ve seen Laura perform firsthand.  As an organization, we partnered with Laura’s organization on past projects.  And that’s one reason she’s in here, because she’s phenomenal at stakeholder engagement.

ANDY CROWE:  All right.  I want you to elaborate on that because you had some high praise, and Bill and I can be tough critics.  And so you had some high praise about that engagement when you came back.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  I’d come back to the office, and I’d say, okay, Laura’s got it going on.  I see the depth of relationship that she has with the key decision makers at this customer.  This is a very large, large organization, and those that we were working with were in very high positions.  And there was a level of trust and familiarity.  There was a depth to that relationship that I could tell had been cultivated for a long time.  So we hold you in high regard.  You do really well at that.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Thank you, thank you.  And likewise, likewise.  It’s mutual.

Reading a Room

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah.  And Bill specifically commented on your ability to read a room and to read individuals in the room.

BILL YATES:  Oh, she’s phenomenal.

ANDY CROWE:  So I want to go ahead and put you on the spot about that.


ANDY CROWE:  Any advice you can give people related to – is that just intuition?  Is it just something you’re born with?  Is it something you’ve cultivated and you have a strategy for?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, I think doing your homework is really important.  You know, to step into a meeting without understanding who’s going to be in the room and what are they likely to – what’s likely their view about this, and even asking directly what is your view about this before you get into the meeting.

ANDY CROWE:  I love that.  Yeah, because who knows, you read something about me online, that may tell you next to nothing about who I am and what I’m like.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Right, or how this topic is either important to you or not important to you, or in what way.  So doing your homework and asking a lot of questions to get a sense of what are the dynamics that are going on around this topic, the meeting that I’m leading or the meeting that I’m attending and that kind of thing.

ANDY CROWE:  So that’s a methodical approach.  So it’s not intuition at all.  It’s a left brain logical flow chart?  What?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, it’s probably a combination of the two.  I tend to be more structured in my approach to the work that I do.

ANDY CROWE:  So do I, yeah.

LAURA BUTCHER:  So that’s more my comfort zone.  So to take a more logical kind of fact-based planful approach would be more my natural tendency.  I have worked with others who I observe their strengths to be in far more intuitive understanding of what’s going on in the room.  And so when you can find a partner who has that strength to marry up with my more planful approach, that’s a powerful combination.

ANDY CROWE:  So I did that formally.  My wife is very intuitive, and kind of frighteningly intuitive about people.  She reads people really, really well.  And our son has an interesting mixture because he can also read people really well.  He’s probably more like her than he is like me because I don’t.  I take it at face value.  If you tell me something, I’m just going to assume that you’re telling me the truth and that there’s no hidden agenda.  She’s not that way.  She can read people really well.  I mean, it’s almost like one of the X-Men or something. So it’s an interesting talent I don’t have.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Superpower.

ANDY CROWE:  No, it is.  We call that her superpower.  And I admire it.  I don’t have it.  It’s just an interesting thing.  I’m probably more like you, taking a more studious approach and a more analytical approach.

BILL YATES:  Well, I’ve seen the right brain of Laura in action, too.  She does read a room extremely well.  She’s done her homework.  But then she’s picking up on body language, tone of voice, even positioning, where people are standing or sitting in a room.  We were working, in some of our experience, we were working with a number of cohorts.  And there were other vendors, there were other providers of training who were there that had particular specialties.  And just seeing how she – she was the orchestrator.

So she was reading the room, making sure that the right voices were being heard at the right time, and not letting anyone take over the room that would be to the detriment of the goals of the course.  And so there’s some right brain in there, too.

Empathy and Humility

But I know, you know, there are two keywords that, Laura, you shared with me.  One of the things that I think you’ve shared one of your keys to success is being able to demonstrate empathy and humility.  And just elaborate on that a bit.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, I think being able to have the perspective of others and to see their point of view.  Again, I think largely we are often in selling mode.  We’re selling our ideas, we’re selling our solutions.  We’re selling our credibility and expertise.  And sometimes that gets in the way of actually finding the best solution or finding a solution that everyone can support.  So being able to step outside again and look at the situation more broadly, to see things from other people’s point of view I think has been very important to my success, to the fulfillment that I receive out of the work that I do, and hopefully to my clients’ and customers’ success.

ANDY CROWE:  That’s an incredibly refined skill, though, because today, you know, in the climate we’re in, if somebody disagrees with you, then the first thing you do is project negative motives on them.  They’re a bad person.  They’re part of a bad political movement, whatever it is.  There’s no subtlety of trying to look at things from their perspective.  And I’ve used this a long time ago.  I had a person that I had a lot of conflict with this guy.  And we constantly were locking horns over one thing or another.

And I started finally saying, okay, here’s what I believe your argument is, or your position is.  Am I correct?  And I would go through it with him until we got it right.  But a lot of times when I’d turn around and say, tell me what you think mine is, and it would be, well, you just don’t like me, or you just – you know, it would be something like that.  It’s hard to step out of your own story and look at it objectively.  I mean, again, that’s an incredible skill to cultivate.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yes.  And it takes a tremendous amount of trust to be able to have that kind of conversation with people.  So again, I think it does comes back to how have you established trusting relationships with the people that you’re working with so that you can disagree, but still work productively together and seek solutions that everyone can support.

Building Trust

BILL YATES:  I wanted to ask a follow-up question on that, Laura, building trust, icebreaking.  What advice do you have for project managers who are moving into this customer-facing role or some other level of higher exposure they have with clients, key decision makers.  They’re looking for advice.  How can I break the ice?  How can I build that trust?  What are some tips you’d give them?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Well, I think, again, do your homework.  So know the audience that you’re interacting with, whether that be an executive sponsor for your project or program.  It could be an external customer or another third party that you need to partner with to achieve the goals of your project or program.  But know your audience and be ready to adapt your style to that audience or that culture.  So I talk about culture in terms of international experiences or experiences working in other parts of the world.  But culture differences exist within all organizations.  And so even within your own organization, whether it’s a field or a headquarters location, or it might be marketing or engineering, they have different cultural norms that exist within the organization.  So understand…

ANDY CROWE:  Goodness, IT does.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Oh, yes, yes, our friends in IT, and human resources, for that matter.  So, yeah.  So understanding your audience and being able to adapt to work within the norms of that organization.

NICK WALKER:  And as a project manager, project managers are sometimes caught in the middle.  You’re that middle person between the sponsor, the team members, the contractors, all the stakeholders.  And you’re probably dealing with different cultures, different personalities.  What are the particular challenges of being able to empathize with all of those?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yes.  And I haven’t mentioned communications, but communications and information sharing, perspective sharing, is essential.  So when you’ve got subcontractors and contractors and clients, and you’re working to try to align these resources toward a common goal, communication is essential, effective communication.  But again, framing communication in a way that it’s easily digestible and acceptable by the audience.  So understanding their communication style and being able to adapt your style to work for them builds credibility, and it builds trust and confidence among the team that there’s a clear direction, and that there is alignment.

Mistakes to Avoid

BILL YATES:  Have you seen, Laura, along that line, because this is such a common role where we’re kind of the guy, the gal in the middle, you know, we are that person in the middle as a project manager.  Have you seen, do you have any quick advice for, okay, please don’t do this?  Any mistakes you’ve seen that you just kind of want to shine a light on?

LAURA BUTCHER:  I guess one thing that I’ve experienced, or maybe it’s been even the party where this happened to, as opposed to the person leading the project, is where we make certain partners feel less than equal on the team.

BILL YATES:  Play favorites.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yes.  And so by minimizing their role or not shining the light on the things that they’ve done well, sometimes we get less than what they’re capable of contributing to the project or program.  And so I think that helping to establish a climate whereby there’s a high degree of respect, you know, irrespective of the role that one might be playing on the team, is important to get the best out of every person on the team.

ANDY CROWE:  It’s such a tough gig, too, being a project manager, because you’ve got to advocate for the team at the right times.  You’ve got to advocate for the customer or senior management at right times.  You have to advocate for the project all the time.  But you don’t over-advocate for the project.  You don’t want to do that to the detriment of other goals the organization has.  And it is a constant adjusting of levers as a PM.  It’s just a tough, tough job.


BILL YATES:  Every day is a new day.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Things are changing around you.  You know, the project isn’t operating in isolation.  It’s part of a bigger system.  It’s part of the bigger organization.  And priorities change in the organization.  So not to get overly wed to the project or program because it will evolve.  It will change.

ANDY CROWE:  When I was early in my PM career, I thought as a leader that I was supposed to constantly advocate for the team and protect the team at all costs, and that that was my role.  And I missed a lot of things because I was solely focused on that.  I missed other things going on in the organization.  I missed things going on with the project because I constantly wanted to protect my team.

BILL YATES:  Andy, if management came to you and said, “I’m going to need that resource off of your team now, I’ve got something more important to put him on,” how did you react to that?

ANDY CROWE:  See, but that’s exactly right.  I would have reacted very negatively, but that’s a shortsighted view because the organization has other priorities other than my team and my project.  And so you learn that as you get – I guess as you get experience.  Maybe some people are born with knowing that.  I wasn’t.

LAURA BUTCHER:  And I think that as a project or program manager you bring a lot of value when you can help to connect the work that you’re doing with other things that are going on in the organization.  Your credibility is enhanced tremendously when you can see the bigger picture and where your project or program fits within that.

ANDY CROWE:  And you look up, you look out, you understand the organization strategy as best you can and how your project relates to it, absolutely.


NICK WALKER:  Well, Laura Butcher, thank you so much for taking the time to share your expertise with us.  How can folks get in touch with you, if they’re interested in your consulting services?

LAURA BUTCHER:  Yes, well, we have a website at www.bluekeypartners.com.  So you can find more information about the work that we do in leadership development and learning design there.  And of course I have a LinkedIn profile.  So that’s a great way to get in touch with me directly.

NICK WALKER:  And before you go, we always like to have a little present for our guests.  This Manage This coffee mug is yours.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Perfect.  I love coffee, as you can see.  So I’ll put that to good use, thank you.

NICK WALKER:  Thanks again, Laura.

LAURA BUTCHER:  Thank you very much for the opportunity.

NICK WALKER:  Well, thank you so much again, Laura.  Now a word to our listeners.  If you’re looking for the credits you need to renew your project management certifications, we are a source of those valuable Professional Development Units.  And you’ve already earned those PDUs just for listening to this podcast.  It’s easy to claim them.  Go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and click through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on March 19th for our next podcast.  In the meantime, we’d love to have you visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.

That’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

PMI Activity ID: VTPodcast076


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