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Getting the Most from Your Project Staff: Part 1 of 3 Tips to Gain Commitment from Your Project Team

As a Project Manager you are tasked with getting work done through others. It may seem simple, after all these individuals are assigned to the project team and just need to do their job. But this is not reality. 

What is reality is that project resources are often assigned work beyond your project and may even be involved in other projects. It is typical in the popular matrix project organization that team members do not report directly to the project manager, but rather a functional manager. This makes it even more important that the project manager have the skills to get work accomplished through others. Even the most experienced project managers continually report this as one of their top challenges.

In this three part series you will learn techniques that will maximize your ability to get the most from those individuals assigned to your project. The strategies presented will provide a solid approach that can be used immediately with your team. 

Part 1: Tips to gain commitment from your project team
Part 2: How to be comfortable with escalating when work is not being completed
Part 3: Strategies to improve communication and follow-up to team members 

The more you can involve team members early on, inviting their input, the better chance you have to establishing a positive relationship and understanding of commitment. This article explores three key techniques to gain commitment from your project team.

Set Expectations:

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” A. A. Milne

First, establish a realistic expectation for yourself. You are really looking to gain the most possible commitment from your team. By understanding their availability you can optimize the use of team members. Realize that it is not likely that everyone will be available 100% of the time, and you will likely have team members with other commitments. Your goal at this time is to understand the other constraints on their time so you can arrange for the most effective use of their time on your project. Now you can make it clear what you expect from them and what you will do to be considerate of their availability.

Expectations should be documented during the project planning phase. Develop plans interactively with the resources so they are involved early in the process. Utilize the following to document these expectations: 

  • State team member responsibilities into a Staffing Plan. Be specific and include expectations for meeting attendance, status, issue, and progress reporting as well as overall task responsibilities for each individual role.
  • Team members should be aware of how the project will be managed including how issues will be identified and escalated, how the schedule will be managed, change management, and what communication will be in place. Utilize a Project Management Plan to document these items.
  • You should be getting input from team members while developing the Project Schedule/Work Plan. This should not be developed in a vacuum. Team members should be proving details as to the tasks, the relationship of those tasks to other project work, and the timing.  

Obtain Agreement:

Heads Up! Share these plans and receive approval from team members and their manager. Individuals are more inclined to review materials when they are required to provide a sign-off. Additionally, they are very interested when their name is attached!

The benefits of receiving this agreement are three-fold. First, any concerns can be identified early; second, both parties (team members and their managers) will be more inclined to meet the commitment having been clearly informed. Finally, acquiring a sign-off could be useful for you later in the project; should resource issues arise (see Part 2 of this series: “How to be Comfortable with Escalating When Work is Not Being Completed”).

Achieve Interest and Involvement 



“Smile. Have you ever noticed how easily puppies make human friends?  Yet all they do is wag their tails and fall over.”   Walter Anderson, The Confidence Course, 1997

There is never any harm in making individuals feel welcomed and appreciated. Certainly you have met the project manager who believes everyone should just do their job, why compliment them or share a friendly diatribe? Well, it is true that creating a positive friendly work environment can turn even the crabbiest worker around, and it is best for you to have individuals involved in your project who want to do a good job for you. Plus it does not hurt to have a little edge should competing project work come across a team member’s desk! 

A few suggestions we have all heard, but are always worth revisiting:

  • Remember to always be welcoming of all team members.
  • Consider team building activities. In the case of a fully dedicated team, consider a break from the work to achieve this.
  • Periodically review expectations
  • Compliment when your expectations are met and include a short note to the team members’ manager.
  • Say thank you! A little goes a long way!

While nothing is guaranteed, these techniques are beneficial to establish a foundation for achieving a stronger commitment to your project.

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