Can You Succeed Where There is No Trust?

By Rick Griffin, PMP

Oh, what a world we live in today. You and your project team have probably been a witness to the dismantling of Trust within your environment. Whether it came through a merger or acquisition, or perhaps it was saying good luck to friends, compatriots, and colleagues as they were the casualties of “rightsizing.” Maybe you observed apathetic leadership as they waited around for their golden parachute, or a a major criminal or ethic scandal placed your company in the headlines. You may have survived a leadership change that made the 100-day march seem like a ride on the lazy river. All of these events have unfortunately created environments that you and your teams work in where the nature, the concept, and even the word “Trust” does not seem to exist.

Trust is central to the experience, morale, and success of your project. Instilling Trust in the team means instilling a confidence and comfortableness with the notion that the team members can be successful under their own terms. Your team can come to work in an environment where they can work on something they feel comfortable with and be a part of a result that matters. It is a Project Manager’s job to create that culture of Trust.

So, what can a Project Manager do when everything points to an environment that doesn’t have Trust? As referenced above, there can be many factors beyond your control that can cause a culture absent of Trust, however there are also many factors under your control, such as your actions, your environment, and even your project team, that can be used to instill trust.

First, let’s start with you. Are you Trustworthy? Do you perform your job responsibilities with the highest professional ethics and standards? Do you play into the “victim disease” of the environment? Do you enjoy the gossip, speculation, or rumor mill game? Are you accountable for your success or is it all up to “them?” Are you a role model for what an employee should be in your world? Do you always seek out the best resources for your project or do you try to only get your friends on the team whether they are the best or not? Do you follow through? Do you expect and trust others to follow through? We all know the correct answers to these questions, and our actions must follow our beliefs. Changing the way you act as a project manager will go a long way to creating Trust.

Carbon, coal, and diamonds are all in the same chain of development. Pressure, time, and focus are what create the diamond. The lump of coal, although valuable still can be quite dirty, give off bad fumes, and never will be marveled by a twinkling eye. An environment without Trust is like the old fashioned coal bins. I remember shoveling coal into the furnace at my grandmother’s house when I was a child. It was in the basement, I always felt dirty after performing this task, and I could never seem to get the coal out from under my fingernails. Stop shoveling coal and start creating the diamond that is you—a role model for Trust.

After you’ve focused on yourself, you can begin to define your world. By defining your boundaries and the things that you CAN control, your world can become manageable. You probably can’t change the decisions made in the boardroom, the scandals that are in the paper, or the merger that is announced. What you can control is the environment of your project. Yes, this is about leadership and leading your team. You need to communicate your expectations to them; the code of conduct, the expectations of decorum, and the focus on the prize of project completion. Proper communication with your team will dispel the fear and apprehension that is a breeding ground for mistrust. Once this is done, you need to adopt the theme song “Ain’t no stoppin’ us now.”

One of the key demonstrations of Trust within your project is your relationship with the Project Sponsor. Take the time to educate the Project Sponsor on why Trust is so important to the success of the project. Make it clear to your sponsor as to how he or she influences the perception of Trust within the project. Provide your sponsor the forums and opportunities to demonstrate Trust in you and the project team. And, if just by chance, the Project Sponsor changes—start back at the beginning and develop Trust with the new sponsor.

As you develop your team, choose wisely. You know, and everyone knows, the victims, whiners, complainers, and slackers in the environment. If they cannot be brought in line, have the courage of your trusted convictions to either not add them, change them out on the team, or escalate with resource managers to have them changed. If you include them on your team, you will have to set strict parameters in one-on-one conversations as you seek to re-shape their focus on the success of the project. Do not avoid, procrastinate, or think that everything will be OK, because it won’t. You must deal with each and every member of the team in a leadership fashion that focuses on building Trust. Get to know them as people, allow them to have some “vent” time just with you, then re-frame their focus to help you create a community of stability within the chaos.

You will be surprised at the change when you reach that community of stability within the chaos. This is what everyone within the environment is seeking: a way to bond with his or her peers, colleagues, and friends. They want something that encourages, supports, and yes, even Trusts their contributions to this project’s success. We must understand people’s need, based on Maslow’s hierarchy, to “belong.” That belonging must be something that is for them, is them, and Trusts them; and in return, they Trust it. “It” can be your project.

From the beginning, during, and after, you must find success, reward success, reinforce success, celebrate success, market success, create team success, and show the way to success. Developing and refining a communications plan that goes beyond the weekly status reports, the data bases, and scorecard input and leads to the marketing of the success of the project is critical to reinforcing Trust. Remember, these are extreme circumstances that need extreme measures to yield success. Remember that project managers can and must market their projects. All of the marketing must be based on Trust so that it represents Trust to your team, your shareholders, and your sponsor.

Rick Griffin is the Founder and CEO of Eaglespire Coaching, LLC, a company providing coaching, training, leadership development, and team building approaches to moving you to a life journey of choice. Eaglespire Coaching has clients across the globe that have roles in project management, executive leadership, corporate environments, entrepreneurial enterprises, and solo-preneurs. Rick can be reached at or 612-964-5963.


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