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Organizational Politics – Business As Usual

March 12, 2010

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Plato

When people tell me that they do not like politics in organizations, two thoughts spring to mind, 1) Politics exist everywhere 2) Politics are not bad or good – they just are.  I should define what I mean by politics.  I like Max Wideman’s definition of  politics as “Competition for power and leadership between competing interests or groups. May be characterized by artful and sometimes dishonest practices.” (www.maxwideman)  I have left his links in; they link to his online glossary.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines organizational politics as “the informal process by which personal friendships, loyalties, and enmities are used in an attempt to gain an advantage in influencing project decisions”.  (1987)

Politics often has a negative connotation.  Politics is simply competition.  There have been many examples of its abuse, but by definition it is both amoral and natural.  People have competed in every arena since the beginning of time.  As Project Managers, we need to understand the political environment in which we are working and how to use it for the benefit of all.

Here are some suggestions for becoming more politically savvy as a Project Manager:

  • Learn, understand and apply how power is distributed in your organization.  Always respect the “management hierarchy”.  Ensure that you have upper management support.
  • Understand that politics is more about managing people, than managing things.
  • Use organizational politics ethically and positively.
  • Understand that organizational politics exist at all levels of the organization and one size does not fit all.  Different approaches are required for different audiences.
  • Start with your project team.  Keep all lines of communication open.  Build trust within the team.   Encourage your team to openly discuss and resolve issues.  Include the team in decision-making where appropriate.

I have included some related resources below.  How  savvy are you about organizational politics?  How would you rate your personal power?  What can you do to improve your organizational political skills in a positive and beneficial way?

Resources:

The Rookie Manager’s Guide to Office Politics

Navigating Organizational Politics

Newbie and Politics Max has many articles about politics on his site in addition to this one.  Use the search feature to find the others.

Project Management Politics

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