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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Political Sharks and Projects

In the past, I enjoyed reading the book, "Power and Politics in Project Management" by Jeffrey K. Pinto (and still review it periodically). I have learned over the years that playing politics is a skill set that needs to be constantly refined. As mentioned in the book, we need to be aware of all political behaviors (Naive, Sensible, and Shark) and react to them appropriately if we are to keep ourselves from getting in to trouble.

One behavior I have had the unfortunate experience of witnessing lately is that of the Political Shark. These types of people have certain character traits that if not recognized can negatively impact our careers. These sharks know how to play the self-serving political "game" and don't mind leaving blood in the water. They are experts at manipulating the system to get their way and have no interest in serving anything but their own desires. They have loyalty only to themselves and their own goals.


To quote from the book, "work with them (sharks), and one is likely to be used and manipulated; get between them and their goal and their behavior becomes utterly amoral." "The only cause these individuals espouse is their own."

The author goes on to make an important point; Sharks "enter organizations with the express purpose of using politics and aggressive manipulation to reach the top."

As summarized in the book, Sharks are:

* Opportunistic

* Self-serving and predatory

* Manipulators that will use fraud and deceit when necessary

* Bullies that will misuse information and use others to service their own means

Do you know or work with or for a shark? What can a project manager do to ensure these types of individuals don't negatively impact their projects?

Here are some things to keep in mind:

* Be aware that sharks exist in your organization

* Know who the sharks are and avoid them whenever possible

* When working with sharks, be very careful not to become their prey

* Learn to be politically "Sensible"

* Be a good negotiator

* Expand your network and be fair and honest in all of your dealings

* Be comforted in the fact that Sharks will eventually move on to new feeding grounds

It is unfortunate that political sharks are so prevalent in organizations. They offer little value to the organization other than to serve their own means. Occasionally sharks do good things, but the cost of their behavior will always be a disruption to the organization. The benefit is rarely worth the cost.

Don't trust a shark. Don't turn your back on them and don't take them lightly. Remember they are self-serving and will stop at nothing to satisfy their appetite. I have seen the damage they can do first hand and I know they are indiscriminate in the way the feed. Even though we have to swim with the sharks, we don't have to become their victims.

Keep your friends close, but the sharks closer.

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