The Power of No

Jan 10, 2020

Every great project manager knows when to say no. Although yes can often be easier. Especially with the sponsor staring you in the face, asking the impossible and slowly tightening those purse strings…

But seriously – the project manager who can’t say no will eventually drag a project down. Project managers are paid for their experience. It’s not their job to just say yes. And every PM worth their salt knows that means delivering a genuine warts and all perspective on the project and its issues.

That doesn’t mean shirking responsibility. Far from it. If you’re a Type 2 PM you’ll know it’s in your DNA to run at the fire.

No. What it means is knowing when a sponsor and a project needs the truth. The ability to deliver truth is the sign of true professional maturity. It can’t hurt that if your experience and domain expertise is showing you a better way, saying no will guarantee a better outcome.

Of course, if you’re a Type 2 PM you’ll have delivered against the odds on more than one occasion. It’s inevitable you’ll have occasionally said yes to the impossible, just to make a good impression or even because your professional pride demanded it.

We once worked with a sponsor who had a great party trick. He’d call up the media and announce a launch date… before we’d even locked down a plan. Now, it wasn’t a smart approach, and it didn’t guarantee success. But it did sharpen focus. And we never said no. It became a point of pride to deliver, even if it came at a cost.

The key to saying no is professional maturity. It doesn’t have to be a negative thing. And nor should it be an out and out no. As a Type 2 PM your experience and war stories mean “no” comes with solid rationale. It may be what’s being asked isn’t a priority, or comes with risk that can’t be mitigated. Or maybe you just know your team’s knackered, and another week of long hours and weekend work will break the camel’s back.

Of course, the sponsor will challenge you. It’s their right. And there is the small matter of the purse strings. So here’s our tip for the day. Remember that EQ will trump IQ every time. Read the room. Be respectful, but not apologetic. But ultimately saying no is often not only the right thing to do. It’s your job.