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Qualities of a Project Manager: Negotiating without Compromising Quality

In this series, we will outline the qualities you always see in successful project managers. Since project management is really the process of managing an array of business controls, the skills required to execute that are quite broad. Any project manager that has a good balance of these attributes has a set of skills that are applicable across the organization.

The best color to describe project management is gray. Projects are rarely stark black-and-white. This post will cover the negotiation skills for project managers to negotiate the gray areas inherent in all projects.

Ability to Make Effective Trade-offs

“Prepare by knowing your walk away [conditions] and by building the number of variables you can work with during the negotiation. You need … a combination of price, terms, and deliverables that represents the least you will accept. Without one, you have no negotiating road map.”


In order to achieve the expected project outcomes, project managers must realize that things are not always going to go according to plan.

The most common trade-offs take place between the arms of the Iron Triangle: time, money, and spec. As the name implies, the triangle is immutable. Change one of the corners of the triangle and something else has to give:

  • If it looks like the project will be late, we need to cut scope or add resources (people or money).
  • When items are added to the scope, we need to add resources or extend the schedule (people or money).
  • If the resources will not be available, we‘ll need to extend the schedule or cut the scope.

Project managers spend their days wrestling with these realities. There never seems to be enough time or money to finish the project in the timelines and budgets that were initially approved. It is important that the project manager negotiate win-win outcomes for all parties. A successful negotiator will ensure that all parties gain something they perceive as valuable.

If you are in a situation that requires input from stakeholders, always negotiate with your own project team first. Make sure you have considered all angles before escalating to stakeholders. The more options you have, the better your chances of achieving the desired outcome.

Comfortable Operating in the “Gray Area”

“People talk about the middle of the road as though it were unacceptable. Actually, all human problems, excepting morals, come into the gray areas. Things are not all black and white. There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Because of the uncertainty in project management, the PM is often faced with novel problems without clear-cut solutions. An unclear chain of authority can complicate these situations, as can organizational policies that do not support an expeditious resolution. The alternatives are usually not black and white. This makes an ability to operate in the gray area is critical.

As a project manager, it can be tough to get what you need without compromising your principles.

Commitment to Quality

“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”

William A Foster

The project manager ultimately owns responsibility for the success of the project. If the project does not produce a quality product, it has failed. So while negotiations are practically inevitable and the Iron Triangle is difficult to reckon with, a project manager needs to commit to quality and drive their team to deliver what‘s expected.

The lifecycle methodology describes how the project will produce a quality outcome. The project manager must ensure that the processes are followed and each task is completed by following the correct approach at each step.

To read our post on negotiation skills for project managers, click here.

Read our next post in the series on qualities of a project manager.

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