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Hierarchy and You

Your success is often determined by your ability to effectively manage hierarchy (i.e. Management) during your career. My interest in this topic began about 25 years ago during an assignment I had directly reporting to a Vice President (four levels above me) to assist in managing his Leadership teams and executing specials projects. During this assignment I obtained insight into what was and was not important to the Organizational levels above and below him.

Comments describing hierarchy can be found in varying statements like:

  • They want me to manage everything and don’t want to be disturbed.
  • They’ve done this before! They should know how tough it is.
  • They can’t handle the truth.
  • They’re busy and don’t have time to spend with me.
  • They know what needs to be done why don’t they just do it themselves.
  • They were totally aligned to my project six months ago. What changed?

Since hierarchy is normally described in general terms, you should consider the following:

  • Hierarchy is comprised of individuals; each with their own biases, assumptions, experiences, expectations, concerns, and knowledge. When you lump them all together, they are extremely hard to manage versus managing and understanding them individually.
  • Hierarchy is comprised of levels. The individual needs and expectations of one level are different than other levels. You should understand the needs and expectations at each level and determine a strategy to address them.
  • Not all hierarchy have decision-making rights. You should understand and differentiate what each level/person has decision rights, who are influencers, and who just like to express their opinions.
  • Hierarchy has information you do not have. You must gain their trust and confidence to obtain this information to become a better manager or leader.

So how should hierarchy be managed? I believe the following are key to managing them:

  • Understand your authority level/decision making space. Is it better to ask for forgiveness or permission?
  • Understand which Organizations and hierarchy impact you.
  • Learn the names and levels of the hierarchy you will interface with.
  • Schedule regular meetings (i.e. group, 1:1, etc.) with specific hierarchy to understand their needs and expectations of you. Too often, you assume the hierarchy discusses a project’s status or your work on their own. This is not a safe assumption.

Once you take the above steps, you need to improve on the following two areas to better influence your hierarchy:

  1. Sharpen your listening skills. Do you really listen to what your hierarchy is trying to tell you? People tend to want to communicate their thoughts, ideas, plans, etc. in their allotted time which is expected. However, listening to what hierarchy is telling you and acting accordingly is a key strength which needs to be continually developed. Schedule 50% of your meeting or presentation time to allow for hierarchy interactions.
  2. Sharpen your proposal making skills. Don’t allow hierarchy to guess what you want from them. If you want them to do something, you should ask for it. If you don’t want them to do anything, you should state this clearly.

The Premier Resources Group (PRG) Advisors can help your Company gain better alignment between Management and project teams. Whether PRG Advisors are brought in during the initial conceptual or definition phases, or are asked to provide feedback later in the project lifecycle, our PRG Advisory Services Teams’ vast industry and Organizational experience can help promote successful and timely interventions to improve your project results.

Portions of this blog were taken from the September, 2001 NASA Academy Sharing Knowledge (ASK) magazine article “The Hourglass and the Project Manager – Part Two: Improving Your Hierarchical IQ” by W. Scott Cameron.