How to Interact With Executives

Are you feeling a little put-off by having to talk to executives at your company? The pressure is on when you need them to align with your ideas or project goals. Luckily has the skinny on effectively interacting with those above you. Try these tips and tricks to make you and the executive look good.


How to Interact With Executives (And Make You both Look Good)


There is a certain way that you need to interact with executives. Don’t listen to those who complain upper management doesn’t have a clue, or that they are too dumb to understand the details of the projects that are being managed. There will always be exceptions, but the majority have made executive because they are indeed smart and work hard. They are just focusing on different things than you. As a matter of fact, if they focused on the same things as you, they wouldn’t need you, would they?


Effective and positive interactions with upper management are mutually beneficial. You build your own reputation as well as theirs, so it should be important to do it right. The following are a couple of suggestions for making you both look good:

  • Bring Them Up To Speed the Right Way – Keep executives in your company, especially if they are your boss, up to speed on just the right amount of details on the projects you are managing. They don’t need to know every painstaking detail, but they do need to know enough that if your project comes up in a conversation they can speak to it intelligently. Give them a couple of talking points about where the project stands, what the next steps are, who is currently working on the project, and any issues. That’s all they need to know to be effective in their role. Believe me, it will make your project management life that much easier and reduce the number of fire drills caused by bad or missing information.


  • Tell Them What You Need Them to Say – Notice this doesn’t say, “Tell them what to say.” It’s not your place to tell an executive what or what not to say in certain situations, such as a quarterly executive review with client’s management. You can coach them and provide insight into hot spots or highly charged issues, but at the end of the day they will say what they are going to say. What you can do is tell them what you need them to say, which is different. You may need them to deliver bad news, or ask a particularly thorny question in order to make it through a hurdle that you are dealing with. Preparing them in such a way helps maintain their executive position and allows you to move forward with the project.


  • Position Them as Fully Supportive – Long after the executive has left their meeting in the boardroom, you can continue to make them look good by letting clients and stakeholders know how committed they are to the success of the project. This will carry whatever message was delivered in the meeting a long way and allow you to get the most leverage from their support in managing your project.


  • Prevent Them From Being Blindsided – The last thing you want to have happen is for your executive to get blindsided with something they didn’t know…but you did. Problems and issues will always come up on projects. Make sure the relevant executives know about them, and more importantly, what the team is doing to resolve them. Nobody is served well if somebody asks your executive, “Did you know that this project is delayed a month?” and they say “No, this is the first time I’ve heard that.” Everyone loses in that conversation.


  • Listen to Their Perspective – Finally, be sure to incorporate their feedback and perspective (or at least consider it) into what you are working on. This could range from a presentation to a certain way to navigate through a tricky situation. They will generally have a very different perspective from you, which you’ll find to be helpful. For example, we have a tendency as project managers to get into the weeds. That’s great in some situations, but in others it doesn’t work as well. Listen to their feedback and incorporate it into what you already know to be true.


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