Project Management Institute Difficult project team members

Project teams come with a variety of personalities, and not all of them are easy to work with. How you handle those difficult team members can not only make or break a project, it can also affect your career.

If someone fails to perform, it can derail the project. And the blame falls on you.

'The client loses trust in the project manager's promises that they can deliver,' says Ros Toynbee, director, Ros Toynbee Associates, a training consultancy in London, England.

'The project manager also loses the trust of other team members,' she says. 'Over time, they will not want to work with a project manager who lacks leadership. They'll want to work for a project manager who has a happy, successful team.'

Managing a challenging team member doesn't have to damage your career.
It starts with setting clear objectives.

'Often, when team members are unclear of their role, they become hard to work with,' says Nancy Y. Nee, PMP, executive director, product strategy at ESI International in Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Most team members don't set out to be difficult, Ms. Toynbee says. It may be that they're stressed about workload or not being up to the job.
Give each team member specific tasks and goals throughout the project and then follow up to identify gaps in understanding.

'Some project managers think that they can delegate a task by telling the other person what they want done. Or worse, by saying, 'Can you take care of this?'' Ms. Toynbee says. 'They don't check to see how the request has been received and whether or not that team member has the skill, or will do it to the desired standard.'

Instead, she recommends explaining specifically what you need. Describe why it's important by relating it to the broader objective of the project and team. Then, set a deadline.

If a project team member is confrontational or unwilling to take direction, don't avoid the conflict, says Ms. Toynbee.

Instead of glossing over misunderstandings or negative behaviors, hash out the problem so it doesn't return.

'Don't let your dislike of confronting team members who don't perform get in the way of doing a great job for the client and the company,' Ms. Toynbee says. 'Once your reputation is soured in the eyes of the customer, that may follow you when you try to get a new job.'

If conflict with a team member escalates, proceed with caution.

'If someone is yelling at you, do not yell back. If someone is being 'snarky' to you, it's tempting to treat them exactly the same way, but don't,' says Margaret Meloni, PMP, a project management instructor at the University of California, Irvine, Irvine, California, USA. 'Instead, model the behavior you want to see.'

Choosing the high road will enhance your reputation as a project manager who can handle even the most difficult of team members.

This article can also be read at