Five things Project Managers & Change Managers can do to play nicely together

Project Managers and Change Managers are professional practitioners that both work on projects. They often work together – though this isn’t always the pleasant and positive relationship it could be.

As professionals they have deep knowledge of their fields, and are advocates for this disciplinary perspective – as is valid. Still it can be challenging to find ways to bridge the gap – that can sometimes be a chasm – because of bad prior experience, ignorance and unconscious incompetence. (Yep – I’m not going to mix words here.)  And all the while things are often moving fast and furiously within the project landscape.

As professionals, it would be reasonable to expect that both these kinds of practitioners can adapt and get along, because they do care about achieving a good outcome from their efforts. So I’ve got a few thoughts on how to make this happen.

Note: This isn’t a post explaining the two disciplines to each other – this is more human message.

1. Get to know each other

Go on a professional date!

Find out about each other’s style, preferences, concerns, values and beliefs.

Get in a giving mindset. Maybe you can recommend a good book or video to each other. Or introduce them to someone useful. This doesn’t have to be for professional context – make it something entertaining!

When you’ve invested time, energy and attention in another person – you are saying they are worth it, that you see them as having some value. Such relationship foundations create a sense of ease and grace to navigate moments of conflict more easily. So, it makes sense to do this early and consider it an important part of the project initiation activity.

2. Understand the different professional lenses you each have

You are both doing change. You can both care about people. But you have different lenses through which you are aiding changing, and caring about people.

For Project Management: Time, Money, Quality

For Organisational Change Management: Hope, Trust, Compassion and Stability

It’s good to have empathy for each other – true empathy – in that you have understanding of the other person’s perspective. And you don’t have to agree or even like it. Learn about what each other is seeing, reacting to and making decisions about in the small everyday choices. Appreciate that whatever the choices, it is likely coming from a desire to do the right thing and get a positive outcome.

This is good role modelling behaviour for you both, as you are watched by others in the project.

Where you can show visible and positive support to each other. It will make you feel good, and others.

Have each other’s back professionally.  You can speak to each other’s lenses, when you are in other forums. And use these rules-of-thumb to identify when some matter might be delegated to the other, and might be done together. Particularly in identification and representation of issues, risks and benefits.

3. Decide if you are collaborating, co-operating or co-ordinating with each other

Seriously. It’s a choice.

What’s the difference? The essence of collaboration, compared to co-operation or co-ordination, is that there is mutual value. (Read more: To collaborate or not to collaborate)

If you going to be collaborating, it is useful that you both put out on the table what value you seek from each other, and what value you have to contribute.

This is a conversation about Value, not Values.

  • Values are what you believe – they are standards/virtues that you hold dear and live by. These are stable and rarely shift.
  • Value is what you get or create – this is what makes something valuable in your eyes. This is highly malleable, context-sensitive and at the root of your satisfaction (or lack thereof) in the work you do. (Plural/unit = Value Elements)

There’s value that you will want to create or get for yourself, like Credibility, Great Story to Tell and Fresh Experiences. There’s value that you will want to create for others (including the organisation and team mates), like Social Impact, and Great Collegial Relationships.  For more on the notion of Value and how it might be exchanged, read this blog post.

4. Decide on guidelines on how to work together

This is hygiene stuff. But it’s where the conflict can arise. It’s also where the conflict can be avoided. There will be plenty of opportunities for conflict in the rest of the project, so get this organised.

Start with any boundaries; particularly with your precious resources of time, attention, and energy.

Practice holding and respecting boundaries in the small things. Feel the tension and any associated emotions, breath and navigate through it. Best to feel your way through this when there isn’t a lot of competing things and high emotions. Develop relationship muscle memory that will serve you well when you have little time to think or talk, you simply need to do, together.

5. Support each other in good self-care practices

You don’t have to be friends. You can show care and consideration for each other – recognising you are on the same team, and that supportive team-mates are more effective at working together.

It’s highly likely the work on the project will challenge, and even drain you. Projects are often places where things go fast and furious with challenging deadlines, limited resources, shifting expectations and fluctuating moods.

To deal with these, you will be drawing from precious resources of good energy and useful emotions. Protect your resources; be vigilant in refilling them so they don’t dry up.  Know what your personal needs are for self-care, and put in place a plan to ensure these needs are met. For more thoughts on defining your self-care practices

Talk to each other about your state of well-being, and check that sufficient attention is being given. It can be easy to overlook self, when serving others. However, as they say on planes: Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before helping others.

There you have it – five things to think about and take useful action.  Remember that you can be fully human, while also being a professional. Organisations and projects are better served when Project Managers and Change Managers are both human and professional in their approaches.





Helen Palmer is Founder and Principal Change Agent at Questo . Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.



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About Helen Palmer

Helen Palmer is Founder and Principal Change Agent at Questo (https// Like Winnie the Pooh, she 'sits and thinks' … and imagines how people can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.