PMI-Montréal project management blog

Letter to a young project manager: fifth letter

Author : François Cartier

To be credible, one must make visible the correspondence to the expected criteria. - René Desharnais

This fifth letter, which follows the fourth, written in 2014, is the answer to a reader’s query: how does a young project manager gain his colleagues’ trust in the work environment?  

The young project manager, in this current article, is referred to affectionately as “the kid”. The kid, as opposed to the silver haired experts with 20 years in the field, must sometimes face a lack of credibility when beginning his job, or during the journey. No, dying his hair grey will not help matters…


In a statistical study involving several thousand managers, colleagues’ perceptions about a young project manager were illustrated as such:  

  • Not entirely confident in the kid’s abilities: their judgement is questioned more often, furthermore, older colleagues don’t always appreciate being subordinate to someone younger;
  • The kid’s lack of experience incites the others to question his technical and professional expertise;
  • The kid does not keep his promises: often because he does not control his political environment;
  • The kid is insensitive to the needs of others: he is too goal-oriented and doesn’t practice active listening with regards to the needs of others;
  • The kid cannot represent our organisation: he will not be able to answer the tough questions;
  • The kid lacks strategy: he thinks and acts in a short-term capacity instead of long-term.

The study does not specifically concern project management. However, we can extrapolate and use this sample of preconception as reference. Think back, you must have witnessed similar situations.

As we can see, for the kid, the challenge in front of him is a great one.

What is credibility?

In the book « Tout est une question de crédibilité », the author defines credibility as follows: the perception that others have of you, a perception which is based on a series of subjective criteria.

The 3 main credibility factors are:

  1. Professional competence
  2. Relational expertise
  3. Prior professional experience

Several secondary factors complete the picture:  

  1. The credibility of the position occupied;
  2. The qualifications;
  3. The credibility of the organisation.

What is important to remember is that each person that surrounds you has their own personal criteria for judging your credibility. The criteria therefore, varies from one person to the next.

  • Professional: professional competence is often associated with basic training. Are you an engineer in a construction project? An accountant in a financial service project? A lawyer in a regulatory project? If so, success is guaranteed!
  • Relational: According to  PMBOK, annex X3, the interpersonal competencies of a project manager are: leadership, team spirit development, motivation, communication, influence, decision taking, cultural and political sensitivity, negotiation, instituting a climate of trust , conflict management, accompaniment  (coaching)
  • Prior experience: It is difficult for the kid with little experience to come off well in this aspect. You might also be considered too inexperienced in the general business field.
  • Position: Your title and the size of your project can have an influence.
  • Qualifications: For some, a PMP certification will make you credible, for others, this has no impact, what counts to them is that you have managed a project of de 10 million dollars or more.
  • Organisation: In certain situations, the consultants benefit from a credibility capital; in other cases, it is the opposite: they might not know our organisation.

How to gain trust at the start of a mandate?

Tip no 11:

 At the start of the kid’s arrival in his new position, he must quickly assimilate the conventions and organisational culture that have been put in place, which is valorized.   Going against established conventions will hurt his credibility. In your field, what are the behaviors valued by management?  For example: dress code, rules of self-expression…

In the book “90 jours pour débuter dans un poste de gestionnaire”, it is suggested to plan structured steps in discovering the organisational culture; a learning agenda. The most efficient way is certainly to discuss with colleagues in order to clearly identify the political aspects of the organisation.


Tip no 12:


Plan: Re-read the list of preconceptions at the top of this article, identify targets of improvement for yourself and the key people in your circle.

Do: Make the correspondence visible to the expected criteria in your practices. For instance: Always lead by example. (Walk the talk).

Check: Identify any discrepancies between your behavior and the criteria. An outside source can be of help; a coach or a mentor (See tip no 4).

Act: Modify your behavior according to the discrepancies. And we go back to the original Plan.


Tip no 13:


Identify the small victories (small wins), that could pay off. Those which are important in your boss’s view, to your team. Identify two or three small victories for your first 90 days.


According to Michael Watkins, “Early wins build your credibility.”


According to Teresa Amabile, the small victories are essential. They constitute the emotional fuel of your team.




In conclusion, if you have a comment or suggestion for an article topic, send your suggestions to



  • Plan Do Check Act, «is also known as a system for developing critical thinking», Deming.