5 Negotiation Skills Project Managers Need to Master


Share this Article:

Our content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click links to our partners. Learn more in our Editorial & Advertising Policy.

Project Managers wear many hats – they must simultaneously act as leaders, mediators, delegators, cheerleaders, and negotiators. They often have to assemble teams comprised of colleagues who are juggling other responsibilities and work with an extremely limited budget and resource allocations. By honing their negotiation skills, a project manager can set the foundation for a successful project.

1. Fully Scope All Negotiation Touchpoints Before the Project Begins

Negotiation is not merely the first step of a new project; a project manager’s job will require that they continue negotiating throughout the entire process. Furthermore, negotiations do not solely occur between a project manager and an external party, like a vendor or client; they frequently occur within a project team or involve other project stakeholders. For example, a project manager needs to secure resources from their own company in order to complete their task. This is a type of negotiation that involves demonstrating value for the firm while also giving the project the resources it needs to succeed. Before starting negotiations, project managers should make a list of all stakeholders of their project – clients, vendors, management, team members – and map out the aspects of the relationship and time commitments that will need to be negotiated to develop a holistic strategy.

2. Be The First To Anchor Expectations

Many experienced negotiators use a method called “anchoring ” to ensure that they maximize the results of their negotiation. Anchoring is a negotiation tactic whereby a negotiator names their desired terms early on in the conversation. Cognitively, this creates a foundation upon which all other parties base their terms. While the other parties may have had extremely different terms in mind, they will gravitate towards the originally proposed terms. This method can be extremely useful for a project manager requesting a budget from their firm, or leveling time commitments from team members.

3. Expand The Pie Rather Than Fighting For Slices

Negotiation is commonly associated with fighting over scarce resources. This is known as distributive negotiation, and all too often results in a clear winner and bruised loser. However, interests are not always competitive by nature, and can actually be complementary. A savvy project manager can find ways to make sure each party leaves the table feeling like they have gained something with a negotiation approach called integrative, or, win-win negotiation. In order to achieve an integrative negotiation approach, all of the parties involved in the negotiation should openly and honestly establish their interests, use fair principles and reason, and look for win-win solutions. Not only does this create more overall value, it also establishes a good working relationship for the project in question and future endeavors. So spend time upfront asking your team, stakeholders and vendors for their top three goals, and ensure you share yours too.

4. Exercise Optionality

Contrary to old-school zero-sum business wisdom, you don’t always need to hold your cards close to your chest to achieve a successfully negotiated outcome. As mentioned in the previous tip, openness about your intentions and interests can yield better results for all parties. One way to clearly establishing your interests is to make multiple offers at the same time. While making a single, firm offer can waste time if the terms do not interest the other party, making multiple offers can give you information about which aspects of your offers are more enticing than others. Another way to build optionality into your negotiation is to add contingency clauses. If negotiations are being held up because parties cannot agree on the probability of future events, project managers can simply establish clauses that are triggered by possible outcomes so that all parties are comfortable and satisfied with the variability.

5. Leverage All Facets of Communication

You may have heard the staggering communication research that asserts that when there’s doubt, your words only constitute 7% of how your message will be received. So what do your listeners believe when they’re don’t trust or know you? They believe your non-verbal signals. 38% of your message is communicated through tone and a whopping 55% through body language. This means that throughout a presentation, project managers must be hyper-aware of how body language is reflecting intention. Myriad negotiation workshops and communication trainings have been developed around the notion that body language plays a critical role in a business negotiation’s success.

Final Words

Being a project manager requires a practiced hand at negotiating to bring multiple parties together for one goal. If you are a project manager who frequently works with project stakeholders, consider advanced negotiation training to increase your effectiveness and set your project up for success.

Sign up for our emails and be the first to see helpful how-tos, insider tips & tricks, and a collection of templates & tools. Subscribe Now

Featured Partners

Subscribe to Project Management Insider for best practices, reviews and resources.

Lilou Hoffman Avatar

Get the Newsletter

Subscribe to Project Management Insider for best practices, reviews and resources.