This post is part of Project Management 201, a 5-week blog series where we share useful and insightful posts to get you started in the world of project management. Check out the full course at A Guide to Project Management by Brett Harned.

Do you feel caught in a tug-of-war between managing your project and managing your client relationships?

Many project managers struggle with knowing when they need to step in and when to keep to the sidelines.

If you check in too often, you become a nuisance to both your team and your clients. If you check in infrequently, you may be seen as disinterested and irresponsible.

You want a balance where you can support your project team and keep your clients happy. You want to position yourself as the project manager who steps in to help while giving everyone their time and space to do their work.

Clients are actually very busy people.

Clients are especially sensitive to when and how you approach and communicate with them.

Being a client is a very busy job with so many people and obligations vying for attention. It’s why project managers consider it a near blessing when their clients give a bit of time and attention to discuss project information.

If you want to build thriving relationships with your clients, you have to set up good communication lines as early as the start of the project. Moreover, you need to season the relationship in a way that your clients will feel comfortable (excited even) when it’s time to sit down for a project meeting.

How to make your clients happy.

Building good client relationships means more than simply wooing with flowers and chocolates. It requires authenticity, transparency, and courage when there’s a need for it.

Here are three unique ways to make your clients happy while setting the stage for your project team to work at their best performance.

And if you feel unsure or uncomfortable just thinking about it, trust when I say that these tips have more to do with your approach and attitude towards clients as individuals than as professionals you have to answer to.

Tip #1: Be personal. Be yourself.

The client-PM relationship isn’t just a professional transaction. It’s a long-term relationship based on trust and respect, and sometimes all it takes to establish this is to be yourself.

You can start your conversations by asking light personal questions, such as:

  • How are you? How was your business trip to Bali?
  • Do you play sports? What are your hobbies?
  • What’s your favorite restaurant? We can have our next project meeting there!

You can share your own stories and experiences, so your client sees a glimpse of the you behind your role as project manager.

Tip #2: Listen to your client.

It’s so easy to get through a project meeting in routine: you meet at the office, start the discussion, take notes, document, and share a .docx file of what’s been discussed.

While this is efficient, it causes you to miss insight that may be valuable to the project.

To capture all of that important information, you need to be a better listener.

Being an active and mindful listener forces you to focus intently on what your client is saying. You understand him or her deeply and are fully engaged with the project at hand. As such, you are much more capable of doing your best work.

Tip #3: Be an educator.

Bad client decisions are often caused by a lack of understanding of what has been done and of the major deliverables.

Instead of just presenting the deliverables to the client, educate them about the process that went into creating them and how it fits within the project scope. Explain what each member of the project team did for each task so they would understand the timelines and dependencies necessary for the project.

Aim to build thriving client relationships.

When communication, transparency, and trust are established early on, your client relationships will always start and continue on a positive note.

This level of openness makes it easier for you to manage and support your team while keeping your clients happy and informed.

Want to know the secrets to a happy and open client relationship? Check out Chapter 6: Managing Projects, Helping Clients of A Guide to Project Management by Brett Harned.

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