40 Ways to Build Trust on Your Project Team

40 Ways to Build Trust on Your Project Team

Trust. It’s one of the fundamental ingredients of any successful relationship. Without trust, a project team can find itself spending all their time battling one another rather than getting work done. As a project manager, the culture on your team is your responsibility. As you may remember from the serpent Kaa from the Jungle Book, trust isn’t something you can create with words. Kaa asks Mowgli to trust him, all the while planning to eat him. There’s always personal risk in trust, and your people generally won’t just hand it over to you because you ask it of them. In fact, while you’re reading the rest of this blog post, why not listen to Selena Gomez‘ rendition of Kaa’s creepy, ironic song “Trust In Me“. See how it compares with the behaviours listed below, and judge for yourself whether your message would lead your people to success, or lure them to a slow demise.

Selena Gomez sings Trust in Me
courtesy of The Gomez Support Site

40 Ways to Lead With Trust

1. Be yourself.

2. Ask your people what they want from the project.

3. Align your people’s work to their functional managers’ goals for them.

4. Set expectations for your people at the beginning of the project.

5. Be consistent.

6. Meet individual team members for coffee or drinks.

7. Communicate “extra” rather than assuming someone already knows something.

8. Be honest.

9. Share some of your personal life.

10. Eliminate jargon from your vocabulary, and be crystal clear.

11. Listen.

12. Remember what you told people.

13. Make good on your promises. All of them. Non-negotiable.

14. Plan your meetings ahead of time. Make agendas.

15. Be open.

16. Send review documents out well in advance of a review meeting.

17. Set minimum ground rules for communication. Build a communications plan.

18. Be firm.

19. Know your plans intimately. Then throw them out the window.

20. Establish boundaries, and stick to them.

21. Be decisive.

22. Learn to read each of your people and know what motivates them.

23. Read books on organizational behaviour and file them away in your mind.

24. Push back where appropriate.

25. Do periodic, reasonable favours for others.

26. Call favours in when you need them.

27. Be resilient.

28. Get your hands dirty where you can.

29. Shield your people from unnecessary demands.

30. Maintain constant, strict control of large meetings.

31. Minimize large meetings.

32. Celebrate every success, even the small ones.

33. Encourage and reward initiative.

34. Know your personal weaknesses and mitigate them at the beginning of the project.

35. Be compassionate.

36. Stay informed on what’s happening outside your area of responsibility.

37. Develop a third eye that watches out for risks.

38. Use diplomacy where necessary, without losing your message.

39. Be direct.

40. Let your team see what you do on their behalf.

Incidentally, in addition to creating the character Kaa the Indian python, Rudyard Kipling also had something to say on the subject of leadership and trust (I’m taking a few liberties here, with Kipling’s poem, If):

Disney animation cel -- The Jungle Book "...
Image by boinger@gmail.com via Flickr

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”

Kicking the Can:

Well, I’ve offered up 40 things you can do to help build trust on your project team. Is there anything I missed that you’d like to add to the list? Or something I should take off?

What are your feelings on building a culture of trust? Chime in below, and don’t forget that sharing is sexy!

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
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  • Stephan

    I think it all comes down to integrity, to walk the talk.
    But it's a nice list either way; I'm thinking of picking one every day to keep it mind and 'track' you're own behaviour (Franklin-style like). Pity there are no 40 days in a month 😉
    32 is important, but not only for celebrating ;-): realising some early successes builds trust ( team-trust but also leadership-trust) for when the going gets tougher later during the project.
    A difficult one is number 40: how do you tell your team you stood firm defending their planning in a steerco meeting, without bragging.

  • readytofeedback


    I passionately believe that “Trust” is magical! Establishing, building and maintaining trust helps your team get the job done with passion. It helps make work pleasurable and worthwhile. It opens the lines of communication. It decreases turnover and increases morale! It creates deep lasting connections. And the dedication and hard work required to make trust work is not only worth it but critical to every project’s success!

    Your list offers great tips! Being aware of (and wanting to know) what is going on around you will help project managers gain trust. Being curious and genuine along this path will bring you project success. And when things don't go as planned, the trust you worked so hard to build will be your best friend.

    Building a culture of trust is critical.


  • Great list! Great post!
    It is all about being real with integrity and kindness as the base.

  • Thank you very much, Stephan! Yes, walking the talk is ultimately what it comes down to. But you'd be surprised how many people that's difficult for. I know I continue to be…and it's not out of malice; people just sometimes have a really hard time looking beyond their immediate concerns.

    #40 is a favourite of mine because I've seen the value of ensuring your people “see” what you do on their behalf. Of course, they won't be present for steering committee meetings, but they will see you shield them from unnecessary annoyances, and protect them from the stress that's always flying around in project environments. They may not bring you flowers, but they'll generally show you gratitude by pulling a little extra when you really need it.

  • Trust IS magical, Sonia! I fully believe that too. There's just so many short and long term benefits inherent in a trusting community it's hard to understand why everybody doesn't just make the investment necessary to foster one.

    Thanks so much for the comment! 🙂

  • Thanks so much for commenting, Diana, and thanks for your kind words! 🙂

  • ninabraschler

    Hi Geoff
    Thanks for these great list. Really cool. I like also the comment of Sonia, that trust is magical. In my opinion it is really a hard work to build trust in anycase, not only in your project team, but also in a client relationship. As trust will be a good friend in hard times in your team, it is another thing in a client relationship. Unfortunately customers are going to lose trust very quickly, once you did some mistakes. And rebuilding trust is very, very, very hard work again, sometimes this is even impossible.

    So I take your list to heart, lets building trust and never lose it anymore!

  • Heya Nina! Thanks so much for your ongoing support! I love your comments here! 🙂

    Yes, I'm a big fan of Sonia, and you should totally check out her blog if you haven't already. She has a great message to share.

    You're absolutely right that trust is your friend in hard times. That's exactly when you need other people's help and if there's no trust, you'll find yourself abandoned to your own fate.

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  • Kristin


    I wanted to congratulate you on the selection of this post for the Carnival of Trust, hosted this month by Julian Summerhayes.

    The Carnival is a monthly showcase of the top blog posts dealing with the subject of trust in business, politics or society. We think you bring up some great points here and are thrilled to have you included in the Carnival.

    Congratulations again. The Carnival can be viewed in its entirety at: http://www.juliansummerhayes.com/?p=173

    Kristin Abele

  • I'm certainly thrilled, Kristen, thank you so much!

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