Working with Competing Priorities


The reality of most projects is that most team members must divide their time between a number tasks that compete for time, attention, and effort.  We all have a limited amount of time in which to make progress on tasks, and rarely do we find ourselves committed solely to one project.  This is also true for those individuals who are part of the project team.  Managing the competing priorities of project team members can be a daunting challenge.  Failure to do so, however, may quickly sideline an otherwise accurate project schedule.


There are several ways in which a project manager may ‘encourage’ workers to focus on their tasks when worker’s must make time management decisions.

1.  Use Small Steps

Ideally, a deliverable date could be set during the project planning phase and then no follow-up would be necessary prior to the due date.  That is frequently unrealistic.  Project managers must be willing to separate deliverables into even smaller tasks and then communicate more frequently with workers to ensure those tasks are completed.  In some cases, it will be less daunting for a project team member to donate 5 or 10 minutes to a tasks over a series of days than a full hour all at once.  This technique requires extra time and management on the part of the Project Manager, but that may be what is necessary to keep to a schedule.

“Action Expresses Priorities” – Mahatma Gandhi”

2.  Go Up the Chain

When you are in a position to require a specific person’s help and that person does not report to you, it may be necessary to communicate with another manger or director.  In order to facilitate this technique, project managers should be in communication with the direct supervisors of any employees who are on the project team or expected to provide work on the project.  These individuals should be included as stakeholders and part of a communications management plan.  Remember to pass along good information to managers as well, and do not only communicate when problems arise.

3.  Be a Leader

Whenever you are in a position to require help, it makes sense to earn the respect of those with whom you will be working.  Authoritative actions should be the last resort when working with project team members.  The project manager must be prepared to offer assistance as needed and to communicate openly with team members.  Providing feedback when work is completely well will help earn respect.

Competing priorities are an unfortunate truth of life, but they do not have to ruin a project’s potential success.  Project managers should anticipate the need to be flexible and take action whenever the project schedule appears threatened.



About davidbernst

Hello! My name is David Ernst and you've reached my blog. I've spent my professional career as a teacher, customer service supervisor, and pediatric office manager.
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