Why Project Management is the Secret to Internal Communications

May 22, 2023

Internal communicators are incredibly skilled professionals who can connect with employees in profound ways. We typically have extremely high emotional intelligence, can understand the nuance of any situation, and take some of the most complicated topics and distill them down to their essence.

Phew! It’s a lot of work.   

With great pride in my chosen profession and deep respect for my peers, certain aspects of the job create challenges. Balancing the need (and want) for information for an entire organization is complicated when we inevitably have limited time and budget. Managing multiple stakeholders with conflicting timelines gets intense. Maintaining a comms calendar that’s outdated 30 seconds after you update it is zero percent fun. These are just a few reasons why it’s my long-held belief that successful communicators need project managers in their lives.  

Recently, I had the opportunity to join creative agency expert Jenny Plant on her podcast along with my favorite human and peer, Lindsay McCleary, PMP, to discuss all the ways account managers and project managers benefit from the other’s presence and perspective. And while the conversation may feel niche – limited to those of us who work in an agency – the roles we juggle as in-house or agency internal communicators aren’t very different.  

At Brilliant Ink, our team of strategists own two roles: We are internal communications consultants who offer strategic guidance, generate content and collaborate on creative assets, plus we serve as account managers, ensuring our clients are happy and supported. In practice, this dual role is very similar to what our in-house counterparts do when they manage all the same communications work and add in stakeholder management, internal politics and team dynamics.   

If you are an internal communicator in-house or at an agency, finding a project management partner is essential. Here are just three reasons why:   

1. Communications Planning Is Hard  

It’s not a groundbreaking point that communications planning can be difficult. What makes planning especially hard for internal communicators is that we often find ourselves looped into a project too late, and we click into reactive mode.

However, it’s a false dichotomy to think the only choices are a static, arduous plan or nothing at all. Part of the reason for this is we’re trying to do it ourselves instead of tapping a true project management expert.  

When you get expert project management support, you realize how much easier your life can be thanks to automated workflows and dynamic project plans. Even better, a dedicated project manager can take ownership of the plan maintenance, removing the administrative burden from you. Sure, you might have to make exceptions or speed up a process here and there, but having a plan in place ensures those exceptions don’t become the rule.   

Get insights from the internal comms salary report.

2. Resource Management Is Tricky  

Managing yourself, your manager, your team and your stakeholders is a lot. And when you find yourself also overseeing or collaborating with designers, content contributors, functional leaders, AV teams, facilities, IT and more on multiple initiatives all running in parallel, it can become unmanageable.  

A strong project manager can keep all the people on time, on track and on budget, which is no small feat. By off-loading task tracking, you, as the communicator, have the gift of headspace.

That headspace allows you to operate at a higher strategic level and proactively shift your comms plan as new information is available or conditions change. You could even dedicate time to big-picture strategies, back-burner projects and making progress on the goals you set for yourself and your team.

Time to think? What a dream.  

3. Boundaries Don’t Always Come Naturally  

If you are a communicator with a healthy ability to set and hold boundaries at work, congratulations. For the rest of us, we need help identifying risks and asking the right questions.

Project managers serve an important role in setting and reinforcing expectations, so we don’t find ourselves doing work we never agreed to. And when our partners or clients need extra support, our project managers can help us align on a new set of realistic expectations that incorporate other competing priorities and interdependencies. 

Learn how to do an internal comms channel audit in four steps.

Okay, Okay, Project Managers Are the Best 

As author and researcher Tom Rath said, “If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.”

In your internal communications career, task management may have been a necessary skill early on and you may have done it well enough, but as you move up and take on more responsibility, knowing when to pull in a project management pro that can take the burden off your shoulders (and do a better job!) means you can focus your time and efforts on the work that aligns with your strengths.  

If you want to hear the full conversation between Jenny, Lindsay and me, check it out on her website or wherever you stream your podcasts. (I’d also recommend Jenny’s many episodes on AI and what the future holds for creative work!) And if you could use project management support within the internal communications space, don’t hesitate to reach out.  

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Sara Forner Howland

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