The Role of Trust in Projects



By Bob Prieto

Chairman & CEO
Strategic Program Management LLC

Jupiter, Florida

Trust is the currency of relationships and by extension the management of people. It is slowly earned; accrues interest over time, growing in value; but is quickly lost. In most relationships trust building occurs over extended periods but also may be quickly built in the face of crisis or threat. We see this accelerated trust building after disasters and in combat.

Trust is an essential characteristic of leadership, and it is questionable whether true leadership is even possible without it.

Trust is the “currency” to purchase deep emotional buy-in and commitment to achieve a project’s vision and strategic business outcomes.

But many projects have neither the luxury of time associated with the building of relational trust nor the existential threats which have been seen to accelerate trust building. This challenges us to create different mechanisms to quickly build trust in the management of projects. This paper looks at some of the challenges to quickly build trust in the delivery of a project as well as some of the unanswered challenges in building trust.

In this paper we will consider trust in several contexts:

  • Trust in those who manage us (up)
  • Trust of those we manage (down)
  • Trust of our peers (sideways)
  • Trust of stakeholders essential to project success (inside out)

What is trust?

Trust is a willingness to accept that the trusted party will act in a consistent and predictable way valuing both us, as an individual, and our trusting relationship. Trust is reliance on or confidence in the dependability of another. Trust is characterized by:

  • Shard values, or noble purpose
  • Honesty, including being vulnerable
  • Transparency, clearly showing and demonstrating our intentions
  • Committed, delivering on your word
  • Empathy, built on listening
  • Availability, being there; presence; intimacy of relationship but in a non-creepy way
  • Humility (the greater the ego the lower the trustworthiness)
  • Authenticity, supporting intentions with consistent and valued behaviors
  • Appreciative
  • Consistency

Challenges of building trust in a project setting

Projects face several challenges to establish meaningful and enduring trust that differ from those faced in other contexts. Among these challenges are:

  • The nature of projects as temporary endeavors. Successful projects are characterized by high levels of trust in many dimensions. The trust earned in these project settings may be transferrable to other projects or even back into the parent organization. It is not uncommon to see outstanding project leaders quickly attract those they have previously worked with to a new challenge.
  • The rapidity of project startup. New players are constantly being introduced into the project team and each must be aligned and assimilated without diminishing broader organizational trust. The degree of this challenge is often underestimated on large, complex projects and generally on fast-track ones. The one-year team may be many times larger than the day 30 team with increases both in span of control as well as organizational layers.


To read entire paper, click here

How to cite this article: Prieto, R. (2022). The Role of Trust in Projects. PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue I, January. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/pmwj113-Jan2022-Prieto-Role-of-trust-in-projects.pdf

About the Author

Bob Prieto

Chairman & CEO
Strategic Program Management, LLC
Jupiter, Florida, USA


Bob Prieto is a senior executive effective in shaping and executing business strategy and a recognized leader within the infrastructure, engineering and construction industries. Currently Bob heads his own management consulting practice, Strategic Program Management LLC. He previously served as a senior vice president of Fluor, one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world. He focuses on the development and delivery of large, complex projects worldwide and consults with owners across all market sectors in the development of programmatic delivery strategies. He is author of nine books including “Strategic Program Management”, “The Giga Factor: Program Management in the Engineering and Construction Industry”, “Application of Life Cycle Analysis in the Capital Assets Industry”, “Capital Efficiency: Pull All the Levers” and, most recently, “Theory of Management of Large Complex Projects” published by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) as well as over 800 other papers and presentations.

Bob is an Independent Member of the Shareholder Committee of Mott MacDonald and a member of the board of Dar al Riyadh. He is a member of the ASCE Industry Leaders Council, National Academy of Construction, a Fellow of the Construction Management Association of America and member of several university departmental and campus advisory boards. Bob served until 2006 as a U.S. presidential appointee to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC), working with U.S. and Asia-Pacific business leaders to shape the framework for trade and economic growth. He is a member of the Millennium Challenge Corporation advisory board where he had previously served. He had previously served as both as Chairman of the Engineering and Construction Governors of the World Economic Forum and co-chair of the infrastructure task force formed after September 11th by the New York City Chamber of Commerce. Previously, he served as Chairman at Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) and a non-executive director of Cardno (ASX)

Bob serves as an honorary global advisor for the PM World Journal and Library and can be contacted at rpstrategic@comcast.net

To view other works by Bob Prieto, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/bob-prieto/