Skip to content

Project management is never easy. Learn how veteran project manager Carol Ornstein uses her expertise at building relationships to get the best results for her clients and partners.

People. Everything ties back to people, whether at work or at play. We can be the smartest person in the room. We can have multiple degrees and other accolades, but if we cannot effectively listen, communicate, and partner well with others, success will not be achieved.

More rewarding to me than success, is the true satisfaction I get from connecting well with others and creating something great or resolving a major issue together.

My career as a program and project manager started 20 years ago on Wall Street, when the good old boys network was in full swing. Walking into the “cage” (the former name for the back-office operations area at a large financial institution) on a daily basis to work with people who looked like they were right out of The Soprano’s, we could not have been more different. I was a young woman with minimal experience, stepping up in an overpoweringly male-dominated environment.

Each day I felt like I was winging it, trying to stay two steps ahead of it all. Yet I was intelligent, scrappy, and intuitive. I learned what it was that my clients needed from me in order to help make them successful: good project management, daily key metrics, and strong organizational structures and processes. In order to successfully deliver, establishing solid relationships with my team and other stakeholders was essential. Throughout my time on this initiative, I consistently communicated with the team, listened to their input, and adjusted where applicable. I built great relationships rooted in open communication and respect.  At the end of the initiative, we successfully converted 32 home-grown applications to a brand-new financial platform. I made organization out of chaos.

Fast-forward to today, where my core values and work ethic are very similar to those early days on Wall Street. I love working in program and project management because I am able to interface with a wide variety of people – business leaders, managers, and technical and business experts. I learn from them all; we learn from each other. Professionally, the steps to successfully managing a project are mostly repeatable, with variations in the company’s culture and methodology. The fun and exciting challenge is the people aspect: learning how these individuals think and adapting to them, vs. waiting for them to adapt to me.

There are five core tenets I incorporate when building relationships on programs or projects:

  1. Listen!
  2. Communicate
  3. Connect
  4. Adapt
  5. Respect

Listen! I cannot emphasize this enough. Dale Carnegie said, “Talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours.” In order to build strong relationships with people, it is imperative to get to know them. I make it a point to get to know my partners and to be genuinely interested in what they have to say. This helps me to understand how to work with them more effectively.

Communicate. This is my favorite aspect of working with others. There are so many ways to effectively communicate, and I am passionate about getting creative to find ways that work best in specific situations. Some people do well when they communicate via phone, while others are phone-adverse and much prefer email or IM. I adjust to what works best for each partner, but always document important details in writing, for audit purposes.

Connect. I make it my mission to connect with each partner I work with, no matter how difficult the challenge. Some people are very shy and would prefer to be in their own silo, work quietly without interruption. Then there are others on the opposite end of the spectrum, who want to stand out in the crowd, as it gives them a feeling of importance. I take the time up-front with each partner, incorporating the first two core tenets: 1. Listen, and 2. Communicate. Once I do that, I can move on to 3. Connect.

I always try to adapt to each partner’s style. When managing a group of partners, I determine how to integrate their personalities to be effective for our goals. This is often achieved by anchoring my partners to our agreed-upon goals and objectives. At the start of each project I manage, I ask my partners to please print out our goals and objectives and hang them on the wall, so they can easily refer to them.

Adapt. This ties to two core tenets: 2. Communicate and 3. Connect. Once I learn how to effectively communicate and connect with my partners, I can then adapt to their style. Flexibility is also important when organizing meetings with partners’ hectic schedules. I also make myself available during their work hours, even if it’s early or late in my day.

Respect. Albert Einstein said, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” Everyone has a story. It is far too easy to judge people, and dismiss them as arrogant or difficult. We don’t know their background. I try to see people in their highest light and have compassion for any hardships they may have endured. I believe people want to be their best, and that is how I partner with them. In each interaction, I focus on their good qualities instead of their negative ones. Over time, the good ones shine more brightly, benefitting my partners, our relationship and the success of the project.

The projects I manage are only as successful as the relationships I cultivate with my partners. People. Everything ties back to people.

Thank you to our contributor Carol Ornstein, GSG Consultant and founder of Pragmatic-PMO

Pragmatic-PMO was started by Carol Ornstein, who has 20 years of experience working in and leading PMOs in the SF Bay Area, as well as on Wall Street in NYC. Carol’s industry background is financial, health care, insurance, government, utilities, retail and high-tech.

Carol enjoys focusing on the people aspect, working closely with her stakeholders to solve business problems. Organization is Carol’s key strength; she can clearly see the “big picture” and then modularly orchestrate components to be properly aligned.

Granite Solutions Groupe has been working with project management superstars like Carol Ornstein since 1998. We place highly skilled consultants with financial services industry expertise at leading financial services companies to complete projects in areas ranging from blockchain to data analytics to product development. Our clients love us because of our proven ability to find the right people quickly. With us, you get things done. To find out more about how we can help your successfully team complete its next project, reach out to