<< Back

Saying Thank You as a Project Manager - Guest Post by Sinikka Waugh



Editor's Note:  This is a guest post by Sinikka Waugh from Your Clear Next Step.

Countless studies point to the value of gratitude – when we are grateful, we're less self-absorbed, more inspired, more able to focus on the positive, and more able to make sound decisions in the best interest of the greater good or the situation at hand.

And many of us as project managers are indeed grateful for much.  We're grateful for fun experiences and great opportunities; we're grateful for the people in our lives and projects who empower us and support us and help us deliver; we're even grateful for the tougher experiences and the trickier-to-navigate personalities and those moments that stretch us and help us grow.

But how often do we take a moment to say thanks to those around us?  And how do we make it not feel forced or awkward?

Many of us are wired to do our work without a lot of gushy accolades.  Many of us are organizationally trained to equate thanks with monetary rewards of some sort, and as PM's the budget for those kinds of things isn't always something we can control. This saying "thank you" thing is easy enough when someone holds a door, or pays us a compliment, for example, but how do we thank people for being part of our project success?

Let me offer a couple of specific, tangible ways to express gratitude from the role of Project Manager.

One step I strongly recommend is to figure out what they value.  Dr. Paul White's work on the languages of appreciation at work indicates that there are about five different key ways people like to receive expressions of appreciation.  Dr. White's research indicates that a significant portion of us genuinely like it when others say thank you using words that point to what they specifically appreciate about us, but there are other ways people like to hear us say "thank you," too.  I invite you to spend some time figuring out what other people value – they may like it when you help them out in some way; they may appreciate spending a little quality time with you; they may enjoy receiving a specific gift that's meaningful to them; or they may appreciate a high-five from time to time.

Between now and then, knowing that specific, timely words of affirmation are a great starting point for expressing appreciation, here are some specific scripts I can offer to get you going.

1. PM to Sponsor: "I wanted to take just a second and say thanks for continuing to be present in this project.  When you're in the room with the team, I can see them respond well to your input and feedback; and even when you're not there, it's great to know that you're so engaged and accessible and committed to this project.  Just the other day, we had a situation where…[finish the story as appropriate to recognize a moment when that sponsor's level of engagement helped the team reach a good decision quickly]"

2. PM to Project Team Member:"I wanted to take a moment to thank you specifically for the way you handled that situation the other day… [fill in the blank here to cite a specific situation where that person's efforts, decisions, quick-thinking, late-afternoon/last-minute push, courage, flexibility, self-management, etc. made a specific difference in the project outcomes].  Because you… [fill in the blank], we were able to… [finish the story with how their speaking up, raising a risk, asking a question, doing what needs to be done allowed you to achieve a goal, prevent a future pain, etc.].

3. PM to Business Resource / Subject Matter Export / Stakeholder who is not necessarily an active part of the team: "I wanted to take a second to thank you for participating in that user acceptance testing workshop last week.  I know you're busy, and you've got a lot on your plate.  The fact that you made time for this project allowed us to work through another 50 test cases, find and fix 18 bugs, and helped us produce even better outcomes for the organization.  Thank you! [Or replace this story with one equally specific and meaningful that expresses appreciation for the time they committed.]

4. PM to Resource Manager:"Thanks so much for the opportunity to be part of this particular project.  I've learned a lot about the organization, and it's been great to be able to grow this way.  Specifically, that situation where …. [fill in the blank here with some situation that taught you something specific you can apply in the future about the company, project management effectiveness, the industry, or your own emotional intelligence] taught me… [finish the thought], and I know that will continue to be useful for years to come.  If you hadn't given me the chance to be here, working on this project, I would have missed that great learning!" 

There, that gets you started using words of appreciation – specific, timely, relevant, genuine.

Once you find what else they value, you can end any one of the examples above with something additional, like…

  • I'm headed out for a walk for about 10 minutes to clear my head, would you care to join me and get some fresh air? (if they value quality time)
  • I was at McDonalds for lunch, and I remembered you mentioned you really like their caramel sundaes without nuts - so I grabbed one for you, too, and made sure they kept the nuts off (if they value receiving gifts)
  • I know you have other things that you need to focus on this afternoon, and I'd be happy to help take care of getting that report over to Joe for you if that would be helpful (if they value acts of service)
  • High-five, buddy for a job really well done! (if they value physical connections)

Most of those require very little in the way of extra time, effort, or dollars from you, but they can go a long way to helping others feel appreciated and valued, which, not so coincidentally increases their own gratitude level and engagement level. Admittedly, sometimes it's not easy to express appreciation. We've got an on-demand webinar available from Your Clear Next Step that offers more insights on this, check out "How to Appreciate Your Customers (and Colleagues) When It's Not Easy" for more ideas.

In the meantime, know that specific, timely words that express specifically what you appreciate about that other person or their actions, and why you appreciate them is a really great, nearly-universally-valued approach, so at least start there! Don't use that as an excuse to not learn each person's language and learn to appreciate them in their own language, but do try it as a great first step.


View the archives


We are most in need of a restructuring or update of our website to make it more user friendly for our staff. Currently, no one at our non-profit can gain access to the site to make changes. As well, the appearance and content is out of date. We'd love to be able to use the site to communicate better with our clients and families, as well as the community at large.