It starts with trust


Advances in Project Management

People, perspectives and relationships as the building blocks for sustainable success

By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire




Trust plays a crucial part in many facets of life including politics, business, sport, friendship, love, marriage and indeed, human relationships. Trust appears to be a critical precondition for success in most collective human endeavours involving more than one individual. Trust can typically appear as a social construct or a psychological belief and may often touch on ethical, personal or organisational values.

The Oxford Dictionary defines trust as ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something’. The word trust does not appear in the index of the main bodies of knowledge, and only receives a passing mention in the 5th edition of the PMI Guide to the Body of Knowledge as a key part of the interpersonal skills of effective project managers. Yet, many aspects of project practice including teamwork, power, delegation, influencing, reporting, stakeholder engagement and even leadership, intimately rely on the establishment and continued preservation of trust between individuals, team members, parties and organisations.

Assessing the crucial role of the concept, American educator, writer and public speaker Stephen R. Covey observed that ‘trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships together.’ (Covey, 1995, p. 203).

The five paradoxes of trust

The issue of trust evokes deeply held practical as well as philosophical contradictions and paradoxes. Revolutionary Russian Communist, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin opined that ‘trust is good, but control is better’. Former US President, Ronald Reagan, who held a rather different perspective on world affairs, subsequently borrowed an often-used Russian proverb that translates as ‘trust, but verify’ and used it as the basis for international relations and negotiations with the Russians. International relations often uncover perplexing dependencies and relationships as partners and competitors share, reflect, respond and copy strategies. Nonetheless, the issue of trust and our interaction with the concept continues to offer confounding enigmas and quandaries which will be explored through the lens of the five (plus one) paradoxes of trust.

Paradox 1: Knowing and trusting: When does trust begin?

In order to trust someone, you need to know them: However, You cannot know someone without trusting them first

The implication of this paradox is that trust requires a leap of faith that obliges one side to give the benefit of the doubt to a relatively unknown and ‘unproven’ person. While partial mitigation can take views and assessments from other interested parties, such as relying on the word of family members, friends, colleagues, or former partners, there is still a certain degree of embracing uncertainty through opening up a potential vulnerability to an unknown person or entity.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family. Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM. Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ.



About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK


Darren Dalcher
, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SFHEA is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK. He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 150 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Software Process Improvement and Practice, an international journal focusing on capability, maturity, growth and improvement. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Gower Publishing of a new companion series Fundamentals of Project Management. Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.