How to be the Bearer of Bad News in Project Management

In project management, the bearer of bad news is the person who is responsible for delivering news that is unfavorable or could potentially jeopardize the project. This role is often unpopular, as no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. However, it is an important role, as it ensures that critical information is communicated to the project team in a timely manner.

By communicating news that could potentially impact the project, they help to ensure that the project team is aware of all risks and can take appropriate action to mitigate them.

Project Managers are the Bearer Of Bad News

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but sometimes it’s a necessary part of the job. In project management, there are often times when things don’t go according to plan. And when that happens, it’s the project manager’s responsibility to deliver the news to the team.

However, simply delivering the news is not enough. The project manager also needs to have a plan for how to address the issue and get the project back on track

  • First, make sure you have all the facts. Don’t speculate or make any assumptions. This will only make things worse.
  • Second, choose your words carefully. Be clear and concise. Avoid using phrases like “I’m sorry for..” or “I’m sorry to hear that.” These can come across as insincere or even condescending.
  • Third, be supportive. Offer to help in any way you can. And, be empathetic. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand how they must be feeling.
  • Fourth, be direct. Don’t try to sugarcoat the news or make it sound better than it is. Your team will appreciate your honesty and it will help them to better understand the situation.
Bearer of Bad News
Bearer of Bad News

Delivering bad news in project management 

Whether it’s informing the team that a deadline has been moved up or that budget cuts are going to impact the scope of the project, being the messenger of bad news is never easy.

When you’re managing a project, there will be times when you need to deliver bad news to your team. It could be that a deadline has been pushed back, or that a key component of the project is not going to work out.

Whatever the case may be, it’s important to deliver this news in a way that doesn’t disrupt the project or cause your team to lose faith in your leadership.

There are a few ways to go about this. In a nutshell, first, you need to make sure that you’re calm and collected when you deliver the news. This will help your team to stay calm as well. Second, you need to be clear and concise in your communication.

Give your team the details they need to know, but don’t overload them with information. And finally, you need to have a plan for how to move forward.

Examples of bad news during a project

Project management is often about bearing bad news. It is the project manager’s job to be the bearer of bad news about cost overruns, schedule delays, and other problems to the project sponsor or executive team.

This can be a difficult task, as it is often the project manager who is blamed for these problems.

However, it is important to remember that the project manager is not responsible for the problems themselves.
The project manager is simply the messenger, and it is up to the project sponsor or executive team to make the decisions that will fix the problems. 

Here are some of the most common causes that generate bad news for your team and your stakeholder during a project

  • It may be that the project is behind schedule or over budget.
  • It could be that a key team member has left the project or that a critical milestone has been missed.
  • You may need to tell your team that a deadline has been pushed back
  • Vendors failing to deliver on time

As the project manager, it is your responsibility to communicate these issues to the relevant stakeholders. This can be a difficult conversation to have, but it’s important to remember that it’s better to address problems early on than to wait until it’s too late.

What to do when analyzing a bad new situation

Bad news doesn’t always have to mean the end of a project. In fact, with the right approach, you can often turn a bad news situation into a positive one. 

Here’s how:

Take a step back and assess the situation

What went wrong and why? Once you have a clear understanding of the problem, you can start to look for ways to fix it.

Consult with your team and stakeholders

They may have valuable insights that can help you turn the situation around.

Develop a plan of action and execute it

This may involve making some changes to the project, but if it helps you get the project back on track, it will be worth it.

By taking these steps, you can often turn a bad news situation into a positive one.

What not to do as a Bearer of Bad News?

Do not point fingers point

Start blaming and assigning blame benefits no one. Even if it’s not your fault, this could potentially harm your reputation not with your team only but with stakeholders too.

Avoid making excuses

Bad news deserves an explanation, not an excuse, don’t start with sorry about this or that. Be direct, but subtly.

Avoid sugarcoating

When you’re the one who has to deliver the news that a project is behind schedule or over budget, it’s easy to try to sugarcoat the situation in order to avoid conflict. However, this can actually make the situation worse.

Instead of sugarcoating the bad news, be direct and honest about the situation. Explain what went wrong and what needs to be done to fix it. This will help build trust with your team and show that you’re committed to solving the problem.

How to Deliver Bad News Effectively

Imagine you are the project manager whose team has recently been facing critical technical issues during your Software Development project. As soon as you can, you address the problem to understand what it is and what you can possibly do. After all the analysis, you ended up concluding that these issues may affect the project leading to being behind schedule.

At this point, you quickly communicate with your stakeholders by email

Introduce the problem

“I am writing to inform you that recently we have been facing some issues about  [explaining your critical technical issues]. Unfortunately, our project may be delayed by X amount of time”.

Address the problem

“Because of that, I am afraid that the XYZ Project may be behind schedule. The new estimated project completion date can possibly be on X day”.

Propose a possible solution and sustain it

“However, if we can do [here you write the things that can possibly help to solve the problem and try to show facts if you can],  that can potentially solution it-them”.

Take action

“In order to address these circumstances, I have done [here you put the actions taken so far. That will show your serious commitment to move the project forward] and my team is currently [this is to demonstrate your team is in the same boat as you].


“If everything works properly we will be able to solve it by x date.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about it.”

Best Regards,

[Project manager’s name]

Benefits when delivering bad news early on in the project

Few things are more frustrating than getting blindsided by bad news mid-project. That’s why it’s always best to deliver bad news early on before it has a chance to do serious damage.

For example, during the project initiation phase, the project manager is responsible for developing the project charter.

As this document states the project’s purpose, scope, objectives, deliverables, and timeline. It is important for the project manager to deliver bad news early on in the project so that the team can develop contingency plans.

This will highly benefit the project with a solid foundation:

  • First, it allows you to course-correct before it’s too late. If you catch a problem early, you can fix it before it becomes a serious issue.
  • Second, it builds trust. If you’re honest about problems from the start, your team will be more likely to trust you when things get tough.
  • It saves time. Dealing with problems early on will save you time in the long run, since you won’t have to waste time trying to fix things that have already gone wrong.

If the project manager being the bearer of bad news waits to deliver bad news, it could cause the project to fail.

That is why it is important to be clear and upfront about any potential risks or problems during the project initiation phase. By delivering bad news early, the project manager can help the team avoid potential problems and ensure the project’s success.

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