When and How to Say No to a Project

You may feel like you don’t have the right to say “no” when your boss asks you to do something.
But sometimes it can feel overwhelming or stressful, depending on the request.

– You want to be seen as a team player.

– You want to be a reliable employee and admired by both your boss and your peers.

– And you want to be seen as trustworthy and someone who’s considered for career growth.

And if you say no, you may feel like you’ll damage your professional reputation at the office or with your boss.

As a project manager, there will certainly be times when you’ll need to work late, or over the weekend.

It’s part of the job.

I remember working through a Super Bowl party late one weekend night several years ago when my team was installing a new telephone system at a customer location. No one was bitter. We knew this was part of the job. And we almost never worked weekends. But sometimes it’s necessary.

It wasn’t the only weekend I’ve needed to work.

But what I’m talking about here is different.

I’m not talking about working over the weekend to move a big system change to production.

I’m talking about adding a new project to your workload.

Your boss comes to you and tells you that she’s assigned you as the project manager to this new project.

And you want to be seen as the reliable go-to person who can be trusted to get it done.

But there are times when “no” may be the appropriate answer.

Here are reasons you may seriously need to say “No” to that new project.

And even better, how to do it gracefully.


When to Say No to a Project

It’s common these days in many workplaces for a project manager to be expected to manage multiple projects at once.

At some point, an extra project becomes too many.

You may need to say no to a project if you have too many projects to be able to successfully manage all at the same time.

If you don’t have space in your workload to take it on, another project will suffer. The quality of your work will be impacted.

[bctt tweet=”You may need to say no to a project if you don’t have space in your workload to take it on. If not, the quality of your work will likely suffer. ” username=”leighespy”]

And while you’re trying to be a superstar super project manager, doing poor work won’t do you any good.

Or your customers.

The consequence of saying yes to additional work that you don’t have room for are…
·     The quality of your work will suffer
·     You’ll likely experience increased stress
·     You’ll risk burnout
·     Your management team won’t realize that there’s a need for more people to do the work – or to cut back on what’s expected from the team.

So when your boss asks you to take on another project, before you automatically say yes, take time to assess the situation.



Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the impact on my other work? Can I take on this project with the current workload I have? Do I have room in my workload to take on more work? If not, you’ll need to reprioritize or delegate your other work to someone else if it can’t be put on hold.
  • If I don’t have capacity in my workload, is this a project I want badly enough to trade off for something else? Is there value in taking on this project and trading it for something else I’m currently working on?
  • Where does it fall on the priority spectrum? If it’s an emergency project that needs immediate attention, it would likely take a much higher priority over other things you’re working on. Find out from your boss if you need to set other things aside to give this project your attention. If the other things need to continue moving forward, perhaps they could be delegated to others on your team.


emotional intelligence in the workplace


How to Say No to a Project

Before immediately, and abruptly, saying no to a project, have a conversation with your boss about the situation.

Ask questions to better understand the priority and scope.

Let her know how much bandwidth you currently have.

If you really are tight on how much you can take on, make sure your boss knows you wouldn’t be able to give it the full attention it needs. Or conversely, your other projects would suffer.
If you do want to take it on, ask if your other work could be delegated to someone else.

When you have this conversation do the following:

  • Stay professional.
  • Keep your voice calm and steady.
  • Be aware of your body language.

And if it’s hard for you to say no, practice in advance how you could say it. Saying no to a project will be easier if you’re prepared.

[bctt tweet=”If it’s hard for you to say no to a project even when you’re workload is full, practice in advance how you could say it. Saying no to a project will be easier if you’re prepared.” username=”leighespy”]


Scripts to get you started

Here are some scripts to practice. Try them out and see which feels more natural for you. Adjust as needed.

As you practice, the words and conversation will get easier.

“I’d love to be able to take on this project. I currently have other projects that are taking up all my time. Is it possible to shift one of these to another project manager?”

“This project sounds interesting. I don’t have the bandwidth to give it the attention it needs. If it’s a higher priority, which of my other projects can we shift lower on the priority list and put on hold? If we can’t put any on hold, which could be delegated to someone else?”

“Thanks for considering me for this project. If I take this project on, the XX project would suffer.” (You can explain why it would suffer. For example, you may be conducting user focus groups that are particularly time-consuming right now.)

“I don’t see how I can take it on and give my other projects the time and attention they need. Can we delegate one of my other projects to someone else?”

Use these assertive communication skills during this conversation. You’ll be able to communicate both respectfully and professionally while sharing your concerns.



Remember that if you say “yes” to that extra project you don’t have room for, you’re saying “no” to something else.

It might be another customer whose work will suffer or important family time.

Saying “no” to unrealistic workloads will be more respectful to your customers, yourself, your family, and others will respect you for it.

Hopefully, you won’t find yourself in this situation.

And if you do, you’re prepared.


Leave a Reply