One of the most important skills required for project success is good stakeholder management. There can be so many stakeholders involved that identifying them and their influence on a project can make a marked difference.
Stakeholder management is a key skill for all areas of business, however within a project it is a specific skill that is hugely important to develop, yet one that is frequently overlooked. When you are working to deliver on a project there will be numerous people involved, all of whom will be impacted to varying degrees. To ensure the success of your project, you need to gain their support and build co-operative relationships that enable its completion. That is the ultimate purpose of stakeholder management.
The term stakeholder management is actually a bit of a misnomer, as you can never really manage other people. What you are really aiming for is building a collaborative relationship that is mutually beneficial. That is what stakeholder management is about; it is not trying to control other people, it is trying to work together to get the best outcomes for all. The ‘management’ part relates to the expectations and the agreed objectives of a project and while you cannot manage people, you can manage their expectations.
The most important thing to remember when working with stakeholders is that they are people; they are not immaterial assets that you can do as you please with. Your stakeholders will all have different ideas, perceptions and opinions about what you are trying to achieve, and different motivations and drivers that will dictate how they respond to your interactions with them. It’s important to bear this in mind when you are trying to present your information or come to an agreement.
Within the Project Management context it’s widely accepted that there are four main elements of stakeholder management.
1. Identify who your stakeholders are
You need to know who your stakeholders are to allow you to manage their expectations and build strong partnerships. Depending on the size of the project or programme the number of stakeholders you need to work with may vary, it could be customers, employees, senior managers, government bodies or the local community.
Anyone who has involvement or that will be impacted by the project should be considered a stakeholder, so the first thing to do is identify who they are and then you can establish a plan for communications and engagement.
2. Understand who has the most influence
Once you know who your stakeholders are, the next step is to understand the levels of influence they hold.
In reality, input from certain people will have to be adhered to more strictly than others and in most instances the customer you are working for will be the most influential stakeholder. However, if it is an internal project then a senior director, for example, will be more likely to have more influence than a junior colleague.
It is important to consider which of your stakeholders will have the most impact on your project and ensure you are able to manage the expectations of others in relation to this.
You can use things such as a traditional influence/interest matrix, to allow you to clearly define the levels of power and interest different individuals may have.
The ability to manage all of your stakeholders effectively means you can consider the input of everyone related to the project, assemble all of the relevant information, and present it in a way that offers the best outcomes for all.
3. Share and deliver on expectations
Where possible if you have information to share, then share it with all of your stakeholders; people like to feel informed and it’s important to be transparent when trying to build trust and collaboration with others. It is important to show empathy and commercial awareness. If there are times when you cannot share information (for example, perhaps because of security or confidentiality reasons), be transparent about why you cannot share the information. Project stakeholders will respect you for your honesty.
Be clear about expectations from the start and only agree to what is actually feasible. Make sure you deliver on what was agreed or explain why this is not going to be achievable as soon as possible. This will help reduce anxiety, frustration and conflict.
4. Show you understand their concerns
Due to the differences in motivations, viewpoints and opinions of stakeholders within a business it is important to show empathy and commercial awareness when interacting with them.
This allows you to consider the situation from their perspective. Once you can do that, it enables you to present your issue in a way that most interests or benefits them. Individuals will be more receptive to interventions and suggestions if they are able to recognise the potential benefit it has for them, and you can only present information in this way if you yourself understand it. You need to be able to negotiate and explain your point but also listen to feedback and use it to improve what you do.
You may be able to grasp this based on existing knowledge, but in most cases it will require in-depth discussions with different stakeholders to explore their areas of concern, and hopefully create a solution that suits their needs.
Effective stakeholder management is an essential element in project management, and the wider business success. People are highly complex beings, but on the whole have relatively simply needs which include feeling included, understood and respected, and these are the fundamental aspects of successful stakeholder management.
While projects may be about delivering products or services, success comes down to the way people work together, and effective stakeholder management is the way to make that happen.
Our one day Stakeholder Management course explores these concepts further and gives you tools and techniques to help you achieve more effective stakeholder management, view our Public Programme Dates, to see the next available training date for this course.
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