Tips for Stakeholder Management
A project stakeholder is defined as any person, group or organization that is involved with, has an active interest in, or has influence over a project and its outcome. Depending on the project, stakeholders could occupy different roles, be in different time zones and have different expectations. This is why stakeholder management is such a difficult task, and why effective communication is crucial to make expectations clear.
On small projects, personal interviews or email work well as forms of communication. However, things change with very large projects that have stakeholders numbering in the hundreds or even thousands. In these instances, project managers may need to use more complex techniques, like sampling, to generate a breakdown of stakeholder interests. Then, project managers can use that data to evaluate which stakeholders’ interests should be taken into account when changing, developing or administering a program. With this knowledge, the project manager should be able to map out the relative interests, importance and positions of individual stakeholders or stakeholder groups.
Dealing with different stakeholder personalities
Building and fostering a relationship of trust with stakeholders is the most important way to effectively engage them on a project. Maintaining ongoing dialogue with stakeholders shows that project managers are responsible and accessible, and establishes the trust that is the baseline of effective stakeholder management.
However, different stakeholders have different personalities, communication styles and expectations. Sometimes, finding the most effective way to work with a stakeholder can be difficult. There are a couple different personalities and behaviors that stakeholders most commonly demonstrate.
A passive aggressive stakeholder will verbally support a project, yet find opportunities to create obstacles that place the project’s completion in jeopardy. These stakeholders may create more work than necessary and criticize the work of others.
Another kind of stakeholder personality may play the victim, blaming their missed deadlines on others in lieu of accepting responsibility. Or they may be antagonistic, starting arguments and putting other stakeholders down. Additionally, they may sabotage a project with more subtlety, doing damage that is difficult to detect and resolve.
Some stakeholders may have grand ideas, thinking big in ways that inspire other team members, but that are unrealistic with respect to the project at hand. Some might have different communication styles that make them come off as gruff or hard to please.
Of course, some opposition during a project can be beneficial. Some friction can lead to creative solutions and bring to light different perspectives. However, it is difficult to tell the real motivation of stakeholders when they are behaving non-productively. It may be easier to engage a difficult stakeholder directly. Ask about their concerns and reasons for behaving problematically, and work with them on resolving the issue.
Tips for influencing and positively engaging stakeholders
The No. 1 trick for stakeholder engagement is effective communication. Frequent, clear interactions about stakeholders’ expectations, the need for updates, and the airing of new problems keep stakeholders in the loop and feeling more engaged.
Stakeholder management is much easier with stakeholders who are motivated and invested in the project. Project managers, when communicating with stakeholders, should ask them for their opinions and feedback. This helps stakeholders feel they are being listened to, and motivates them to continue engaging positively with a project.
Remember they’re human:
It is important to keep in mind that stakeholders are human beings, and humans do not always act rationally. There are many complicated motivations and potential personal agendas that could be at play. In order to minimize the risk of these factors turning a stakeholder relationship sour, the maximum level of clarity should be maintained in management’s relationships with stakeholders.
Sometimes, a project manager will have to reach a compromise between various stakeholders. In this case, the divergent interests and priorities of stakeholders must be analyzed to assess their importance to the project. Then, the manager can establish a clear map of whose interests should carry more weight.
When consulting with stakeholders, subtle, nonverbal communication skills are necessary. For instance, the way managers speak, not just what they say, influences the message the stakeholder receives. Practice empathy and active listening, and engage with stakeholders so that they know they are valued. This builds trust.
The role of the project manager
Projects by their very nature include complex relationships between people. As with any relationship, the best strategy for success is to maintain a high level of clear communication. This ensures that everybody’s expectations are understood, and it engenders trust.
Project managers have much responsibility. They must cultivate and maintain positive relationships, deliver clear communication and map the roles and interests of various stakeholders. With these responsibilities also comes fulfilling professional reward — because when projects succeed, so do stakeholders and other project constituents. Graduate study in project management is a great way for students to gain the skill necessary to be effective project managers, delivering positive, long-term benefit to stakeholders, clients, companies, and themselves.
Founded in 1948, Brandeis University is an internationally recognized research institution with the intimacy and personal attention of a small liberal arts college. Brandeis University is pleased to offer its M.S. in Project and Program Management (MSPPM) in a convenient online format for working professionals interested in project management.