As a practicing project manager for over five years, one of the most common challenges I’ve seen is how to get work done with people over whom you don’t have direct authority. Whether they are your client’s direct reports, your client’s peers, or colleagues of your own, it is critical to develop the right communication strategy, monitor progress and ensure expected results are achieved.
Outlined below are a few guidelines that should help you along the way, and, while each project and team is unique, this advice is meant to address the key criteria to overcome stakeholder obstacles and ensure successful delivery.
Guideline #1: Communication Strategy – Perform a Stakeholder Analysis
A common reason for project failure is miscommunication, such as not knowing who was supposed to do what or when. So, no matter the project size, make sure you always identify what role each stakeholder will play, what their key deliverables are, and when they are due. A good representation of this analysis can be seen in the stakeholder matrix and audience classification below.
Apathetics: have low interest in your project’s success and hold little power. Typically, monitoring these stakeholders is sufficient.
Defenders: have little power to influence other stakeholders or decision making on the project. Keep these participants informed, as they have a high interest in the outcome of the project.
Latents: won’t always reveal their priorities up front and while they may only convey minimal interest in your project, often wield power and influence. Keep these stakeholders satisfied, as they work closely with key decision makers.
Key Decision Makers: Manage these stakeholders closely as key decision makers wield power and have a high interest in your project’s success. It’s a good idea to determine early on if these stakeholders are advocates for your project. If not, plan accordingly.
When performing a stakeholder analysis, you may decide not to communicate this outside of your team, but it’s a good way to learn more about the project participants while anticipating potential problems before they arise. And remember to keep it simple, identifying what level of communication and attention each of your stakeholders need.
Guideline #2: Manage Competing Priorities
No matter the project or company, competing priorities are inevitable. If not managed effectively, they will quickly creep into your project schedule, impacting your ability to deliver. This can be most challenging when a project manager does not have direct authority over stakeholders, so consider the following:
Frequent and clear communication is always a best practice when dealing with stakeholder challenges, like competing priorities. When addressing them, be up front about the differences, but seek to align around common goals and interests. Doing so will help build the trust and rapport needed to keep teammates and dependent stakeholders on board.
Guideline #3: Monitor Progress and Ensure Expected Results Are Achieved
You may face situations where the competing interests or priorities of some stakeholders trump the agreed-upon goals and deliverables. When this occurs, let written communication be your guide and monitor progress closely. By regularly reporting deliverable status and the impact/risk if delivery is delayed, you establish clear accountability and assigned ownership.
It’s important to note that even when flagging status and impact of delivery failure, the work may still not get done. By communicating the causes and effects to your principal stakeholders and recommending solutions where possible, you are performing the role of an effective project manager. In doing so, you allow your client or stakeholder to assess the situation and determine if action or escalation should occur.
Dealing with stakeholder obstacles and objections can be hard, especially when you don’t have direct authority. While it’s not easy or always pleasant to follow these guidelines for effective stakeholder management, they can help you gain the trust and advocacy needed for delivering high value, high quality results.
With some practice and accumulated success, you will soon recognize how to align stakeholders around common goals that support your current project needs and long-term initiatives to form partnerships that stand the test of time.