Topic 2.7: Engaging project stakeholders
Responsibility for this lies with the project manager; although, on larger projects it may be delegated to engagement specialists or other team members.
Beyond providing stakeholders with a usable set of outputs, project teams have a responsibility to:
Make every effort to understand stakeholder needs
Acknowledge and address those needs in a timely manner (even if they cannot be perfectly met)
Serve stakeholders professionally at all times, and
Keep their promises.
Fundamental to this is the project manager and team’s level of interpersonal skill.
Those with a high level of interpersonal skill are empathetic, in that they are willing and able to view things from the stakeholder’s perspective.
They treat others with respect, understand and use effective body language, and build trust through reliably meeting their commitments.
Those are the same interpersonal skills necessary to develop and lead project teams, and we look at some of them on Module 3 on Project Delivery and Close.
Remember at the start of this topic when we mentioned the importance of keeping your promises?
This applies just as much to how you describe engagement to your stakeholders.
If you tell someone you are looking forward to collaborating with them, but only end up consulting them on an issue, you risk upsetting them and provoking their power.
Similarly, if you tell a community you are going to consult, but are really only keeping them informed, their anxiety and opposition to the project will rise.
Would you be surprised to learn that this a common cause of stakeholder management failure?
It is also important to recognise that stakeholder attitudes and outlook are a fluid.
This means that issues, events and the actions of the project team can change the classification dynamic.
For example, during the initiation phase, the project manager generally has quite low power; during delivery they have a high degree of power over the project.
Similarly, a client might have low interest during the early stages of delivery; however, their interest will grow to eventually peak as it comes to the point of handover.
This is why the importance of continually monitoring stakeholder sentiment is the critical foundation of effective stakeholder management.
It is finally reiterated that the thresholds and engagement methods proposed by the power interest matrix may not be suitable for every circumstance and every project.
You can use this model as a baseline for stakeholder engagement in your own organisation, but be sure to regularly revisit it as part of your continual improvement process.
We certainly will!