Project Management: Build & understand your relationship with your stakeholders

A key element in a project is stakeholder management and for a project manager, it is fundamental that they build and understand the relationship with those key parties. No matter what level you are at in the hierarchy of a company or in project creating, relationships will ensure you have the support and corporation needs to complete a project.

When managing stakeholders, there are several steps a project manager must take. Each of these steps will lead you to strategically building those vital relationships.

Identify your stakeholders

Your stakeholders will be internal or external. In either case, create a profile on each one. These profiles should outline who is an ally, who can you turn in your favour, and who is an obstacle. Each of them will have their reason for being for or against the project, so this is where you will need to find out their motives.

To help in the profile’s creation, you can reach out to other individuals or past project managers for their advice and experiences with that stakeholder/s. The best resource is to arrange a one to one with the stakeholders. At some point you will meet them all and find out what makes them tick; this is where you lay the seeds for building that relationship with them.

During that interaction – which of course should lead to more meetings to further strengthen that relationship – you need to discover their reasons for supporting or opposing the project, how they will support you, who will be your ‘go to’ expert on a particular area of the project and what value they get out of supporting the project, or why the project is against their objectives. In either case, you are outlining what their level of involvement in the project will be.

Juggle Motivation

In the exercise of creating a profile, one of the key discoveries is stakeholders’ motivation. The more stakeholders you have, the more you will have to juggle. The first thing to do is to find your biggest supporter; the chances are they are the ones who wanted this project and could see the benefit.  In addition, usually, they are also the foremost expert who can provide guidance, as they see the overall big picture.

On the flip side, you then need to identify who is against the project and again it is usually the ones who did not advocate for the project because in their opinion the benefits are not favourable. In these situations, you need to understand where they are coming from, try to present an objective view of the project and get their support… not of the project but towards you, the project manager.

Regardless of whether they want the project or not, you want them to at least be in your corner because they value you as the project manager. This way it is not about the project, it’s about how much they value you and the work you are producing for the sake of the company, the client and for everyone involved.

Create A Productive Strategy

With your profile in hand and understanding their motivations, you now have what you need to create a strategy for how you manage your stakeholders. You need to ask and answer these types of questions:

How will you communicate with those who support you?

How will you manoeuvre around those who block you?

Who holds the purse strings?

Who influences who?

With these types of questions, you will need to develop strategies that will ensure you are successful in completing the project.

Stay In Constant Communication and Keep them involved

Building the relationship with stakeholders gives you a gateway to maintain their commitment. There are of course several tools in use already, such as highlight reports, stand-up meetings and end of stage reports; this help to maintain that engagement, to get their input and to seek their expert advice.

Let’s not forget that one-to-ones don’t have to happen just once. Use it when you can and when you need it. A one-to-one can and should lead to multiple encounters, as this is how you further deepen that relationship and ensure that you can call upon their engagement.

Ok, this is great if you are an extensive business, but I am a small business or SME; how does this apply to me?

We often see project management as a big business scenario and not applicable to a small business. This is a false narrative. The same principles apply but on a much smaller scale meaning better control and with a smaller budget.

This will be the subject of another blog post which will be tackled separately.

So let’s stay focused and look at stakeholders. Depending on how small or medium the business is, your stakeholders will be the business owner, their general manager and/or a manager, which could be you. If you are the project manager and you are in the hierarchy, this could be a good thing as they value you for your expertise and it also means that you have the owner’s ear, so you can engage and build that relationship.

If you are not at that level of management, then you need to find out who the owner will listen to; this is usually the general manager. Remember, this is your go-to person, and since it was the owner who hired a general manager, to begin with, you need that stakeholder on your side.

Then, of course, if there is no general manager, you are dealing directly with the business owner and this can be tricky. The owner wants a project manager, but may see you as an employee: it might not be an ideal relationship as they may have the viewpoint “this is what I want and you are just there to implement it!”

On the other hand, if they value you for your expertise, are willing to consider your opinion and suggestions, it will be a different experience because they want to build on that relationship and you will be able to handle the project towards a more successful outcome.

Final thoughts

Knowing your stakeholder and building relationships leads to better management of them and the project. As a project manager, the project falls on your plate, so it’s your responsibility to ensure the project succeeds. Therefore, it is equally important to build and understand the relationship with your stakeholders.

Remember the project was started for a justifiable reason, which means most of those involved want the project to be successful, especially on time, resources and budget. If you stay on track with managing the project and maintaining this relationship, your project will achieve the desired outcome.

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