The X Factor of Stakeholder Management

A hand hovers under a world map, with the words “project management”
2 Mar 2016

The X Factor of Stakeholder Management

Some crucial aspects of project management, like time, cost, and quality of work, are typically bestowed with supreme importance in the success or failure of projects.  However, of possibly greater importance is the often-mishandled element of projects, stakeholder management. Its reliance on ‘soft skills’, such as persuasion, influence and networking, make it more challenging to learn and teach these skills effectively, be it in the workplace or in project management training courses in Sydney or worldwide.

Many ‘accidental’ Project Managers develop stakeholder management and other skills by trial and error on real life projects, a so-called baptism by fire in the workplace. This approach can be an intimidating prospect for some and a high-risk strategy for organisations where the cost impact of such is rarely quantified. Though of course the value of work experience on real projects should not be discounted.

Project Management simulations provide a unique, relevant and safe means to develop both interpersonal and project management skills in an environment that replicates the dynamic fast paced nature of the modern workplace.  Meaningful project case studies can also provide useful insights for project management practitioners and students. In short, focus on learning how to manage your stakeholders effectively and you’re on your way to being a good project manager.

Simple, right?

In fact, stakeholder management is a great deal more than politeness and backscratching. A complex web of management strategies mixes with genuine engagement from project managers to deliver more effective, efficient and successful stakeholder management. Whether you’re in local government, defence, IT, public projects or any other area of project management, stakeholder management is one of the most important skills involved in project management – master it, and you’re on your way to success.

So, how can you use stakeholder management to deliver your projects better? Easy…

Step 1: Know the Essentials

Clarkson’s famed 7 Principles of Stakeholder Management provide a launching pad/strong foundation for effective strategies in this area. Widely regarded as the golden rules for stakeholder management, Clarkson addresses the most basic principles to provide guidelines for new managers and students of project management courses.

In summary, they assert that project managers can yield successful results by:

  • Acknowledging and actively monitoring the concerns of all stakeholders, and taking their interests into account when making decisions
  • Listening to and communicating with stakeholders about their concerns, contributions and risks
  • Adopting processes and modes of behaviour that are sensitive to the concerns and capabilities of each stakeholder constituency
  • Recognising the interdependence of efforts and rewards among stakeholders, and attempting to achieve a fair distribution of benefits and burdens
  • Working cooperatively with other entities to ensure that risks are minimized and appropriately compensated
  • Avoiding activities that might jeopardize inalienable human rights
  • Acknowledging the potential conflict among members and staff between a) their own role as corporate stakeholders, and b) their legal and moral responsibilities for the interests of all stakeholders, and addressing such conflicts through communication, reporting, incentive systems and, where necessary, third-party review

In layman’s terms, keep an ear to the ground when managing your stakeholders. All too many of us have learned the hard way that stakeholders can provide vital information about potential risks and issues that can rear their ugly head and threaten to derail your project. Don’t be so focused on delivering to the ‘project management plan’ that you fail to hear the business feedback around you that organisational needs have changed or stakeholders are unhappy. Adaptive approaches to project management are increasingly favoured today, where project managers need to focus not just on project objectives but outcomes and long term realisation of benefits.  And this is where stakeholder input and knowledge is fundamental.

Step 2: Develop a Stakeholder Management & Communication Plan

In essence, what good stakeholder management comes down to is good, clear communication; acknowledgement and appreciation of stakeholders’ concerns, interest and contributions; and cooperative engagement. The long of it though, involves a far more detailed study and analysis of the individual stakeholders, which ties in with your project’s Communication Plan, Quality Plan, Budget and overall Project Management Plan. 

Your Communication Plan should identify all known stakeholders and document their individual interests in the project. This will help you to identify any potential project naysayers that need to be kept on the radar and actively managed, plus any project champions that may provide a vital role in promoting your project positively and actively managing stakeholders.

Getting the underlying project governance right, such as agreeing project plans, setting up project team meetings, allocating resource responsibilities, knowing project risks and identifying all stakeholders and their communication needs will drive much of your stakeholder management plan. Being mindful and really listening to your stakeholders when you do interact them is more the X factor of stakeholder management, along with the appropriate use of ‘soft skills’ from your skills toolbox to address stakeholder issues in the broader context of the project and organisation. Diplomacy is key. 

Cookie cutter stakeholder management strategies are simply insufficient for managing project risk and fail to optimise outcomes.

For some, knowledge of stakeholder management strategies has developed over years of experience (in the instance where you are an experienced project management practitioner but do not hold any qualifications, we recommend applying for Recognition of Prior Learning as the fastest pathway to beef up your credentials). However, for many these kinds of strategies and analyses techniques are initially gleaned from comprehensive project management courses. While Clarkson’s rubric is sufficient for general purposes, intense demand for PM qualifications – or Recognition of Prior Learning – suggests a trend towards skilled management.

If you’re ready to develop your stakeholder management skills or gain Recognition of Prior Learning in this area, Elemental Projects offers project management courses in Sydney for beginners and industry experts. Registered students also gain access to a complimentary Toolkit, which includes a Stakeholder Analysis planning template along with a suite of other useful tools. Book your seat in a course to bring your skillset up to scratch, or register for a Recognition of Prior Learning Assessment today.