As we have looked at previously, project stakeholders come in all shapes and sizes, can be internal or external and have varying levels of impact on your project’s progress. One thing that is for certain though, is that if your project starts to hit roadblocks such as persistent delays or cost overruns, your project stakeholders will start to get concerned and ask questions about what’s going on.
It’s then that a good project manager needs to be able to bring to bear an important, but not often used skill, that of knowing how to deal with stakeholders. You may have already encountered this during the project initiation phase, when it was necessary to have stakeholder buy-in in order for the project to be launched. Placating dissatisfied stakeholders mid-way through a project can be an entirely different story however, optimism has turned to cynicism and hopeful promises are not so easily accepted.
If you’re in a pressure situation and need to know how to deal with stakeholders and get them back on board, try some of these tips.
Listen to their concerns
One of the biggest causes of discord between a project team and other project stakeholders is when the latter feel their concerns are being ignored. It is possible that some stakeholders might be overly curious, to the point of being oppressive but in general, stakeholders are parties who have an inherent interest in a project’s outcomes, so deserve to be informed of its progress. Not only will listening to their queries help to keep them involved, they can also flag up current or potential project risks.
Highlight issues as soon as possible
It can be tempting to cover up issues to avoid taking flak for minor mishaps. Problems will definitely arise however when those minor issues become major ones. Then questions will rightly be asked about why project stakeholders weren’t informed earlier and trust becomes weakened. By informing everyone of risks as soon as they become apparent you can immunize them to future, larger shocks.
As a project manager the buck most often stops with you. Some things, such as budget or capacity restrictions may be beyond your control but the last thing any stakeholder wants to hear from a PM are excuses and in-depth explanations as to why some team member or process is at fault for project delays. Taking responsibility, learning from mistakes and moving forward with positivity are signs of a strong leader who is willing to give everything for the project rather than just being out for themselves.
Communicate project status clearly
It might lead to short-term pain but being as clear as possible about missed deliverables or possible project pitfalls builds strong bonds between you, your team and your project stakeholders. No matter how bad the situation becomes, being transparent and clear about what exactly is going on is the only solution that will work long-term. It will help your project stakeholders to believe in your leadership as well as potentially giving you extra insight into how your issues may be resolved.
All projects can run into issues, so don’t beat yourself up if yours does too. How you deal with those problems when they do arise is what sorts the good project managers from the average. Facing up to your responsibilities and managing to keep your project stakeholders onboard while going through a rough patch is a quality that every PM needs to be able to bring to the table when needed.