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7 tips to transform difficult stakeholders into project partners

Moira Alexander | July 2, 2015
Business projects almost always create change, which can also bring about significant disruption, stress and fear. That anxiety can translate into difficult project stakeholders – not to mention at-risk projects and unmet goals. Knowing how to turn these problematic partners into committed collaborators is essential skill all project managers should master. Here’s how.

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According to a report by the Project Management Institute (PMI), Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide, "Trust is identified as particularly important in obtaining support for and participation in change efforts. Executives and employees see change differently: (a) senior managers typically see change as an opportunity for both the business and themselves; and (B) employees typically see change as disruptive, intrusive, and likely to involve loss. When managing change, it's essential to identify the key issues, such as loss of turf, attachment, meaning, future, competency-based, and/or control."

There is a strong correlation between stakeholder management and risk management. Without the buy-in and full commitment from stakeholders, projects, regardless of their success factors, are at high risk for failure. To increase the chance of successful project outcomes, we've identified seven considerations and actions that can be taken to reduce the chance of unwanted behavior.

1. Timing is everything

At the beginning of the project, identify key stakeholders and identify the "what's in it for them" proposition in order to gain their buy-in and commitment. Aside from management direction, stakeholders will want to know their contributions and time are of true value to the project success and that they too will derive a benefit from it.

2. Establish trust

Remain accessible and engage in open and frequent communication with stakeholders, allowing them opportunity to voice concerns, be heard, and address important issues in a timely manner. Ensuring ongoing, and inclusive dialog with stakeholders creates an atmosphere of trust and allows for faster identification and resolution to issues as they arise. To gain stakeholder trust, as a project manager (PM) you must demonstrate you are trustworthy, respect stakeholder's ideas and abilities, and resist the urge to micromanage.

Remember buy-in can additionally be influenced by secondary parties; allow project leads to convey the project's purpose and importance to their own teams to ensure ancillary support, as needed, since workloads may also increase indirectly for other team members.

3. Clarify purpose, roles and expectations in advance

Be clear when conveying the purpose and scope of the project, establishing roles and expectations, and identifying deliverables and final outcomes. Provide stakeholders with an awareness of how their contributions directly and indirectly impact the success or failure of the project, and ultimately company goals.

Provide stakeholders with as much information and resources to enable them to be successful. Again, remain available to them for guidance as needed, and continually solidify objectives, expectations, timing and any changes to the scope of the project.

4. How to address difficult stakeholders

Despite all efforts to mitigate disputes with difficult stakeholders, there will be times when issues will crop up. In response, there are things that can be done to resolve issues, regain support and buy-in, and move ahead in a positive way.

 

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