Stakeholder management is a major aspect of project management. The Project Management Institute identifies it as one of the ten major knowledge areas of project management and has numerous tools and best practices for managing stakeholders. But let’s face it. You don’t manage the stakeholders. In fact, it is much more likely that they are managing you. So what you manage are your interactions with the stakeholders. Now “interactions” implies that there are at least two individuals involved, you and the stakeholder. In this series, I want to address the best practices for interacting with stakeholders based upon how they normally interact. This is based upon what they consider to be compelling issues and their primary area of concern. I have identified five personas that represent the types of stakeholders I have encountered over the years. These are the action-oriented stakeholder, the expert-oriented stakeholder, the process-oriented stakeholder, the data-oriented stakeholder and finally the uninterested stakeholder. In this post I will talk about interacting with the expert-oriented stakeholder.
The expert-oriented stakeholder puts their confidence in experience and track records of individuals. Typically, these people are themselves an expert in their area. They are personally self-confident within their area of expertise and they have developed a network of other experts that they rely upon. For those inside their circle of experts, they will provide tremendous support and latitude. For those outside the circle they; are far less trusting. It is interesting that some expert-oriented stakeholders put an emphasis on schooling, degrees and certifications. Others put an emphasis on the track-record of individuals on other projects. But regardless how the stakeholder determines who is an expert, once their find one they lean on them and trust their judgement. These individuals are quick to delegate authority to experts, and reluctant to delegate it to those whose expertise they doubt. They definitely will “play favorites” and won’t hesitate to communicate outside the normal channels to talk to their network of experts.
The key to interaction with this stakeholder depends upon whether you are inside their circle of experts or not. When inside the circle, quick high-level communication is often all that is needed. If you are not inside the circle, your communication needs to carry the support of experts that the stakeholder trusts to be taken seriously. Whether you are providing a status update, a project review, or an issue report, they will want to know if what you are telling them has been reviewed and approved by the experts. Their typical questions from them will be:
- “Who is working with you on this?”
- “Who else have you presented this too? What did they say?”
- “Have you talked with …… yet?”
They would prefer a presentation that leads with who is involved, the bottom line opinion or decision of those involved, and then if there are still questions to be resolved, who you would like to have work with you to resolve them.
If their circle of experts are supporting a position, it is almost certain they will support it also. If the experts are against it, they will be against it. If the other experts are mixed, they will study the issue with you. If you can’t tell them where the other experts stand on the issue, they will send you back to do more homework.
When discussing your project always be ready to bring in your experts. You do not need to know everything, but you do need to know when to rely on the experts on the team or in the organization. If you are presenting a major decision or issue for resolution, invite other experts to the meeting, or have their comments and perspective ready to present as part of the support for your recommendation. Let me also add that through-out your interactions with this stakeholder, if you are not already in their circle of experts, you should be aspiring to be. Demonstrate your own expertise, not at the expense of others, but it is appropriate to acknowledge you experience and training if they are applicable to the issue being discussed. The point is that you need to establish you own credibility if you want to move into that circle.
Good News and Bad News
For these individuals, they won’t believe any good news until it is verified by an expert they trust. And they won’t get panic over any bad news if your communication of the bad news includes the experts you are bringing in to help. The first question in their mind is always, “Who?” Who else has seen this news and what is their opinion? That doesn’t mean you should delay your communication of bad news until you have experts lined up. You can immediately notify the stakeholder of the bad news and ask for their help to get you an expert to assist with the problem resolution.
If you are inside the circle of experts, these are great stakeholders for your project. They will let you do what you need to do and support you along the way. I have had the privilege to work with several stakeholders who operated in this fashion. Once I won their trust, my projects had priority in the organization and we achieved some fantastic results. I have also had the misfortune to work for one stakeholder who operated in this style and whose trust I never won. Every project of mine was challenged, delayed, and micro-managed.