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Stakeholder Management: Push or Pull? (Or Is it More About Building Trust?)

Author: Ken Russman
Date Published: 1, May 2019

Managing projects for the best possible outcome is a bit art and a bit science. From a high-level view, stakeholder management includes: identifying the people that could impact a project, understanding the expectations of the stakeholders and their impact on a project, and developing strategies for effectively engaging the decision-making project stakeholders.

OK, so that’s good. But, in looking at effectively engaging the decision -makers, what kind of strategies do you use for bringing them into the process and getting their buy in? Do you and the stakeholders all agree on the project goal? Are you heading in the same direction, with the same destination? Ideally, yes. Otherwise, your job engaging those stakeholders just got a lot harder.

When faced with a challenging stakeholder, you might tend to want to push this individual in the direction you want them to go. That direction should be the direction (and goal) in which most of the stakeholders agree. But, how often do you start pushing, only to realize the stakeholder is resisting and pushing back?

OK, now what? Maybe pulling this person along is a better idea? But, that also will likely result in resistance. Maybe you’re strong enough to overcome the stakeholder’s resistance, but is winning that battle going to win you the war (a successful project conclusion)? Maybe, maybe not. Some might choose to take that chance, but there might just be a better way.

Perhaps you should engage those challenging stakeholders who can influence the outcome and success of the project. At a minimum, you really need to engage all the influential stakeholders in a conversation about the project goal. This can be done either one-on-one or in a group. Ultimately, you need to discover why the challenger has a different goal than other stakeholders.

What’s wrong with the goal in which most stakeholders agree? Engaging in a dialogue about the pros and cons of the varying goals can help you (and the stakeholders) understand the problem space better and help all of you develop a better solution for the project — with a unified project goal being the ideal result.

So, what are you really doing here anyway? You’ve decided not to push the stakeholder down the road. You’ve decided that pulling the stakeholder down the road isn’t any better. So, perhaps you decide to just walk with them side-by-side on this journey and help this stakeholder along as needed. Perhaps you need to nudge or coax them a little bit here or there, but nothing to cause the stakeholder to become defensive.

And while you’re walking together during this project, you’re probably building trust with your stakeholders. I would call that stakeholder “relationship development,” not “management”. The golden rule here is: while you’re managing the process, make sure you don’t manage the stakeholder.

My guess is your stakeholder did not hire you to manage him or her. This individual wants you to solve a problem, and needs your help. Build a trusting relationship with your stakeholders, and you’ll find much greater project success.

About the author: Ken Russman is a senior project manager with TalaTek, who holds PMP and CISSP certifications and has 20 years of experience in managing projects, strategic planning, and policies and procedures development.

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