It’s considered to be one of the arts of project management – not a science.
It features prominently in job specifications and advertisements when organisations are looking for project managers.
It basically covers the relationship and communication aspects of projects. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of references to it across the web and in project management books.
Getting to grips with complex stakeholder management and being a politically savvy project manager is in demand, but what does it all mean?
In this article we look at what organisations are actually looking for when they ask for “stakeholder management skills” and then discuss what it is that you should be displaying to prospective employers to demonstrate your competence – in your CV, the interview and also on the job.
With stakeholder management being all about identifying and then understanding the motivations and behaviours of anyone who can affect what you’re trying to achieve on a project; then developing relevant strategies to influence outcomes – it’s no surprise that stakeholder management is one of the top “soft” skills a project manager can have.
For a reference point I started with a quick search of a handful of current job specifications where stakeholder management is referred to and not unexpectedly it shows up in many different shapes and sizes as can be seen in the list below (the number in brackets is where it ranked in the overall importance of the project manager’s roles and responsibilities);
- Manage the expectations of stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of the project.(1)
- Experience of dealing with multiple stakeholders (2)
- Be politically savvy (2)
- Ensure that information systems are put in place to meet the information requirements of all stakeholders (5)
- Coordinate effective communication among teams and stakeholders (6)
- Produce stakeholder analysis (4)
So what are organisations looking for when they ask for “stakeholder management skills”?
Organisations are looking for project managers who can understand and act on;
- Who their stakeholders are (upwards, outwards and sideways)
- The success criteria for the project and how much of this is dependent on the stakeholders
- How many interested parties have to be considered (usually more than one, sometimes running into the 100’s, if not 1000’s)
- What drives stakeholders (sometimes they don’t know themselves)
- What power do stakeholders have? What influence can/do they exert?
- Are there conflicting interests amongst the stakeholders
- The need to know when and how to adopt new strategies
- The actions that are needed from stakeholders and how those actions will ultimately affect the outcome of the project.
There are tools and processes available for any project manager getting to grips with stakeholder management on their projects (stakeholder identification, analysis and perception matrices, power models, stakeholder maps, RACI etc ); an understanding and experience of using them can be clearly used on a CV and talked about during an interview.
Tool use alone does not tell us enough about your behavioural skills. It is these behavioural skills that make a real difference in stakeholder management, skills such as influencing; understanding behavioural traits of others; managing conflict; relationship management and negotiation. All of these behavioural skills need to be clearly conveyed in conjunction with the tools and processes you use.
Stakeholder Management in Interviews
Consider for a moment an interview question based on one of the roles and responsibilities highlighted above; “How do you manage multiple stakeholders?”
The question can be answered from the initial standpoint of understanding who the stakeholders are and establishing just how many make up the “multiple”.
What behavioural competences do you think you need to demonstrate in this initial step of stakeholder management? An answer which includes communications (including listening skills), relationship building and decision-making perhaps?
Moving on to profile who the stakeholders are; how they influence the project and what drives them: competences such as influencing, communication, relationship management, conflict management and social networking all features heavily.
The interview answer can continue to cover specific examples, changes in management throughout the lifecycle, specific processes or tools that you use to support yourself in effective stakeholder management. And that’s really the key to successfully talking about your stakeholder management skills at an interview; making it clear that the tools and processes support your behavioural skills, leadership abilities and personal qualities.
Concentrating on talking about your behavioural skills of influencing, negotiation, communication, conflicts, relationship management etc are what the organisation wants and needs to hear.
Mastering the behavioural competences of project management is something that all project management professionals strive for; mastering the so-called “soft skills” is often the difference between a successful and unsuccessful project.
In continuing to perfect their craft, project management professionals also need ensure that they become much better at talking about and conveying the behavioural elements of their roles. It is the exceptional behavioural skills of a project manager and how they choose to demonstrate these skills, not just in stakeholder management but also in other areas of project control, that help them stand out from the crowd. Ultimately it is these skills that make a project manager very marketable and in demand by organisations looking for the right talent for their projects.