5 Warning Signs That Your Stakeholders Aren’t Engaged With Your Project


5 Warning Signs That Your Stakeholders Aren’t Engaged With Your Project

April 11, 2016
Two colleagues reviewing a document.

Engaged stakeholders are powerful allies on your project, offering support and insights to help you and your team succeed. Simply listing stakeholders in a stakeholder register is not enough to drive stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders who are not engaged cannot fully support your project and may become barriers to success.

The following are five warning signs that stakeholders may not be engaged with your project:


1. Stakeholders are not assigning the right resources or they are taking away resources prematurely.

Resource management is a core project management role and one of the greatest sources of stakeholder conflict, especially in weak matrix and functional organizations. If stakeholders such as functional managers or leads are not releasing the resources you need at the allocation you need, then your project can suffer delays and quality issues. How can you negotiate successfully with stakeholders to obtain the support you need?

How to overcome: Exerting influence without authority is a critical project management skill. Showing stakeholders the high-level importance of your project in the organization, and making them aware of the impact and risks of their resource decisions, will help open a dialogue about resources. By showing stakeholders the organizational impact of their resource decisions, you can steer the conversation toward a win-win solution, which is important for gaining and keeping future support from the stakeholders.

2. Stakeholders don’t talk favorably about the project in executive or steering meetings.

Because of the way organizations work, there will naturally be some people who dislike your project or see another project as a higher priority. You’ll likely hear about negative comments from meetings at some point during your project. How can you keep your project afloat while others are speaking against it?

How to overcome: Communicating the benefits of the project in a clear and concise manner will go a long way toward defusing negative or skeptical talk regarding your project. If your project has a champion, this person can help amplify the message. If you can successfully inform stakeholders about how your project will benefit both the organization and their specific areas, they can then relate to the project on a more personal level. (For more information on communicating the value of your project, download our free ebook: Top 5 Stakeholder Concerns: A Guide to Mutual Success.)

3. Stakeholders say “I don’t have time” or “I’m too busy.”

When everyone is being asked to accomplish more and is given less time and fewer resources to do it, balancing competing priorities is difficult. You may get responses like the above, or you may not even get responses at all to your calls or requests to meet. When stakeholders do show up to status meetings, they may attend sporadically, neglect to read all reports sent, or act preoccupied in various ways. When stakeholders have to balance their priorities, how can you help keep your message at or near the top?

How to overcome: Communicate clearly, concisely, and precisely so stakeholders get the message and relate it to their other priorities. Graphics are great complements to aid both understanding and retention. Set clear agendas for meetings and keep them as short as possible, covering only the most critical items in order to free up stakeholders’ valuable time. (For more information on working with busy stakeholders, download our free ebook: Top 5 Stakeholder Concerns: A Guide to Mutual Success.)

4. Stakeholders aren’t communicating their expectations clearly.

One of the most important functions of the stakeholder register is capturing stakeholders’ expectations for the project. When you have clarity on performance criteria, knowledge of constraints, and other insights into how stakeholders define project success, you can make project management decisions with greater confidence. Without clear communication of expectations, you may be left wondering if you’ve missed something. How can you get the clarity you need from your project’s stakeholders?

How to overcome: If emails and phone calls have not worked, set up face-to-face time to talk about their expectations. Once you know what their expectations are, create a plan to meet those expectations and validate the plan with them. Using the guidelines on clear, concise, and precise communication, let stakeholders know of your progress on the plan so they are reassured the project is meeting their expectations.

5. Stakeholders are unaware of project progress and are surprised when significant project activities are brought to their attention.

Stakeholders reacting with surprise to events you thought they were already aware of is an easy and common way to get caught off-guard as a project manager. Surprise can also signal a gap between current and desired levels of engagement. How can you make sure your project’s stakeholders are still on track with what your project team is doing?

How to overcome: Set up regular one-on-one time with stakeholders to keep them informed of progress, including upcoming milestones that are likely to impact them. If they can’t meet regularly one-on-one due to their schedules, prepare a report to outline what’s coming up and how it affects them. By proactively preparing the stakeholders for upcoming events, you can minimize their surprises.

Effective stakeholder engagement is built on the foundation of communication. To communicate well with stakeholders, first find out what their constraints are, then work within those constraints to keep communication consistent, predictable, and effective. Stakeholder engagement is a lot of work, but the benefits to your project make it well worth the investment in time and energy.

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