The perception with project management and influencing the outcome.
The ability to influencing project delivery and managing stakeholders to achieve the desired results becomes more possible as project experience grows. There comes a point in almost any project professional’s career to feel for when to influence both upwards and outwards. The ability of a project professional to use their skill and experience to influence positive outcomes is directly linked to how well they are able to engage and influence others within an organization.
A lot has been written about the typical stakeholder avatars that project teams are likely to encounter, the traits they exhibit depending how mature their experience is in delivering projects, and of course, how they should be engaged. As project professionals there is a deep seated understanding based on relationship building on how influential the professional can be within the organisation.
The ability to be influential at both an individual and group level is a critical part of either delivering successful projects or leading wayward ones out of the wilderness. There’s a truth for project leaders that requires ego to be set aside: In projects, perception is reality. A project management office, for example, will only remain valued and valuable when it is perceived by stakeholders to be a safe pair of hands that are contributing to the business’s ability to deliver successful projects. The same holds true for project managers.
In this instance perception is more important than aspiration for the project to succeed. Being able to influence outcomes requires strong relationships with stakeholders and people within the organization so that when the need for robust and straight-talking conversations come, which is normally the case, the foundation exists for those tough, brave-smart conversations.
It is best not to wait until a project has commenced to start conversations with stakeholders, a great way is to seek out the opportunity to connect and build a working relationship with people who will be owning the work. It’s not enough to aspire to be influential; building relationships takes time and effort to get to know the stakeholders, what drives them, and what matters to them. Being able to engage and communicate becomes much easier after that. This is insight that becomes incredibly valuable when things are going well and critical when things start to go awry.
Minimizing the gap between the desire to be influential and the stakeholder’s perceptions should be the goal before the project gets going. There is little value for anyone trying to influence a stakeholder in the heat of battle when a poor perception of what project leaders bring to the table already exists.
The development of influence is not an easy task, as it is a skill which is honed over years of relationship building. There is an art to developing influence, but it first requires a reality check about current standing in a project or organization and how possible it is to gain both access and opportunity to engage with stakeholders.
Understanding how to achieve perception in which the stakeholders are to adhere is particularly important:
- Do you want to be the ‘safe pair of hands’?
- Do you want to be an advisor that stakeholders come to for guidance on how to set up a successful project rather than having to inject yourself—unsolicited—into the project when you see issues?
- Do you want to be the trusted voice in the room when war has broken out and a decision needs to be made to remediate or kill off a project?
These are all great aspirations, but they won’t become reality if you aren’t able to properly position yourself within an organization as someone who is capable of delivering.
Developing influence means knowing when to park ego at the door and understanding when to possibly change belief systems. In essence, what is believed to be true against what is actually true is perceived differently by those with influence.
Taking the time to meet the people in and around the project is valuable for understanding what is needed and expected from the role in terms of time, communication, expectations and raising issues. This is crucial to understanding what works for them and what doesn’t, and it will enable a picture of your stakeholders. Acknowledging perceptions is actually reality and concerns about what needs to change are important. Demonstrating willingness to provide value is important but so is understanding that the stakeholder may have expectations that are not within the project manager’s capabilities to provide.
The goal is either to shift perceptions of what can and can’t be done to build a case to provide those capabilities where it makes sense. Either way establishing a rapport and a clear understanding of what can be brought to the table is critical.
There are always people within an organization that have gravitas and insight and if you watch how they operate, there is a lot to be learned about how they use their position to influence both stakeholders and their project teams.
If you can get time with them, more often than not, there are deep insights and knowledge to be gained by asking the right questions about how they view the issues they deal with, what they see as the real and superficial challenges, and how they have developed their ability to influence.
The important thing is to observe how they are motivated to serve the project as well as what they bring to the table that captures the attention of their stakeholders.