Today, I interview Dr Lynda Bourne. She is the author of Advising upwards: A Framework to Understand and Engage Senior Management Stakeholders (Gower 2011, 2011). Lynda is the CEO of Stakeholder Management Pty Ltd. This is a training and consulting firm based in Australia.
Lynda, your book focuses on helping project managers communicate more effectively with executives. Let’s begin at the beginning. What is a stakeholder?
Individuals and groups that are affected by or can have an impact on the work of an organization or its outcomes. This is a much wider definition than what is usually used. It is important to ensure that the stakeholder list does not include the ‘usual’ group. By thinking in broader terms about stakeholders, it is possible to identify the ‘nasty surprise’ – powerful but also influential – as soon as possible.
You mention how difficult it is for middle managers to adapt to senior roles after being promoted. Project managers should be aware of the fact that their executive stakeholders may find their new jobs challenging. Why is it so difficult for middle managers adapt to senior roles?
The competition between their peers allows middle managers to gain recognition and promotions. They must be better than everyone else and be seen as being better than them. This is the culture known as ‘command and Control’. It has its roots in military service and the construction of railways in 19th century. Managers can use ‘command and control’ and competition to get promoted to the executive ranks (the ‘C’ suite). They are now required to display a new set of leadership characteristics, the level 5 humility & will of Collins’s described in Built to Last. They must learn on the job and collaborate with others to delegate: a complete shift from the approach that got them promoted.
Project managers need to understand the management styles of important stakeholders. This includes whether they operate in a ‘command and control’ or mature leadership style. It is important to understand that senior stakeholders work in the same uncertain environment as everyone else within the organization. A successful project manager recognises not only the specific management/leadership styles but also how best to ‘help their senior stakeholders help them’.
Okay, we all want our senior stakeholders help us get the job done. What characteristics did your research reveal about project managers who are most effective at advising upwards.
Research and experience have shown that the most successful characteristics are:
Recognize that relationships with stakeholders are more important to success than the schedule. The schedule is just another tool for communication.
Communication is essential for building and maintaining strong relationships with stakeholders.
Building personal and team credibility through proactive conflict management and reputation building through information exchange with stakeholders
Assisting stakeholders to understand what they can do to support the project’s success.
These are the traits, but what does a good project manager actually do?
Project managers must understand the expectations of their senior stakeholders.
Ensure that there are no conflicts between the expectations of senior stakeholders. If there is conflict, the project manager should work with the stakeholders to find a solution. The sooner the better.
Communicate information about the project to all stakeholders, and especially to the most important stakeholders, in a way that meets both the stakeholder’s needs and the project manager.
Continue to ensure that stakeholders’ expectations are understood and met. They may change throughout the project’s lifetime.
Confirm your work