5 ways to deal with difficult project stakeholders
Project managers have an ethical responsibility to keep their project stakeholders informed. How much to keep stakeholder informed, and satisfied, depends on the level of power and interest of the stakeholder.
If you’ve ever managed projects, odds are you had to deal with a difficult stakeholder at some point. You know who I’m talking about, people who throw grenades at you and your project every chance they get. They might make last-minute scope change requests, send rude emails, or be confrontational in meetings. The list of possible difficult behaviors is huge.
They could naturally be a difficult person, of they may have it out for you and your project.
If you don’t know how to deal with a difficult project stakeholder, you could be in for a nightmare situation. Sometimes you need to use an unconventional approach.
Here are 5 ways to deal with difficult project stakeholders:
- The “olive branch” – Go out of your way to engage with them early in the project. This is the diplomatic approach. Due your best to include them in the everything. Provide transparency. If they are showing signs of being difficult, acknowledge any concerns they have. Do your best to develop a positive working relationship. At this point, you are going on the offense to diffuse them. This is always my initial approach.
- The “keep em in the dark” – If you’ve done step 1 and it’s to no avail, it’s time to change the approach. If diplomacy isn’t working, it’s time to get tough and strategic. Nobody should let someone cause problems for their project. Managing projects are difficult enough, we don’t need people making it worse. The keep em in the dark approach means involving the difficult stakeholder as little as possible. Try to go around them and not let them do too much damage. John Kotter says the best way to deal with a change resister is to go around them. If the stakeholder has a high level of power, and interest in the project, unfortuntaely this approach is not an option.
- The “let’s do this!” – The “let’s do this!” means it’s time to drop the gloves and battle. Stick up for yourself and your project. Push back! Sometimes it can be effective when you tackle the problem head on. Don’t be afraid to disagree and meet with the difficult stakeholder one on one to give them a piece of your mind. Who knows, it could be they didn’t realize they were causing you problems.
- The “sound the alarm” – When all else fails, it’s time to escalate. Escalating to management about a difficult resource is a last resort. I try to avoid doing this at all cost. What your telling your manager is that a person is giving you a problem, and you can’t handle it. Now it’s your managers problem. Your manager can then decide if they want to take action and either speak to the stakeholder, or to their boss.
- The “okie-doke” – The okie-doke means keeping the difficult stakeholder involved to keep them happy, but don’t involve them in key decisions. Make them feel like they’re a part of the project, when in fact they’re not. You’re pulling the wool over their eyes. Manipulation is certainly not a preferred approach, but if all else fails….
Dealing with difficult project stakeholders is part of the job in project management. The steps I listed above can be helpful but only you can decide what approach to use. It depends on the level of power and interest of the stakeholder. If your sponsor is a difficult project stakeholder for example, you would never keep them in the dark.
How do you deal with difficult project stakeholders?