The 'art' of successful stakeholder engagement

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RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) and APM have jointly commissioned a Stakeholder Engagement guidance note on this critical aspect of project management. I am one of its three authors along with Paul Mansell and Guy Giffin. The document will be published electronically by RICS and APM. The foreword has been kindly provided by Julian Foster from Heathrow Airport Limited, now the T3/T5 delivery director following the recent success of T2. Julian describes their aspiration to be the invisible builder, an analogy I am sure many project managers would hope to mimic by becoming the invisible PM!

The document is intended for anyone who encounters human, as well as technical challenges in their working lives and is aimed at supporting project and programme managers who have to influence, work with or consider the views of other people. That, I believe, is just about everyone!

Proactive stakeholder engagement is increasingly recognised as a key determinant of project success. The aim of the guide is to de-mystify the topic and to outline 10 principles which underpin the successful management of stakeholder expectations, communications and behaviour. The document can be viewed as nuggets of advice that have come from a trusted colleague or mentor. You will find something, if not many things, to reflect upon in your own practice and hopefully useful ideas to take on board.

Each of the 10 principles is illustrated with a case study taken from real-life project situations to illustrate problems and suggest possible solutions/ applications around such areas as communication, 'consult early and often, plan it and understand what success is. Whilst offering practical advice, the document makes it clear that successful stakeholder engagement is an art and not a science. There is no single answer or approach; uncertainty and ambiguity must be expected since the accurate prediction of how a stakeholder will react to a project or a given situation is impossible.

The guidance document also contains useful tools in the appendices such as the power vs interest tool to help with analysing your stakeholders and their influence and a 6-step framework of good practice which provides a robust, comprehensive process for creating proactive stakeholder engagement within any project or programme.

The findings of a recent survey, conducted in Summer 2013 amongst project professionals and outlined in appendix 5, highlight the perception that stakeholder engagement is an under-developed discipline within the project management industry and warrants further research, greater investment in training and greater prominence within individual organisations. 80% of the surveys respondents did not believe that their organisation had a tailored stakeholder engagement training and development programme that suited their needs work needs to be done!

Reading this document and reflecting on the principles outlined within it, would be an excellent first step towards embedding a process for successful stakeholder engagement within your organisation. Good luck.

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Posted by Donnie MacNicol on 19th Aug 2014

About the Author
Donnie MacNicol is director of Team Animation and leads consultancy, training, facilitation and mentoring assignments. Donnie specialises in developing an organisation’s project leadership capability. Widely recognized as contributing to the ‘people and organisational side’ of project management thinking, he is in much demand as a speaker and writer. He is passionate about delivering value by incorporating the latest behavioural, organisational, cultural and human resources thinking. Donnie chaired APM’s People SIG for 10 years to 2011 and now contributes actively to a number of strategic initiatives focused on the way the profession engages with business leaders. Donnie is also delighted to be part of the APM Oxford Chapters Stakeholder Focus Group which aims to produce a ‘work pack’; containing examples of behaviours that adversely affect stakeholder engagement together with possible solutions to rectify that behaviour. The 10 principles will play a key part in achieving this.

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