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Stakeholder Challenge: Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders

This research project focuses on the psycho-social aspects of project management and specifically on how project managers cope with difficult stakeholders.

It utilises three different perspectives on this topic: firstly, it will identify which factors create difficult situations; secondly, how these situations impact on the project; and thirdly, how project managers should effectively deal with the difficult situations they encounter.

Who is the intended audience?

The primary audience is Project managers and those with line management responsibility for project managers, i.e. programme managers and project directors. 

The secondary audience are those responsible for the selection, training, career development, mentoring and support of project managers, such as HR departments and PMOs.

Why is it important?

APM research found that “Competent project teams” is one of 12 Project Success Factors identified as playing a crucial role in the formation and delivery of the project, and a crucial element of this factor is the ability of the project manager to cope with difficulties they encounter arising out of managing relationships with others, both inside and outside of the team.

In terms of the project team, a project manager who is not coping well might not be able to motivate and lead people effectively, resulting in negative behaviours by team members that inhibit success.

In terms of external stakeholders, a failure to cope can lead to dysfunctional relationships with key stakeholders, such as clients, which will be to the detriment of the project.

So a better understanding of how effective project managers cope with such difficulties, in different situations, is important to enhancing the competencies of project teams.

Who took part in the research?

Anonymous in accordance with LJMU Ethical Standards.

Interviews were conducted with 12 senior professionals who had at least 5 years’ experience in project management across a range of industries including construction, IT and pharmaceuticals.

What did we discover?

The study identified three areas – structural environment, social environment and the stakeholder themselves, that cause difficult situations in projects related to stakeholders, and also some examples of what difficult situations typically look like in a project.

The study found that difficult situations have an impact on a project, as well as on the project manager themselves. 

Building on this the research identified that project managers adopt two different coping strategies when they deal with difficult situations created by project stakeholders. These are project coping strategies and personal coping strategies.

The research findings enabled a validated framework for Coping Strategies with

Difficult Stakeholders to be developed whilst highlighting some practical recommendations for project management practitioners to use when encountering difficult stakeholders.

What were the main challenges?

  • Identifying participants who were willing to share their experience in coping with difficult stakeholders.
  • Providing the participants with an environment they are comfortable in to enable them to talk about their perceptions and feelings.
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