How to manage difficult Stakeholders

This is a common topic which I often receive E-mails and messages about and it’s one that I’ve wanted to spend time on for a while now. Difficult stakeholders can appear in any project, any organisation and at any point during your project. Sometimes, they can be very open and overt in their difficulties and sometimes it can be more tricky to understand. What do you do with difficult stakeholders? How do you diffuse the situation and move forward in a positive manner? During this blog post, I’ll investigate what might cause a difficult stakeholder and what you can do to resolve this if you see it happen to you.

Identification!

This may seem simple, but you need to identify who are the stakeholders that have the potential to cause you difficulty (this can be done through a SWOT analysis or another stakeholder analysis) or those that are already causing you difficulty but you may not realise. I was recently supporting a Project Manager that was having a lot of issues with politics and general misinformation being spread in the company and the first thing that I recommended them to do was try to work out where this misinformation was coming from and what was the root cause of it. Being able to identify were the issues are coming from will be the first step for understanding how you can resolve it.

Management Plan

Here’s a list of things that I’d recommend you do, when you realise that you have a problem with a stakeholder.

1.Identify who is causing the issue

This is the most important thing to understand and can be difficult if it’s not obvious to identify. To be able to find out who is causing the issue you can talk to your team members, Steerco members and also your Project Sponsor to see if they can help you. I’d also utilise your Stakeholder analysis here to make sure that you’re looking at all potential influencers (both positive and negative).

2. Understand their issue

So, you’ve worked out who it is, but now you need to work out what their problem is. Do they not feel communicated to? Are their opinions not being heard? The easiest way to identify this is to talk to them. I recommend doing this informally over a coffee/ informal chat to be able to give them the opportunity to express their concerns. An easy win could be to ask them an open ended question like: “How would you suggest that we proceed?” or “What would you like to see happening moving forward” and see if it’s something that you can easily achieve within your project.

I’ve found the discussion around the Stakeholder issue to be the most interesting part of this analysis because it gives me the opportunity to understand something that I may have missed in the stakeholder management plan or where I needed to understand the organisation/project team better.

3. Plan your way forward

Once you’ve understood who and why, now you plan the “what“. What are you going to change in future to make sure that the issue is resolved? I would recommend that you look critically at what you can do to improve the communications flows in your project and what you can put in proactively to identify potential stakeholder issues in future.

4. Update your communication and stakeholder management plan

This is really important. Whatever changes that you choose to make to your project, you need to align this with your Project Management plan. Have you updated the stakeholder management plan? What about communication?

Moving forward

The main thing to realise when you know that you have an issue is to not bury your head in the sand. You need to take action immediately and not delay before it becomes a serious issue within your project.

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