How to Build Relationships with Stakeholders

In this episode Susan Madsen gives us tips on how to build relationships with stakeholders and also how Project Managers can deliver feedback.

Susanne provides executive coaching, leadership development, project management training and consults with organisations on how to improve their project leadership capabilities. She has also written two books on Project Management and posts regularly to her excellent blog.

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Excerpts from Episode 39 – “How to build relationships with stakeholders”
Common challenges of coaching project managers
A lot of individuals think they are collaborative, but they’re not. When there are a lot of disputes on a project when people don’t do what the project manager expects them to do, they suck it up or get angry, but don’t verbalize it. They realize through the coaching that they’ve never verbally externalized those expectations. We get to something much deeper in coaching.

What does a healthy relationship look like between the project managers and team?
There has to be openness. Often we have expectations that are not explicit. I expect you to do this—when I say A, you do B. All of those small or large expectations, if they haven’t been made explicit, then we can’t be sure that they are mutual expectations.

A good relationship is where we talk about how we’re going to work together. On a project, we talk about what we’re delivering or a status report, but have I asked you if you like that status report? How useful is it to you? Have we talked about what we will do if we’re under pressure? Have we talked about how we’re going to work together?

Time conflict in openness
Prioritize relationship building. If you have 15 stakeholders on your project, you cannot sit and build relationships with each of them and tailor your communication to each of them.

Choose the top three stakeholders and have a one-on-one with them. Talk to them openly and say, “I’m here to find out how we can work better together and to get feedback on how the project is progressing.” That question alone will open up a relationship and then they can give feedback. Those open questions where the project manager shows vulnerability and is not afraid to listen to what comes back—that can completely transform a relationship.

Can or should a good relationship be measured? Or is it measured?
When we measure something it’s often the quantity, but how do you measure the quality? The best way to measure it is to set agreements and ground rules, and then to check in with each other. After some time come back and reevaluate how you are doing. It’s down to each person to establish that culture. It’s good if the leaders can set a good example—that helps—but it’s really for each of us to value other people more and to open up.

How should project managers give feedback? Should they ask for feedback as well?
A good way to give feedback is first to ask the person, “how do you feel about the project?” Give them the opportunity to talk it through and give themselves a fair assessment. After they give their input, then you give them layered feedback.

  1. You start off by talking about something you loved about the project or their performance.
  2. You ask, “Could I give you a suggestion?”
  3. Finish off with a positive of what they are doing well.

What are the characteristics of a good leader in contrast to a good project manager?
Management is something, which is very task orientated, controlling, diminishing, and based on cognitive answers. In contrast, we need the leadership element which is much more people-orientated and transformation, meaning that I don’t just provide the answers, but I ask more questions and allow the people to come up with some of the answers.

Asking questions is a huge part of real leadership, not just feeling like you have to come up with the answers and do the work for people. Take a step back and enable others to take a role.

How do we understand what motivates people on our team?
Ask: What they would like more of in their job? What would they like less of in their job? What do they enjoy about their job?

Show Notes

Find out more about Susanne’s work and books here
Connect with Susanne on Linkedin

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