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Managing Up – Influencing Stakeholders

How many times have you worked on a project that was influenced by senior-level stakeholders who were not the project sponsor? Probably more than once. I’m going to give you some tips for how to extend influence to those stakeholders which you as a project manager have no real authority.

Building Trusting Relationships

The key to cultivating any meaningful relationship is building trust. By demonstrating that you have their best interests in mind you can show stakeholders that your judgment should be trusted. When people trust your judgment and your ability to make decisions, the likelihood of them supporting your decisions increases vastly. Without a trusting relationship you will have a much more difficult time exerting any influence on stakeholders (regardless of seniority or organizational position).

Know Your Details

When we attempt to exert influence over those who we have no authority it is crucial that we demonstrate our knowledge of what we are recommending. There is no easier way to have a proposal or recommendation shot down than by showing your lack of knowledge of the details. If your stakeholders don’t feel confident that you’ve thought of everything, why would they want to support your plan? By thinking of the questions that they are going ask ahead of time and by having answers that make sense to them you will demonstrate your knowledge and inspire confidence in your proposal. I recently had to approach senior level stakeholders (not project sponsors) with a strategy on recapturing some lost schedule. Before presenting, I made sure to look at it from their perspective to try and think of all the questions that I would be asked during my presentation. You can’t think of everything that they’re going to ask but you can know your material thoroughly and understand the finite details of your proposal which will arm you to answer almost any question.

Influencing stakeholders is a major part of a project manager’s job. Influencing without authority is an art that is perfected over years of experience, coupled with the right mindset and attitude. By leveraging existing relationships and ensuring that you portray confidence in your proposal you can demonstrate to your stakeholders why they should go along with you.

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