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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chapter 9: The Most Influential Stakeholder

In the previous chapter, we took a look at all the people who maybe stakeholders in a project and can have a positive or negative impact on a project. In this chapter, we are going to look at the most influential stakeholder in a project, the person on whom a bulk of the weight of the projects success or failure rests on…

So, lets get started!!!

Who is this Most Influential Stakeholder?

Well the answer is YOU

You, the project manager, are a very special project stakeholder yourself. The job (role) of a project manager is extremely challenging and thereby exciting. Depending on the organizational structure of your organization, you may be reporting to a functional manager, a program manager, a portfolio manager, or to some other manager or executive. Nevertheless, it is your responsibility to work with your team and other relevant individuals and groups, such as program managers and portfolio managers, to bring all the pieces together and make the project happen i.e., to achieve the project objectives.

To do this, you need a range of skills and capabilities. They are:

1. Communication
2. Negotiation
3. Problem Solving
4. Influencing
5. Leadership

Let us take a look at these skills, one by one.


The importance of communication in project management cannot be overemphasized. Even a well scheduled and well funded project can fail in the hands of a hardworking team of experts due to the lack of proper communication. As a project manager, you might be dealing with a wide variety of individuals, ranging from executives, to marketing personnel, to hardcore technologists. You should be able to wear different communication hats depending upon whom you are communicating with. For example, you will not be using technical jargon to talk to executives or marketing folks, and you will not speak marketing terms to the software developers.

You will be speaking to different stakeholders in their language, while filling the language gap between different functional groups and eliminating misunderstandings due to miscommunication. The key point is that you put on the appropriate communication hat depending on which individual you are dealing with. You, as the project manager must be able to switch communication hats quickly and avoid technical jargon and acronyms that are not understood by the person or group with whom you are communicating. The goal is clarity of the language to convey the message accurately.

You will be communicating throughout the project. So, for any project, you must develop a communication strategy that addresses the following issues:

1. What needs to be communicated?
2. With whom do you want to communicate?
3. How do you want to communicate or what is the medium of communication?
4. What is the outcome of your communication?

The answer to all of the above questions would vary depending on the situation and the mode that the other party is most comfortable with. Some users might like email while some prefer a face to face meeting. You, as the project manager must take the judgment call and choose the best mode such that all the parties are happy. Also, You need to monitor your communication and its results to see what works and what does not, so you can improve communication.


A negotiation is give and take, with the goal of generating a win-win outcome for both parties. You might need to negotiate at any stage of the project lifecycle. A good negotiator can resolve a conflict between two people and make them both feel that, they have won.
Here are some examples of negotiations:

1. Negotiating with stakeholders regarding expectations during the project planning. For example, the suggested deadline for the project schedule might not be practical, or you might need a certain type or quantity of resources to make it happen.
2. Negotiating with functional managers to obtain human resources, such as software developers.
3. Negotiating with team members for specific job assignments and possibly during conflict resolution among the team members.
4. Negotiating changes to the project schedule, budget, or both because a stakeholder proposed changes to the project objectives.
5. Negotiating with external vendors in procurement. However, in contract negotiations, representatives from the legal department might be involved.

Problem Solving

Project-related problems might occur among the stakeholders or with the projects. Most commonly problems come up within the project team. Either way, they are there to damage the project. Your task is to identify the problem early enough and to solve it. Here is the general technique for accomplishing this:

1. Look for early warning signs by paying close attention to formal progress reports and to what the team members say and do regarding the project.
2. Once you identify a potential problem, do your homework. Understand and identify the problem clearly by collecting more information without passing judgment.
3. Once the problem and its causes are clearly identified, work with the appropriate stakeholders, such as project team members, to explore multiple solutions.
4. Evaluate the multiple solutions and choose the one you will implement.
The key point throughout the problem-solving process is to focus on the problem, not on the individuals, with the goal of finding the solution in order to help the project succeed. There should be no finger-pointing. At the end of the day the success of the project should be your goal.


Influencing means getting individuals or groups to do what you want them to do without necessarily having formal authority to mandate an outcome from them. This is increasingly becoming an essential management skill in today’s world. People no longer appreciate authoritative bosses and they tend to rebel or under perform if we try to exercise control on them. But, if we can influence them, then they will not only do what you want but also be happy about it. To exercise influence, you must understand the formal and informal structure of your organization. Again, you might need to use influencing when you are dealing with any aspect of the project—for example, controlling changes to the project, negotiating schedule or resource assignments, resolving conflicts, and so on.


In the traditional organizational structure, project managers do not have formal authority over the project team members who perform the teamwork. So you have no other choice than to manage by leadership and not by authority. The good news is that managing by leadership is more effective and productive than managing by authority anyway. A project team is generally a group of individuals coming together for the lifetime of the project from different functional groups with different skills and experience. They need a leader to show them the vision and to excite, inspire, and motivate them toward the goals and the objectives of the project. You, the project manager, are that leader. You can lead your team in the right path to ensure the success of the project.

The Golden Triplet

PMI recommends that in addition to the skills related to application areas and management, an effective project manager must have the following three characteristics:
1. Knowledge - knowledge of project management.
2. Performance - The ability to use the knowledge to perform the project i.e., to make accomplishments and get the job done.
3. Personal - This relates to the behavior of the project manager while performing the project and the related activities. This includes personal effectiveness, attitude, ethics and leadership.

In other words, an effective project manager uses personal abilities, such as a positive attitude, leadership skills, good ethics and professional behavior to apply project management knowledge effectively in order to lead the project to success.

Previous: Project Stakeholders

Next: Organizational Influence on Projects


  1. Describe a complex project that you managed where you were required to provide clear direction, identify strategic goals and lead others to achieve successful outcomes.

    1. Anonymous - This looks more like an interview question. anyways, the answer to your Question would require a lengthy explanation and i cant possibly fit that into this reply comments box. Sorry about that.

      If i find time, I will write up an article about it in future.



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