Navigating the Politics: Stakeholder Management [Interview]

Managing difficult stakeholders

Recently I interviewed the authors of A Practical Guide to Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders*. They shared their insights into why managing stakeholders on projects doesn’t always work out as the books would have you believe. Today it’s the turn of Jake Holloway.

Hello, Jake. What’s the difference between the textbook approach to managing stakeholders and your approach?

Standard project management textbooks assume that stakeholders are universally compliant, rational and available.

You mean they’re not??

The reality is that some of them will not even read emails or attend meetings, and are completely irrational! They might even be completely opposed to the project for any number of personal and professional reasons.

The reality is that stakeholders are people, which means that they are potentially Irrational, selfish, tribal, and proud. They like authority, influence, money, status.  And sometimes they don’t like other people, and they don’t like change.

Think of our approach as bringing a political and social dimension to project management. Like Machiavelli did with The Prince.

Well, there’s a gap in my literary knowledge exposed. I’ve never read The Prince. Tell me about the most unhelpful stakeholder you’ve ever worked with.

We have all had very demanding sponsors/steering cos – so I don’t think that counts as difficult. I had a project sponsor who said in our first meeting, “I want you to know that this project shouldn’t exist and I will oppose the final recommendations, whatever they are.” Strangely enough that wasn’t the most difficult because at least he was being honest!

I think the most difficult was a CEO who took away an 100% essential technical specialist from a project, and then fired me for not being able to hit the schedule without him!Click for more