As a busy project manager, the more tasks you can delegate to skilled subordinates, the better job you can do handling the responsibilities that are left on your plate. However, there are some project management functions that don’t lend themselves to delegation. That’s not always because someone else can’t do them. Occasionally, it’s because of the perception it would create if you don’t put in the “face time” in certain aspects of the job. In general, stakeholder management is one of the areas where you have to visibly take charge. Otherwise, you may be perceived as:
- A poor communicator
- Someone who doesn’t want to take responsibility
- Unavailable or unapproachable
In U.S. culture in particular, companies may be expected to have an “open door” policy that makes managers accessible. It is particularly important for stakeholders outside the company to have a consistent point of contact with someone who is viewed as being able to get things done. Clients, vendors, lenders, and partner organizations need to know that their concerns about a project are being taken seriously.
PMs Shouldn’t Shield Themselves Too Much
Excessive use of “gate keeping” that prevents stakeholders from communicating with a project manager directly may cause unnecessary escalation of issues that might otherwise have been easy to resolve. What type of access stakeholders will have to the project manager should be decided as part of communications planning. For example, all mid to high level stakeholders may need to be provided direct contact information (email address and phone numbers) for the project manager. That way, they can bypass perceived red tape in the process of resolving issues.
Having a policy in place of responding to stakeholders within 24 business hours is a good practice in project management. This doesn’t mean the problem has to be resolved immediately; but a discussion should be initiated as soon as possible to avoid delays in the project schedule. The responsibility for actually fixing a problem can certainly be delegated as long as accountability is maintained. An action-item log should be created to document and manage the resolution of issues. This permits the project manager to:
- Clarify the issue with a focus on the solution
- Assign the responsibility for resolution to a team member
- Set a target date for closure
- Follow up to ensure the issue is resolved
Internal, Low Level Stakeholders
Managing communication with internal, low level stakeholders often requires a slightly different approach. There may be situations when stepping in to fix a problem actually undermines the authority of your direct reports. Generally, it helps team cohesion for team members to resolve non-critical issues on their own. Overdependence on leadership in project management can negatively affect both productivity and worker satisfaction. So, team members should be encouraged to take responsibility for fixing problems within the scope of their authority and ability (without breaking any company rules).
This type of internal delegation works best when team members all have a good grasp of the “big picture” and the critical objectives of the project as a whole. That way, they can rely on common sense in differentiating between an easily fixable problem and a crisis. Team members should always document any issue and the steps they take to resolve it so this information is available later if needed. The communication management plan should identify a chain of command for who will handle any problems that escalate beyond the ability of lower level staff to resolve.