The Politically Savvy Project Manager: Tips for Managing Stakeholder Expectations

By Veronica Thraen / April 16, 2019

When a company considers hiring a project manager, it’s often because they have one or more concurrent projects with no one managing the teams or details. So, they set out to find an organized, detail-oriented person with appropriate credentials, relevant industry experience, and strong communication and leadership skills. Companies also look for someone who will fit with the team and company culture. 

But an often-overlooked skill is political savviness - that person with a keen sense of their working environment and a solid understanding of stakeholder needs.

While political savviness is important for anyone in a leadership position, a politically savvy project manager can better ensure project success.

Scenario: Unidentified stakeholders, long list of “must haves”

A project manager was assigned to manage a large, complex business systems implementation that affected all departments within the company. This system was going to automate a manual process, which required quite a bit of upfront information-gathering to ensure that it provided the functionality and data that each team needed to do their job effectively.

Before identifying key stakeholders and outlining the goals and scope for the project, the project manager scheduled meetings to document the existing process. In the meetings, team members freely shared their “must have” priorities. Afterwards, the project manager realized that there was a long list of demands, many from non-stakeholders. 

Lack of political savviness can lead to project failure

Without a politically savvy project manager, the project could have failed because:

  1. Project buy-in and valuable feedback was not received from key stakeholders.
  2. Too much time was spent gathering feedback from non-stakeholders.
  3. Inadequate communication throughout the project drove confusion on the goal, objectives and scope of the project.
  4. Inability to identify and prioritize “must haves” vs. “nice to haves” created an out-of-control project scope.
  5. Unmet stakeholder expectations required re-work, causing delays, budget overages and low team morale.

Clearly, inadequate communication with stakeholders can lead to a cascade of failures that can drive a project off track. So how does this project manager ensure that he or she meets stakeholder expectations next time?

How a politically savvy project manager ensures project success

First, the politically savvy project manager identifies key stakeholders upfront. Stakeholders have varying levels of influence over a project so building a partnership with open and honest dialog and transparency is important for project success. By identifying key stakeholders prior to the start of the project, the project manager can engage them to understand and document their roles, needs and success criteria.

Secondly, they present the goals, objectives and scope to the entire project team before scheduling any team member meetings. Not understanding the full extent of the project could explain the “free for all” discussion that elicited a long list of requirements in the above scenario.

The politically savvy project manager effectively manages and maintains stakeholder relationships by thoughtfully listening and communicating information throughout the project to ensure that their expectations are met. The result? Delighted stakeholders and a successful project. 



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