Project Management: Tips to Avoid Approval Apathy

Project teams need to secure numerous approvals over the lifecycle of an initiative. Funding authorizations often have the highest visibility but getting the go-ahead for other key elements is equally important. Before your team can hire additional staff or schedule work area disruptions, you likely need approval from executives, department managers, production line supervisors, or other decision makers.

With multiple approvals needed across various project stages, the people authorizing your team’s requests can sometimes appear less than enthusiastic. Their apathy may lead to serious problems, since approval delays on critical-path issues can jeopardize the entire project timeline. Approvers’ indifference may also result in a loss of support from important stakeholders or collaborators if they sense sponsors’ enthusiasm for the project has waned.

If your team is frustrated by slow approvals or if executives have been unresponsive to authorization requests in the past, consider these tips to help keep approvers engaged and on track.

Funding requests directed at executives and sponsors.

While initial budget submissions may receive prompt attention, funding requests that come through mid-project sometimes encounter apathy among high-level approvers. Adjustments to existing project budgets may go through long and convoluted internal review processes, which breeds complacency and makes it difficult to gain timely approvals. Knowing the slow pace of movement in these workflows, sponsors may not feel compelled to act quickly or even to remain aware of requests moving within the system.

Try this: Because stakeholders might not know there’s a funding request heading their way, it’s important to stay in regular communication with them. Provide routine updates and flag any requests that seem to be languishing. If approvals are so slow in coming that your project is likely to suffer negative consequences, let your sponsors know. Alerting them to the issue enables them to exert the right pressure to get things moving.

Expense approvals within the project team.

Additional expenditure approvals are sometimes needed after the initiative’s overall budget is in place. These are usually linked to the organization’s signature authority limits, but they could also be required to ensure compliance with safety, regulatory, or legal mandates. The problem is that intra-team permission requests aren’t always recognized as a priority if workloads are heavy, or if there isn’t a clear process for submitting, reviewing, and approving mid-project expense requests.

Try this: Reduce delays by distributing a matrix showing project team members’ expense authorization levels with clear instructions for handling expense requests that exceed those limits. Then establish a formal process for team-level authorizations. You can also build awareness around approvals by maintaining a simple master list of requests, assigning a single point of contact to receive and track incoming requests, or adding expense request status updates to the team’s weekly meeting agenda.

Staffing requests presented to HR or the senior staff.

It’s often a major challenge to get approval for new staff. High-level sponsors may not agree the effort requires more people, and project leaders might worry that annual hiring plans will be hampered by off-cycle additions to the roster. It’s also not uncommon for project-related staffing requests to fall into the review trap, where everyone talks about the need for additional workers but no one’s willing to give the final approval to bring them on board.

Try this: Define each proposed position’s role and outline the job’s benefits to the business. You can then demonstrate the urgency of the request by showing the likely effects on operations if the opening isn’t filled. This could include data on overtime to cover tasks with existing personnel, expenditures to retain contractors with critical niche credentials, delays in workflow completion, etc.

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