How to Deal With Nightmare Stakeholders

In an earlier post, we talked about four common types of nightmare stakeholders: the name dropper, the empire builder, the vanisher, and the bosser. How can you keep these difficult but important players from wreaking havoc on your project or your team, while also ensuring they remain supportive and useful? Below we’ve pulled together some tips to help you keep your project on track and prevent your nightmare stakeholders from derailing your team’s success.

Including stakeholders in planning activities will help to get everyone’s objectives (both overt and covert) on the table. Empire builders who try to annex your Project Team will likely be thwarted early in the process by the competing interests of other stakeholders, name droppers and vanishers will be less likely to overcommit resources if the details of their promises of support are known within the entire planning group, and bossers won’t get far when they understand that other stakeholders will eventually discover their machinations and (correctly) interpret them as entirely self-serving.

Maintaining regular communication will help to head off a number of nightmare stakeholder issues. Bossers will be more readily kept in check if they’re receiving routine communications on the status of the project, so keep them in the loop regarding support issue updates, personnel change notifications, and milestone progress reports—a smoothly running project offers fewer openings for interference. Vanishers are particularly impacted by regular communications, especially if their name is included on the list of people with outstanding action items (approval requests) or overdue resources (additional funding).

Managing expectations is key when dealing with difficult stakeholders. You’ll need to look at the partnership from two sides to get the best effect—what the stakeholder can reasonably expect from you, and what your team will be expecting from the stakeholder. Setting clear expectations around what your team’s obligations are will keep empire builders and bossers from steamrolling you, while aggressively pursuing the support you expect to receive from name droppers and vanishers will be critical to keeping your project on track.

Setting deadlines for support and/or information keeps your team from getting down to the wire, only to discover they’re missing vital resources that are necessary to successfully complete the project. Name droppers and vanishers will more reliably hold up their end of the bargain if there’s a formal deadline for them to deliver the support and/or resources they initially promised. Bossers are less likely to interfere with the team’s project activities when clear deadlines have been set, since it keeps you on the controlling end of the relationship.

Establishing limits on what your team will do—and when they can do it—is a good way to keep empire builders from becoming overbearing. Outlining your Project Team’s boundaries early in the process not only gives prospective empire builders some solid obstacles to overcome should they consider taking charge, it will also provide your team with concrete ways to push back if they’re challenged. Advise your team to be vigilant, since empire builders are likely to become more aggressive if they think you’ve let down your guard.

Empowering your team is a surefire way to keep nightmare stakeholders in line. Name droppers and vanishers are rendered powerless when routinely confronted by team members about promised resources, making them more likely to follow through on their commitments. Empire builders and bossers also tend to abandon self-serving activities when they consistently meet resistance from individual Project Team members. Create signature limits that are as high as you can reasonably make them and spread authorization responsibilities among several members, so your team is less reliant on difficult stakeholders for urgent approvals.

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