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6 Principles for Building Trusting and Lasting Relationships With Your Stakeholders
By Susanne Madsen

A successful project manger is so much more than someone who is capable of producing a plan and track its activities. To set ourselves apart, we have to have drive, confidence and attitude and focus on people as much as we focus on tasks.

Your ability to build trusting and lasting relationships with your stakeholders is one of the key ingredients to becoming a successful project manger. To improve the way you communicate and interact with people, use the below best practice principles. As you read through them, ask yourself how good you are on a scale from 1 to 10 at using that particular principle in your daily interactions.

  1. Listen to others and seek first to understand before being understood. When you invest time in really understanding your stakeholders, the dynamics of the conversations and your relationships change. People become more open, receptive and more interested in what you may have to say when you actively engage and comprehend their situation. If you don’t listen properly, misunderstandings will invariably creep in and the quality of your relationships will weaken. Make every effort to really engage and understand the other person’s position. Make eye contact and ask into their feelings and opinions. Only once you fully understand their position should you speak up about your own topic and agenda.
  2. Have empathy and think in win/win solutions. Empathy means being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. View situations and responses from your stakeholder’s perspective and be committed to always finding solutions that will truly benefit all parties. The win-win idea is not based on compromise, but is rooted in the belief that synergies and mutual benefit can be drawn from every situation.

  3. Set a good example as project manager. The quickest way to loose the respect of your stakeholders is to be a careless and unstructured project manager. On the other hand, your stakeholders will respect you for being an effective person who keeps taps on risks, issues, decisions and actions – including their own! Minute key decisions and hold stakeholders accountable for the activities they take on. Always turn up to meetings prepared and have the necessary information ready at hand.

  4. Be honest and open about project progress and have the courage to ask for help. Believe in yourself and be honest and open enough to say things the way they are. Never over-promise or feel pressurised to say yes to unreasonable demands. Have the confidence and courage to talk openly about project issues and to ask for help when required. Your stakeholders will respect you for being honest and appreciate being given the chance to help out before the situation aggravates. You will score points for being realistic and for having your project’s interests at heart. Painting the picture rosier than it is helps no one.

  5. Be proactive and take responsibility for your actions. Gain respect and admiration from your stakeholders by proactively resolving risks & issues in a resourceful way. When we are proactive we look for durable solutions and we take full responsibility for the consequences of our actions. We face the world with a can-do attitude and a mindset that we have the ability to change a situation for the better. You may have no control over what hits your project, but you do have control over how you respond.

  6. Maintain a positive mental attitude and don’t be afraid to show your funny side. Do your best to maintain a positive mental attitude. Be cheerful, friendly and smile. The positive energy you radiate will draw others to you and give your stakeholders the impression that you are in your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to be funny or clever as most people are drawn to a person that can make them laugh. Use your sense of humour as an effective tool to lower barriers and gain people’s affection.

– How can you become a better listener and build better relationships?
– What can you do to be more proactive and more positive?
– In which situations to you need to get better at asking for help?

Susanne Madsen is a project & program manager, mentor & coach, and author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook. She has over 15 years experience in managing and rolling out large change programs. You can read more from Susanne on her blog.

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