How to manage conflict with stakeholders

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The author spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in technical SEO and Content Marketing.

Communicating with a wide range of individuals is a significant part of the role of the project manager. From new team members to seasoned ones, suppliers to stakeholders, the ways in which a project manager is required to conduct their communication will be different from one group to another. The group that is, however, most likely to cause the most complications to any project manager is the stakeholder group. It is really important that a good relationship is created and that conflict with stakeholders is avoided or managed appropriately.

Ensure the lines of communication are open

The main thing that any stakeholder requires from a project manager is to be kept in the loop with regard to the progress that is being made on a project. Depending on their level of involvement, however, whether it is very important to them or they are only loosely connected to the project, it is important that the appropriate levels of project communication are taking place.

Stakeholders are often busy people who are difficult to get hold of and often do not have lots of time to devote to being updated. This does not mean that you shouldn’t ensure they have the necessary information, which will certainly help to manage conflicts.

At the beginning of the project, establish how they would like project updates, when and in what format. This might be a summary email once a week that they can read when they have a moment, a quick email when there is something to be mentioned or a phone call. If they are very busy, then a phone call is likely to be a somewhat unwelcome form of communication unless the issue that needs to be discussed is urgent.

Manage their expectations

During the early stages of the project, in order to avoid conflict with stakeholders, you should also take time to find out what expectations the stakeholders have from the project. Listen to what they have to say and make sure that you address any concerns or worries that they might have. You should also address what you are expecting from the project as well and those things that might have an impact, both negative and positive, on the outcome of the project.

This will help you assess what conflicts of interest if any, there might be from the project between everyone who is involved. The reason you should hold these conversations is simple. They can give you a really clear understanding of the project and ensure that everyone is clear on what they want and what they realistically can expect from the project. Talking at the beginning of the project will ensure that you also understand what type of relationship your stakeholders have with each other. This will identify any conflicts that exist between

If you hold these conversations in a face-to-face situation, then you will also be able to get a better idea of the emotions involved and look out for those little cues that give you a clue to each person’s personality.

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Project management has developed into a fully-fledged chartered profession since the granting of the Royal Charter in the UK to The Association for Project Management (APM) in 2017. Training courses for project managers were already available and highly popular to help people gain professional project management accreditation, but with this wider recognition of the profession it is now seen as a desirable career path for many. Whilst the APM has the coveted Royal Charter and continues to develop its APM PMQ (formerly the APMP) programmes, there are also other internationally recognised qualifications that continue to be highly regarded such as PMP and PRINCE2.

Organisations have become increasingly project-focused in this era of rapidly emerging new technologies and they value the expertise that comes with experienced and fully qualified project teams and managers. By investing in their project management capability businesses can be confident of delivering their new projects in time and on budget more often and more successfully. Many major corporation are now training their people to have the right project management qualifications as well as relevant experience, through internal Learning & Development (L&D) programmes; or by using external project management training providers.

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