Jun 7, 2017

Expert Series 4: The Relationship between Project Manager and Steering Team Members

Posted by Pam Toth | 0 Comments

You can never go wrong with building rapport one on one.

Editor's Note: We welcome back Pam Toth as one of our "expert" guest bloggers this week, treading the sensitive area between steering and being steered. For a boost on executive roles and responsibilities in project management, check out the PM College course, Project Management for Sponsors.

When a project manager is assigned to any initiative, one of the first questions to be asked should be “who will be sponsoring this work”?  Secondarily, “is there a need for broader governance to ensure the success of the project”?  During discovery and planning, the project manager should be working closely with a project sponsor who can describe the expected outcomes and overall vision.  If a business leader doesn’t take on this role during planning, that’s an early indication of risk to project success, because effective sponsorship is critical to sustained outcomes.  The project manager should never be shy about communicating risk of any kind early and often.

The project sponsor, along with planning the outcomes, must also recruit other leaders to participate on a steering team if the project have an impact broader than the sponsor’s direct organization.  A steering team should be made up of decision makers representing key areas for the sole purpose of breaking down barriers and making decisions allowing the project team to deliver on the expected outcomes.

Steering team members are no different than any other project team member in that they should have specific accountabilities and responsibilities related to the success of the project.  I’ve seen project managers mistakenly make assumptions of steering team members simply because they may be senior leaders in the company or they sit on multiple steering committees so “they must know what I need from them.”  Just like projects, no two steering teams are exactly alike and misaligned expectations only lead to waste and confusion.

Successful project managers will drive for the right steering team makeup, define and communicate expectations and engage a steering team for decision making, barrier breaking and change leadership with the sole purpose of delivering solid and sustaining results.

Managing steering teams can be tricky.  The project manager is expected to be a leader.  This means driving for results with resources at all levels of the organization.  The higher up in the organization you go, the demands on the time of an individual can be unwieldy.  Setting up an “operating cadence” at the start of a project helps to provide consistent and predictable paths of communications between all parties.  It is much easier to remove a meeting reservation on someone’s calendar because the project execution is right on target then to find a time slot when the wheels are coming off the bus.  I have to imagine there are many others like me who absolutely love getting time back in their day along with knowing the project is progressing as planned.  Make an informed decision … do not cancel a regular touch point without a good communication outlining what is going on, why the gathering is canceled and what the group can expect next.  If there is any doubt or concern from members of the steering team, do not lose the opportunity to have a collective conversation.  Even if the steering team needs to meet for only 15 minutes it is always better to err on the side of over communication to insure alignment.  It will pay off in the end.

Another important consideration is to not limit steering team communications to formal presentations or project status emails.  You can never go wrong with building rapport with each and every member of your steering team one on one.  Fully understanding each individual’s key concerns and interests in the initiative along with knowing where and how they can influence change will only make your project management role more impactful.  Your steering team should know you as well as any other project team members.  Don’t underestimate your ability to make progress or drive decisions with a hallway or elevator conversation when you’ve cultivated the right relationship across your entire project team … especially your steering team.

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