Episode 042 - 10 strategies for engaging stakeholders in your conservation project
One of my favorite topics in project management is stakeholder engagement. I love working with different stakeholders and finding ways to work together. There are 10 steps to engaging stakeholders effectively and a few checklist items that will help you streamline your engagement strategies.
A stakeholder in a wildlife conservation project can be practical or financial supporter. They can be advocates or researchers, a large nonprofit, farmers or a cooperative of farmers, hunting organizations, government agencies, sanctuary or wildlife refuges leadership teams, or general community members. These are the people you will work with to get buy-in for your project or the project you are managing.
Stakeholder engagement is important because the engaging part of the process helps translate stakeholder needs into conservation project goals. This process of translating needs to goals creates the foundation of effective strategy development.
Taking the time to discover the point of consensus or shared motivation in the engagement process helps the group of stakeholders arrive at a decision and ensures that all are invested in a meaningful outcome.
The top ten ways you can effectively engage stakeholders are:
- Identify stakeholders ASAP. You can’t engage stakeholders until you know who they are. As you are initiating your projects, start identifying your stakeholders. Keep a list or Create a project stakeholder register that includes emails, phone numbers, organization information, their name, and other important items that will help you build a successful project plan. Ask people if they know of anyone else who is important for planning the project. Ask them what they want their role to be in the project, what are their needs and wants. Then look at how much power and interest each stakeholder has. As you interview the stakeholders find out what their concerns are. Keep this information on the stakeholder register.
- Get stakeholders together and talking. Invite key stakeholders to the initial project meetings. It is key to develop the project charter together with everyone sharing their point of view and needs. Conflicts will surface at this time and can be resolved faster at this stage than later in the game.
- Seek to understand before being understood. Steven Covey shared this principle years ago. It still holds true. People want to know that you really want to hear their perspective first. Make sure to hold space for people in a way where they know you are not judging them for their role in the project. Most conservation projects are going to have a variety of viewpoints. The project manager's role is to hold a neutral space.
- Listen, really listen. Part of understanding is making time to sit face-to-face, when possible, and truly listen. Ask probing questions. This is where you find out what concerns they have, what needs and requirements they have for the results of the project. This is where you find out where your adversaries and advocates lie and how you will develop conflict resolution strategies for the project.
- Lead with integrity and compassion. Meaningful engagement requires trust. Say what you mean; mean what you say. Then do what you said you would do. Approach each situation with compassion and empathy - after all we are all humans doing the best we can at any certain moment.
- Ask your stakeholders for estimates. Ask the people that will do the work for estimates of their time and the time they need to do their daily tasks over the upcoming months. Help stakeholders to understand that there is greater uncertainty in the early estimates. But knowing these numbers will help you and them work with their managers once the project is in execution phase. Commit to providing refined estimates as your projects progress.
- Work WITH your team. The best project managers work with their stakeholders to break down their projects into deliverables and tasks. This helps everyone to have a better understanding of the project. Stakeholders will more likely support a plan that they helped create. Breaking it down into smaller parts by deliverables and tasks, and putting it into a schedule will help people know what they are supposed to do and work towards a common goal.
- Manage or monitor expectations. Each of your stakeholders has expectations, sometimes false expectations. Working with your team will clarify many of these aspects of the project. As a project moves along monitoring the project as it relates to the requirements and schedule will help you keep on track of expectations. If change requests come up during the project you can work with the team to decide how to integrate changes or document them as not possible within the scope of the project.
- Say thank you & celebrate success openly. The project managers I enjoy most know two simple words—thank you. When team members and other stakeholders complete activities, respond to emails and voicemails, make you aware of things you didn’t know, respond with thanks.
- Communicate. Ninety percent of a project manager’s job is communication. Develop and maintain a communications plan. Creative project managers minimize a potential communications breakdown by communicating through a variety of channels including daily emails, weekly check-ups, going over to someone’s cubicle, holding stakeholder meetings, using project manager software systems, daily calls during different phases, safety briefings, and more.
Treating stakeholders like they are valuable people in your project is key. More often than not a breakdown in the project happens when there is a lack of communication. To prevent a breakdown check in often and early with people on your team, report all changes to everyone immediately, and make sure everyone agrees on the scope before you start.
Before you go. Here's a helpful checklist to get started.