How to Improve Your Ability to Influence Stakeholders
Written by: Roy Naquin, MBA, PMP | August 21, 2017

You want others to view you as the effective leader. Achieving this vision relies on your ability to influence stakeholders. We often believe influential people were born with natural talent. In reality, developing this skill requires reflecting on our experiences interacting with others. Those who master the art of influence, easily convince others to support their goals.

Stakeholders are more likely to cooperate when they feel appreciated for their efforts. When people feel their efforts aren’t valued, feelings of resentment appear. This reduces our ability to influence others, in spite of common goals. Over time, this zaps any chance of successfully achieving our objectives.

“Executives who do not manage themselves for effectiveness cannot possibly expect to manage their associates or subordinates.” -Peter Drucker

Understanding The Basic Needs

In 1943 A.H. Maslow published A Theory of Human Motivation. This paper has since become a mainstay in understanding basic human nature.

In the paper, Maslow says every human has five basic needs to sustain motivation.

  • Physiological Needs – food, water, shelter, and warmth.
  • Safety Needs – achieving personal safety, stability, and absence of fear.
  • Belonging Needs – maintaining healthy relationships with friends, family, and spouses.
  • Self-Esteem Needs – mastery of a skill, and the resulting recognition
  • Self-Actualization Needs – pursuing an inner talent or creative expression.

Project management assumes the first three needs satisfied, barring any extreme circumstances.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
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What Most People Need

According to Maslow’s research, most people have two primary self-esteem needs. The first, is self-respect obtained through achievement, feelings of adequacy, and confidence. The second, feeling respected by others through recognition and appreciation.

With these needs satisfied, people are more likely to support the goals of others. They actively contribute and freely engage with to achieve common goals. In situations where self-esteem becomes threatened a different scenario unfolds. These threats bring about feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and helplessness.

In the book How To Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie explains everyone has a desire to feel important. He then explains everyone achieves these feelings of importance in different ways. In other words, if you take a team member out to lunch that person may feel important. Others may want public recognition, a pay raise, or time off. To understand what will make your team feel important, you must invest time getting to know each of them.

How This Affects Your Projects

Most project managers aren’t aware of the impact these needs can have on projects. Common issues are often the result of unfulfilled self-esteem needs.

These common issues can include:

  • Unwillingness to accept responsibility
  • Placing blame on other team members
  • Failure to communicate risks
  • Inability to meet important deadlines
  • Competition for scarce resources
  • Lack of engagement with others
  • Wasting time on CYA activities

Your Responsibility

A fundamental aspect of project management is to identify risks early and often. When you notice these symptoms, spend some time investigating the underlying cause. An even better way to reduce self-esteem issues is to prevent them from ever happening. Showing your appreciation is one of the best ways to maintain the self-esteem needs of others.

Here are four simple strategies you can implement to show this appreciation:

Say Thank You

For people who aren’t used to receiving thanks, thank you’s go a long way. If you’re uncomfortable saying thank you, here’s a simple method you can use. “Hey, I’ve noticed you’re making consistent progress towards achieving our goal of… I want to say thank you and let you know how much everyone appreciates your contribution.”

Keep The Sponsor Informed

Keep the sponsor informed so he or she can recognize those who go above and beyond. This can improve the confidence of your team in two ways. It shows you value their contributions while highlighting the importance to the sponsor.

Let Them Show Their Work

When people do great work, give them the opportunity to show it off. If you have an important meeting coming up, invite the person who did the work. Giving them a seat at the table ensures they’ll put forth their best effort.

Give Them The Freedom of Choice

Most project managers feel a need to decide who gets which tasks based on perceived skill. Allowing members of the core team to choose their work, increases their willingness to accept ownership. You may find a poor performer is simply bored with repeating monotonous tasks. Changing things up may give this person the boost they need to improve their performance.

Here’s a simple method you can try next time you have a list of assignments:

  • Create a Full List – Include completion criteria, if you don’t have this, make it the very first part of the task.
  • Ask Everyone Which Tasks They Want – Some people want to tackle tasks they aren’t good at. That’s exactly the point of changing things up. When this happens, pair them with an experienced partner and put a contingency plan in place.
  • Ask For a Plan – Writing a plan and giving it to another person increases the likelihood it gets completed. Make it easy by providing general guidelines to follow.
  • Review Their Plan – If you have concerns, ask why they chose that particular solution. Ask what they might try if things start to get off track.
  • Status Updates – Ask for a schedule of regular status updates so you can track progress.
  • Let Them Do The Work  Check-in to ask how you can help, without changing their priorities unnecessarily.

Final Notes

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Roy Naquin, MBA, PMP

My mission is simple. I want to help project managers improve influence, engagement, and accountability for themselves, their managers, and their teams. I want to help you get through your day with less stress and a greater sense of achievement.
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