How to navigate internal politics on projects

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Ever wonder why project stakeholders don’t respond in the way you expected? It could be internal politics.
I recently interviewed the authors of A Practical Guide for Dealing With Difficult Participants. They shared their thoughts on why engaging stakeholders in projects doesn’t always go as planned. Jake Holloway is here today to share some tips on how you can navigate internal politics when working on projects.
Hello, Jake. What is the difference between your approach and the textbook approach to managing stakeholders?
The assumption in standard project management textbooks is that all stakeholders are rational, compliant, and available.
They aren’t, do you? ?
Some of them won’t even read emails or go to meetings. They are totally irrational. They may even be totally against the project for a variety of professional and personal reasons.
Stakeholders are people. This means they can be irrational and selfish. They love authority, influence, money and status. They don’t always like people and don’t like change.
Our approach is to bring a political and socio-economic dimension to project management. As Machiavelli did for The Prince.
There’s a gap in what I know about literature. I have never read The Prince. Tell me about the most unhelpful stakeholder that you have ever worked with.
We all had very demanding sponsors/steering committees. I don’t think that is difficult. One of my project sponsors stated in our first meeting that he believed this project should not exist. He also said that he would oppose any final recommendations. This was oddly enough, as he was being honest.
The most difficult was when a CEO fired me for not being in a position to meet the deadline without a 100% technical specialist.
We must be able turn these people around. Do you see people doing this?
This is what makes good project managers. This is what makes good project managers different from bad ones. They persuade and motivate, sell, inspire, enthuse, and even manipulate. They don’t hide behind Gantt charts, reports and RAG statuses.
They take the time to get to know their stakeholders and what motivates. They listen, empathize, and place themselves in the shoes of stakeholders rather than focusing on the project from their perspective.
In projects with difficult and powerful stakeholders, technocratic project managers who tick boxes are ineffective.
Your book explains that contractors can also be difficult. They would surely do everything for their clients. They are so difficult to work alongside.
Individual contractors and external suppliers have their own commercial goals. They want projects to go through change controls that increase profit. They are happy if projects take longer to increase revenues.
External suppliers may not always make the right decisions for clients, so this conflict of interest can sometimes be overlooked. Even though the project team wants to do the right things, the sales representative might be motivated financially to stop them.
As a project manager, pretending otherwise can allow the suppliers to have the upper hand. See almost every Central Government IT contract!
The team plays a significant role in all of this, and they can be equally challenging. What is your top tip for project managers who are struggling to manage their project team?
Jake is the author of A Practical Guide for Dealing with Difficult Participants.
Are they stressed, bored, or not learning? Are they a personality trait?