How to Confirm Your Stakeholders’ Authority When Managing a Project
In project terms, authority refers to the overall right to make project decisions that others must follow, including the right to apply project resources, expend funds, or give approvals. Having opinions about how an aspect should be addressed is different from having the authority to decide how it will be addressed. Mistaking a person’s level of authority can lead to frustration as well as wasted time and money.
Confirm that the people you’ve identified as stakeholders have the authority to make the decisions they need to make to perform their tasks. If they don’t have that authority, find out who does and how to bring those people into the process.
At the beginning of the carrying-out-the-work phase in your projects, take the following steps to define each stakeholder’s authority:
- Clarify each stakeholder’s tasks and decisions. Define with each person his tasks and his role in those tasks. For example, will he just work on the task, or will he also approve the schedules, resource expenditures, and work approaches?
- Ask each stakeholder what his authority is regarding each decision and task.
Ask about individual tasks rather than all issues in a particular area. For example, a person can be more confident about his authority to approve supply purchases up to $5,000 than about his authority to approve all equipment purchases, no matter the type or amount.
Clarify decisions that the stakeholder can make himself. For decisions needing someone else’s approval, find out whose approval he needs. (Ask — never assume!)
- Ask each stakeholder how he knows what authority he has. Does a written policy, procedure, or guideline confirm the authority? Did the person’s boss tell him in conversation? Is the person just assuming? If the person has no specific confirming information, encourage him to get it.
- Check out each stakeholder’s history of exercising authority. Have you or other people worked with this person in the past? Has he been overruled on decisions that he said he was authorized to make? If so, ask him why he believes he won’t be similarly overruled this time.
- Verify whether anything has recently changed regarding each stakeholder’s authority. Do you have any reason to believe that this person’s authority has changed? Is he new to his current group or position? Has he recently started working for a new boss? If any of these situations exists, encourage the person to find specific documentation to confirm his authority for his benefit as well as yours.
Reconfirm the information in these steps when a particular stakeholder’s decision-making assignments change.
Suppose, for example, that you initially expect all individual purchases on your project to be at or under $2,500. Bill, the team representative from the finance group, assures you that he has the authority to approve such purchases for your project without checking with his boss. Midway through the project, you find that you have to purchase a piece of equipment for $5,000. Be sure to verify with Bill that he can personally authorize this larger expenditure. If he can’t, find out whose approval you need and plan how to get it.