How to Successfully Engage Your Stakeholders

Stakeholder contribution and collaboration are vital components of a successful program. To effectively engage a specific stakeholder community, such as public safety, a project manager needs a detailed engagement plan tailored to that community. Particularly in the public safety realm, gathering input and collaborating with police, firemen, EMT, industry, and academia is a critical but daunting task. Here are three ways to successfully engage your stakeholders:

Develop a detailed outreach plan-Ask yourself a few questions. First, what is the purpose of your outreach? In my experience white boarding your vision with key players of your team provides momentum and clarity by visualizing your plan. Next, who is your key audience? You may have a variety of stakeholders that are important to your program and each sub-group requires a different level of outreach. Academia may prefer conference calls while first responders may appreciate more face-to-face interviews. And finally, what is your timeline? Making sure your timeline incorporates both immediate needs and continuous and long-term efforts will allow optimal involvement with stakeholders. Once you’ve identified these basic criteria's, then you can start developing an outreach plan that is tailored to effectively engage your stakeholders.

Execute a comprehensive communication strategy-The first step to achieving a successful communications strategy is dedicating enough time and resources to your mission. Many project managers make the mistake of thinking about communications as an afterthought rather than an equally important part of their project. Next, establish what message you want to convey and which communication platform to utilize. There are a variety of platforms, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, so make sure to determine which will produce optimal stakeholder engagement based on your stakeholders and projects.

For example, public safety stakeholders prefer different types of communications - some on the Federal level might favor social media while other localized public safety stakeholders may focus on annual conferences and email. Understanding your specific stakeholder community is fundamental to developing a comprehensive communication strategy.

Once you’ve established your ideal communication avenues, push key messages to your targeted audience and maintain communications. “One and done” should never be the answer to an effective communication strategy. Always maintain continuity in your messaging but do not exhaust your audience.

Promote two-way collaboration-A brilliant communication strategy can only go so far without collaboration. An absolute must for stakeholder engagement is promoting two-way communications between stakeholders and your program. A great way to collaborate with the public safety community is to convene working groups and utilize innovative platforms like crowd sourcing wiki pages. This allows you to engage and get to know your stakeholders.

Most importantly, do not forget to be proactive and maintain consistency in your efforts, this will establish a good rapport for your program and will continuously boost stakeholder engagement. Implementing this three-pronged approach will increase stakeholder involvement, generate a developed understanding of your stakeholder needs, build energy in and around your program, and promote collaboration driven towards results.

What other techniques do you use to engage with stakeholders?