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Topics: Career Development, Stakeholder Management, Strategy
When engaging "executive stakeholders," how should a responsible project manager act?

I was recently asked this question (a form of it) and found it interesting because it dealt with aspects of one's demeanor, that is, how you carry yourself when engaging an executive stakeholder. For me, I answered in the context of "first contact," meaning your first engagement with an executive stakeholder. To make the context even more clear, consider the following:

- You have never met this executive before.
- You are meeting the executive to formulate the project.
- The executive knows nothing of your background or capabilities.

I gave an answer that was purposed to be true whether you had one year of experience or twenty and would also hold true whether or not you had business domain knowledge. However, it might be easier to answer in context, so you could say; If you have business domain knowledge, then… If this is your first project then… etc.
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No matter I had one year of experience of now with more than 30 my approach on this matter was: if I do not engage it I will be DoA (Dead On Arrive). So, after trying to get as much information I can about the executive, I go for it.

I would introduce myself briefly and the purpose of meeting with the executive .
I would describe the High Level scope of the project as I understand it .
I would request the Executive to tell me about themselves, how long they have been with the organisation and how are they associated with the project in question.
I would then encourage discussion as to how the Executive sees the project and their expectations out of it ,elicit outcomes that would satisfy their business needs, listen and take notes;
Ask questions on what is the best communication mode and the frequency using which I can keep them informed regarding the progress of the project.

Good question. I treat executive stakeholders the same as any other stakeholder. I do this to establish that my first loyalty is to the project. I want executives to know I won’t be a sycophant, and they can rely on me to give them an accurate picture of the project, instead of concealing bad news from them as some Project Managers might.

I use a good presentation and answer honestly to their questions but dont give so much details until asked for it.

The short answer is like a professional manager. Too often, especially during the Scrum hype , people forget that M in the PM means Manager. A PM is (should be) at the same level with a Department Manager, one or two level under the Executive.

Agree with Stelian.

Agree with Deepesh & Eric. We can't explain things in details to executive & at the same time, need to understand their expectation as stakeholder. Maybe can create persona about him/her & how he/she likes Project updates should be shared. This can help in managing the expectation.

Like all your stakeholders, senior executives have baggage, expectations, fears and a level of curiosity.

Your job is to tap into all of those. Of course, you may have only a few minutes to do it.

The first thing is to find out if the project is addressing one of the exec's pain points. If the project isn't addressing a pain point then the exec is less likely to be interested in the project.

Stelian’s answer is pretty much in alignment with the one I gave on this subject. Here’s the answer I gave:

As a general rule, you should engage executive stakeholders as a "professional peer". Stakeholders want to trust the project manager, and that requires cognitive trust, wherein the stakeholder has a belief that the project manager is dependable, reliable and competent.

Obviously, give full respect and honor to their position, but don’t be afraid to respectfully challenge them on a given subject - most executives will appreciate a project manager who wants to "get to the bottom" of a subject
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- Groucho Marx