Communication and Engagement: Essential Skills for Delivering Complex Projects

by Dr Naomi Mathers
ICCPM Director, Industry Liaison and Member Services

Communication is more than just the transmission of information. Particularly in complex environments, our ability to communicate effectively and develop effective relationships with stakeholders directly impacts project performance. Done poorly, it can introduce risk into a project. Done well, it can improve project performance and help mitigate risks and realise opportunities.

In the same way that rigid project management methodologies are misaligned to the successful delivery of complex projects, and projects in complex environments, conventional ideas about communication and engagement aren’t effective in complex projects.

Conventional ideas about communications and engagement Complex adaptive communications and engagement
Structured, ordered, disciplined Paradox that it may be spontaneous, disorganised and emergent is a potential source of novelty. May also become locked in repetitive forms
Compliance to plans, processes & procedures Evolves as more information is known
Predictable, well-defined, repeatable Surprising, ambiguous, unique, unstable, creative and emergent
Unwavering environment Changeable environment that is not controlled by any single person or group
Expert driven and hierarchical Broader engagement of stakeholders. Interaction and participation are key
Information is as given. Single and correct interpretation is the focus There are multiple ways of interpretation and perception due to background and culture. This introduces micro diversity and novelty that may help the system to survive

In complex projects a more meaningful relationship with stakeholders is needed to identify and respond to emergent risks and opportunities. At its core, the practice of interacting with stakeholders around projects needs to expand from a focus on stakeholder management – and a view of stakeholders simply as entities to be ‘communicated with’, ‘changed’ or ‘managed’ – to a focus on genuine stakeholder engagement. Here stakeholders are acknowledged as entities with legitimate interests and rights that require authentic engagement and co-creation so that the project creates optimal value for all stakeholders.

The increase in projects delivered by consortia, and the growth of digital communication and social media has decentralised the sharing of knowledge and information about a project beyond the core project team and expanded the concept of project stakeholders. This is particularly relevant and impactful for projects conducted with high public visibility such as infrastructure, mining, oil and gas, defence and public services. However, it also has impact for organisational change and transformation projects through employee discussion and chat groups. Individuals and groups with an opinion for or against a project can rapidly connect with others where previously this might have been harder to do. Through social media, quite diverse stakeholders in terms of background, objectives and ideologies are able to form coalitions with a shared interest in either making a project progress or causing it to be abandoned.

A leader of complex projects must hold together a range of different stakeholder groups through continuous dialogue to shape meaning-making and emotional responses while moving a project from concept to realisation.

Consequently, project leaders have to adapt their stakeholder identification, prioritisation and communication approaches to a faster, more fluid and unpredictable world where information flows are less able to be controlled, and where stakeholders with little resources and influence can suddenly become more relevant and powerful as part of a large and more dynamic network underpinned by social media connectivity.

A leader of complex projects must hold together a range of different stakeholder groups through continuous dialogue to shape meaning-making and emotional responses while moving a project from concept to realisation. When we build and connect influence networks, people become more aligned and less easily weakened by division. The impossible becomes possible when people have strong connections and actions.

ICCPM Short Course
Effective Stakeholder Engagement in Complex Projects

As stakeholder engagement is such a key competency for the effective delivery of complex projects, ICCPM has developed this short course to give participants an understanding of why and how effective communication, collaboration, culture and stakeholder engagement are critical to the success of complex projects and introduces them to practical tools and concepts to improve stakeholder engagement in their projects. This stand-alone short course is designed to give the participant a practical understanding of complexity as it applies to stakeholder engagement but is not a comprehensive course in complex project leadership. This course will provide you with new ways to look at stakeholder engagement and an appreciation of how understanding the relationship of stakeholders to your project and developing trusted relationships can improve project outcomes.

This course is delivered over two days face-to-face or three days from 9:00am – 1:00pm for virtual delivery. In-house courses can be booked at any time for a minimum of 12 people. The 2021 delivery schedule has just been released. Please visit the ICCPM website for more information including course costs.

2021 Delivery Schedule

  • 10 – 12 March 2021 (Virtual)
  • 10 – 12 May 2021 (Virtual)
  • 17 – 18 August 2021 (Face-to-face – location TBD)
  • 7 – 9 September 2021 (Virtual)
  • 25 – 26 October 2021 (Face-to-face – location TBD)
  • 16 – 18 November 2021 (Virtual)