politeHave you ever had really tough business stakeholders on your project with very strong views about what they want, conflicting with a CIO or high level IT executive driving you for on time and on budget project delivery? This post is for the contractors or consultants on projects in roles such as subject matter experts, analysts, project managers and change managers. Remember you are a contractor. Always be polite and don’t take sides.

Politeness and knowing how to say ‘no’ without saying ‘NO!’ will help you be well liked and respected by all your stakeholders.

Here’s a story to illustrate this.

The CIO has hired you to deliver project X

It’s not an overly complex project; you’re not building a space station… you’re just building an IT system. However the project is highly visible and your stakeholders have very strong opinions and views about what they want.

Your stakeholders are asking for exciting features. Your CIO is asking you to do the minimum, to stay within budget. You know the exciting features could derail your project, so what do you do?

Taking sides is a recipe for disaster.

If you just say yes to everything the stakeholders ask for, clearly your project will go over budget, will not meet the schedule and may even be cancelled, resulting in you needing to look for a new job.

The CIO hired you, so you should focus on meeting their needs above all else right? Therefore you should always challenge the business and aim to eliminate any scope creep and stop any requests that make delivery of the project more difficult. This would help the project stay on time and on budget and please the CIO.


This would start to be viewed as taking the side of IT delivery and attempting to supress the business stakeholders’ voice. If distrust or negative feelings arise your stakeholders may comment to others and this can escalate very quickly to cause trouble for you.

Your project exists to make life easier for the business

While you do need to remember where your pay check comes from, you also need to note that the reason the project exists at all is to make life easier for the business!

If a stakeholder feels very strongly about a topic, you need to advocate for them. If you achieve a positive outcome for the stakeholders which makes life easier for the business, then the CIO will be happy that the project was a success.

So even if the CIO is drilling you for on time and on budget, don’t lose sight of the fact that IT is there to serve the business (unless maybe if you’re in a software development company). The CIO doesn’t know what the real needs of the business are and what will make the most difference to them. So you are doing your job by advocating for the business and going as far as you can to get what they want. This is ultimately helping the CIO reach the true purpose of their projects – making life easier for the business.

Always make the business feel heard and understood and go as far as you can to get what they need.

Perception is important

A perception that you are trying to supress your stakeholders, ignoring their wishes or being mean/hostile towards them will cause negative comments to come out against you.

Similarly a perception you are taking every fantastical request at face value and not challenging the real need and looking for alternatives to solve a problem, will lead your CIO to think that you’re going to cause the project to fail.

Both situations will damage your reputation which is especially important as a contractor. You won’t be just sitting in the same company for 10 years where it won’t affect you to make a few enemies. Damage to your reputation will make it harder to find a reference, and if the people you anger know people in other companies, it might become harder to get a role and succeed in those companies as well.

So how do you maintain a positive image and keep all your stakeholders on side?

Always be polite

This is the simplest rule that you might sometimes forget but which is highly important in every interaction. Even if your stakeholders are being mean or threatening to you, always be polite.

And it doesn’t cost you anything.

If someone expresses a strong view on something that they want from your project, say “Yes definitely. I’m sure we will be able to do that. I’ll follow that up.”

Then you can follow up with a simple email to a decision maker and copy the stakeholder. Stating the benefits of the request and asking if the project can proceed. This lets your stakeholder know that you’ve heard them, and you’re working on resolving their concern and getting them what they’ve asked for.

Remember to always be polite. Never give an outright ‘no’ or say ‘we can’t do that’ or reject a request.

Everything is always achievable.

If you are dealing with someone critical who can’t be turned down, remember the scene from the Goodwife – Saying “Yes” and then indefinite time passing means “No”.

Always be positive

Even if your CIO expresses to your personally how difficult some of the stakeholders are, you need to remain impartial and positive.

One of the reasons companies hire contractors and consultants is because they want someone without baggage. They want someone who will come in fresh and just focus on getting the job done without taking sides and getting buried in interdepartmental politics.

Gossip and negative comments may come in to you from all the different stakeholders of your project, but it runs through the machine and filters and your output is always positive and aimed at achieving the best outcome for the customers of your company.

Gossip + negative may come in -> Positive always comes out

Respect your stakeholders

No matter who your stakeholders are or how bad they seem, they were put in that position to represent the business. Treat them like business stakeholders and be respectful. Make sure you create the feeling in your stakeholders that you are listening to their concerns and you’re doing your best to find solutions and get the best outcome for them.

Remember you are a contractor

As a contractor, your reputation means a great deal and is part of what gets you your next role.

There are two key parts to being really well liked and respected, and having strong relationships with all your stakeholders – Politeness and knowing how to say ‘no’ without saying ‘NO!’.

Have you had to maintain your politeness and positive relationships with stakeholders when being pulled in different directions? What’s your strategy?