How to successfully manage a Project Steering Committee

Insight David Walton 30-07-2023

Most projects of any size will have a governance body or a steering committee that oversees the project.

In this article we look at the role of the steering committee. We’ll also share some tips to help you manage your working relationship with them, so you can enjoy more successful projects and deliver better outcomes.

What we cover on this page

  • What is a Steering Committee?

  • What Does a Steering Committee Do?

  • How Often Do Project Steering Committees Meet?

  • Who Makes Up a Project Steering Committee?

  • The Role of the Sponsor on a Project Steering Committee

  • 5 Helpful Tips for Managing Your Steering Committee


      What is a Steering Committee?

      A steering committee is a group responsible for guiding and making decisions for a project.

      They ensure project alignment with organizational goals, oversee progress, and provide strategic direction.

      The members of the committee have key responsibilities, including decision-making, project governance, stakeholder management, risk management, resource allocation, reporting, and project evaluation.

      The committee composition varies but often includes senior executives, sponsors, project managers, experts, and department representatives.

      What Does the Steering Committee Do?

      First, let’s look at the role of a steering committee—why have one? What is the point?

      The Steering Committee has a number of roles to perform:

      First, let’s look at the role of a steering committee—why have one? What is the point?

      The Steering Committee has a number of roles to perform:

      Resolve Issues

      Every project will encounter issues. Big issues requiring big decisions need to be taken by the Steering Committee.

      Understand Risks

      The steering committee needs to understand the key project risks and agree on the mitigation and avoidance actions that have been implemented.

      Support the Project

      This support can take a number of forms but typically involves helping the project team unblock obstacles to the project’s success.

      Agree Changes to Scope

      Not every scope change needs to be raised at the steering group, but significant changes that may increase the budget significantly or delay the project need to be agreed upon at the Steering Committee.

      Make Big Decisions

      Key decisions that could adversely affect the project or improve the project’s success need to be taken by the Steering Committee. For example, this could include replacing a key supplier or contractor.

      Approving Changes to the Project Budget

      The scale of the transformation will require a large budget, and as the project evolves, this budget needs to be increased. This is a decision for the steering committee.

      Project Viability

      Checking the ongoing viability of the project is a key part of the Project Steering Committee’s function.

      All projects should have a steering committee unless the project is very limited in budget and scope. This group is a key governance committee that, as it says, steers the project.

      Business Objectives

      A clear understanding of business objectives is crucial for a project steering committee.

      Keeping a project closely aligned with your business objectives ensures alignment, efficient resource allocation, stakeholder communication, progress monitoring, informed decision-making, and effective risk management.

      Strategic Oversight

      Strategic oversight provides the necessary guidance and direction for the project’s success.

      It’s important that you ensure all initiatives align with the project plan and that deliverables stay within the project scope.

      Here are some of the key elements that team members on a steering committee will regularly discuss:

      Alignment with Organizational Goals: Focus on strategic priorities, ensuring that the project contributes to the overall mission and vision of the company.

      Decision-Making and Prioritization: By considering the project’s strategic objectives, the steering committee can make decisions that maximize the project’s impact and allocate resources efficiently.

      Risk Management: By considering the broader strategic context, the committee can assess risks in relation to organizational goals and implement appropriate risk mitigation strategies.

      Resource Allocation: This helps optimize resource utilization and prevents wastage on activities that do not contribute to the project goals.

      Stakeholder Engagement: By aligning the project with strategic objectives, the committee can effectively engage stakeholders and communicate the project’s value proposition, fostering support and collaboration.

      Adaptability and Flexibility: Assessing the project’s progress against strategic milestones and adjusting the project’s course if needed. This ensures that the project remains responsive to changing market conditions, customer demands, and other real-time factors.

      Accountability and Evaluation: By monitoring progress against strategic objectives, the committee can evaluate the project’s outcomes and determine if it has achieved the desired impact. This enables continuous learning, improvement, and future strategic planning.

      In summary, strategic oversight on a steering committee is crucial as it ensures alignment with organizational goals, facilitates informed decision-making, supports effective risk management, optimizes resource allocation, enhances stakeholder engagement, promotes adaptability, and establishes accountability for project outcomes.

      It enables the project to deliver tangible value and contribute to the organization’s long-term success.

      How Often Do Project Steering Committees Meet?

      There is no hard and fast rule on how often the steering committee should meet, but once a month is probably the correct frequency. Once a quarter is probably too long a time interval to review and steer the project.

      A project can go seriously off the rails in three months!

      A project steering committee meeting typically includes key stakeholders like the project sponsor, project manager, subject matter experts, department managers, relevant stakeholders, and sometimes members of executive management.

      They provide guidance, updates, expertise, coordination, and oversight for the project.

      In a steering committee meeting, stakeholders come together to oversee and guide a project.
      The meeting involves reviewing project status, making decisions, managing risks, aligning with objectives, allocating resources, engaging stakeholders, reviewing reports, planning for the future, and assigning action items.

      It promotes effective communication and governance for project success.

      Who makes up a Project Steering Committee?

      The Steering Committee should comprise the following roles:

      • Sponsor
      • Senior Stakeholders
      • Senior person from the key contractor(s) who is involved in delivering the project
      • Directors or senior members of the department(s) most affected by the transformation
      • Change Director
      • Finance Controller / Director (transformation projects are costly endeavours and budgets need to be controlled)

      The Role of the Sponsor on a Project Steering Committee

      An effective sponsor is critical to the successful delivery of any program or project and is a key member of your steering committee.

      Many surveys cite ineffective sponsorship as one of the top causes of program and project failures.

      The following section explains the role of the program or project sponsor and provides steps on how to ensure your sponsor is effective.

      The Sponsor is typically a senior executive who is accountable for the outcomes of the program or project being delivered by the organization.

      He or she has the vision and the understanding of what success looks like in terms of a successful delivery of a project or program.

      The program sponsor will often be the originator or approver of the transformation program.

      They will be responsible for formulating the business case for the digital transformation program.

      The sponsor would typically lead the presentation of the business case to the governance committee.

      What is often not understood is the fact that the program sponsor is accountable for the expected outcomes and benefits of the transformation program.

      The Chairperson

      The role of a chairperson is crucial in ensuring effective governance, leadership, and coordination within the committee.

      The chairperson takes on a leadership role, overseeing meeting management, decision-making, stakeholder engagement, strategic guidance, relationship management, reporting, accountability, and driving continual improvement.

      Their presence is instrumental in ensuring the committee operates efficiently and effectively towards achieving the project’s goals.

      Tips on Managing Your Steering Committee

      First of all, the steering committee should not be seen as some bureaucratic body that is a chore to present to or a hurdle to overcome.

      The steering committee should be seen as a beneficial vehicle for the project team. Here are my five top tips for managing your steering committee.

      Tip 1: No surprises.

      It is never a good idea to spring a major surprise on the steering committee. If they expect that the project is broadly on track but at the steering committee, the project manager presents a progress report showing major slippage, this is unlikely to get a rational or thoughtful response.

      This is because the bad news has been foisted on them, and they may react negatively to the ‘surprise’ rather than consider constructive remedial action. Key members of the steering committee should be warmed up to any potential bad news.

      Tip 2: Give bad news quickly.

      Some project managers will wait until the last possible moment to give bad news on the vague hope that the bad news may not need to be given as it may go away.

      It rarely does, and the later the bad news is given, the less opportunity the steering committee has to take remedial action.

      Tip 3: Be honest.

      Some project managers will cover up project problems and tell the steering committee that everything is green. This is similar to Tip 2. If a project status is red, then the Steering Committee needs to know it is red. If you have an action plan that is a ‘road to green,’ even better.

      Tip 4: Ensure the Steering Committee knows its responsibilities.

      One or more of your steering committee may not have been involved in projects or sat on a steering committee before. At your first steering committee, it is always a good idea to brief the members on what is expected of them.

      A steering committee is not there to inflict punishment but to steer and guide the process so that it meets its project deliverables and is ultimately successful. It will also record learnings that can be used as a template for future project successes.

      Tip 5: Be clear on what decisions the project team needs.

      One of the roles of the steering committee is to make decisions on important aspects of the project.

      For example, there may have been a request to increase the scope of the project and consequently the project budget. The steering committee may be needed to arbitrate on whether this scope change is accepted or not.

      At each steering group, be clear on the decisions that you need that steering committee to take.

      And document them!


      The steering committee can be a force for good for a project. It can work with the project team so that the expected outcomes are delivered to an acceptable time and cost.

      If you, as a project manager, follow these tips, then not only will you have a better relationship with the steering committee, but you are also more likely to be delivering a successful project.

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