How to Manage Your Project Steering Committee as a Project Manager

Blog David Walton 09-03-2022

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.

Chapters

  • 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 Insightful Tips for Managing Your Steering Committee

What does the Steering Committee do?

First, lets look at the role of the 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 the mitigation and avoidance actions that have been implemented

Support the Project

This support can take a number of forms but typically it is helping the project team unblock blockers to the project’s success

Agree Changes to Scope

Not every scope change needs to be raised at the steering group but big changes to scope that may increase the budget significantly or delay the project, need to be agreed 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 on-going 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.

How often do Project Steering Committees meet?

There is no hard and fast rule of 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!

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 programme or project and is a key member of your steering committee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 programme sponsor is accountable for expected outcomes and benefits of the transformation programme.

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 on 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 plan that shows 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 No 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 taking remedial action.

Tip No 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 No 4: Ensure 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 a punishment beating but to steer and guide the project so that it is ultimately successful.

Tip No 5: Be clear on what decisions the project team need.

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!

Conclusion

The Steering committee can be a force of 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 five 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.

Outcome-driven success

Outcome-driven success

Our products help you deliver successful change programmes and projects by always focusing on the overall business outcomes. Find out how our products can help you.

Contact Request a Demo

Related Resources

Blog

5 expert tips for remote project management

This article provides you with five top tips on how you can help your team thrive in a remote workin...

Read more >
Blog

Project Success – The Role of a Project Sponsor

This article explains the role of the project sponsor and explains steps to ensure your sponsor is e...

Read more >
Blog

10 Common Sense tips on how to Plan a Project

Are you struggling to understand how to plan a project that keeps you and your team on target? In th...

Read more >