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An idiot’s guide to being on a steering committee

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If you’ve been conscripted into being on a steering committee for a project, but have no idea what this is or what you need to do, then this is the post for you!

First things first, here’s a quick definition of a steering committee to get you started:

A steering committee is a group of people made up with representatives from the project’s customer, people that will be affected by the project, people that contribute to the project and people from the organisation that is running the project. It provides strategic oversight, direction and approval to the project manager.

Why are steering committees needed anyway? Surely a responsible project manager should be able to manage their project without help?

Yes, and no. For the most part project managers have the authority and wherewithal to get on with the job at hand, but every so often something will crop up that needs higher level approval or help to get resolved.

For example, a project manager might be authorised to spend up to 25% of their budget on equipment but suddenly the supplier puts their prices up and it will increase the percentage to over 30%. The project manager will need to get approval from the steering committee to spend the additional money.

Or

A senior member of a team that is providing input into the project has stopped co-operating. The project manager has tried everything to no avail. By escalating this to the steering committee, they can put pressure on the team member to lift their game.

Steering committees also help keep the project team focussed and on track and they can intervene if they think things are going off the rails.

So what should you do to be a good steering committee member?

  1. Make sure you fully understand what the project is supposed to be delivering. This can be found in the project charter, project initiation document and project management plan.
  2. Read all of the reports the project manager gives to you before the steering committee meeting and look for anything that is out of place
  3. If you’re given any actions complete them promptly and make sure to send your updates to the project manager
  4. Be prepared to challenge anything you don’t agree with
  5. Commit to attending as many meetings as possible
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Now that you know what is expected of you as a steering committee member, relax and enjoy the role you’re playing in ensuring the success of the project. With any luck there will be muffins at the next steering committee meeting, which is always a bonus!

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