Creating transparency for the steering board

Guest contribution by | 07.08.2023

The relationship between project management and steering board is not always easy. Sometimes they work harmoniously hand in hand, sometimes they are at loggerheads and full of mutual complaints. To avoid this happening to you with your most important partner in the project, here are tips on how to create transparency for this important body.

The role of the steering board

The steering board is the management body where the key decisions for the project are made – think budget, schedule shifts, personnel changes, critical scope changes. Its mandate is similar to the one for you as project leader: to ensure that the project is a success.

The members of the steering board are usually high-ranking executives from the departments affected by the project. They are joined by representatives of the service providers involved and, of course, your project client.

Unlike you, none of the members is usually operationally involved in the project. The members therefore have a pure monitoring and steering function and depend on you as the project manager to provide them with sufficient information to make sensible and good decisions for the project.

For you, the steering board is not only an annoying monitoring body, but also a potentially important supporter and advisor – only here can you get approval for important changes in the project, additional resources and backing for risky decisions. Take advantage of this opportunity and build a good relationship with the participants from the beginning.

The role of the project leader from the perspective of the steering board

As project leader, you are the most important contact to the project for the members of the steering committee. For the participants you are at the same time contractor, representative of the project team as leader, mouthpiece and protector, and mediator for the relationship between project and steering board.

If you do not communicate transparently, the steering board will not have a realistic picture of the situation in the project and will potentially make the wrong decisions. So the nature and content of your communication is crucial for the steering committee to be able to do its job well in the first place. The extent to which the participants do justice to this task is in turn up to the people acting. I am sure you know as many stories about vanity, choleric and unobjective discussions in the steering committee as I do. But that should not stop you from doing your best.

How do you create transparency?

1. reporting factually and professionally correct

This sounds easier than it is in practice. Example: Team A was supposed to be finished with an increment this week. Then the key analyst got sick and therefore the deliverable was delayed. The analyst is back as of today, but time is running out to get it done on time. – A classic case of “we can still get it done”. How do you communicate this in the steering committee?

You can opt for a green project status because you trust that everything will work out. Or you can opt for the transparent version with the yellow or yellow-green status, which ensures that there are no unpleasant surprises that will come back to haunt you if things don’t work out. Especially if you are leading a large project with many sub-projects, you must communicate the same standards to your sub-project leaders that you yourself represent. Otherwise you will get the positively motivated version of “we’ll get it done” as green status and wonder later how it could have happened that the project is now in crisis.

When I was still in accounting, it was always said that “balance sheet policy is made in the finance department and not in marketing” – this referred to the credit notes from suppliers that were hoarded in product management for weeks until it was helpful for the departmental result to pass them on to accounting.

The same applies to the relationship of sub-projects to the overall project: only if you as project manager:in have the actual overview of the current status can you also decide what to report and with what dramaturgy.

2. making a personal decision

If you have doubts about whether transparency is such a good idea, you are in good company. Many project leaders wonder if they are not inviting micromanagement by steering committee members. The level of detail on status is also often questionable – how much detail does the board really need to make a decision? As is often the case, it depends – on the decision and its implications as well as the personal or professional preferences of the decision-makers (mathematicians, actuaries and lawyers tend to have a higher need for detail than marketers and sales managers).

Another aspect is the concern of looking bad as a project manager if you have to report a bad project result. This is part of transparency: bad news is also conveyed. Whether it’s about miserable test results or negative customer feedback from the first demo: get rid of the idea that the factual result has something to do with the quality of your project management. When you openly state the factual outcome, you can add what actions you and the project team have already taken, what is planned and for what you may need confirmation or approval from the steering committee. This shows that you are actively managing your project and not just waiting for the steering committee to take action.

In any case, you should actively address your doubts and make a clear decision. In doing so, you establish your value system, on the basis of which you can readjust in individual cases. Depending on the topic and the composition of your steering committee, you may have to be more careful with your choice of words when reporting the same factual result, e.g. when dealing with hot-tempered participants. This also applies to thinking about how to communicate the discussion from the steering committee back to your project team.

3. creating clarity in practice

In practice, you can create transparency with little effort. For example, status: In the first steering committee or already in the preliminary discussions, talk about the meaning of the symbols, percentages and other features in the status. Many supposedly clear data (“80 % of the result has been achieved”) are based on estimates and interpretations. Clearer here is the agreement “When the process recording has taken place, we are at 20 %. After design at 40 %, after programming at 60 %”, and so on.

When creating decision templates, include all options discussed in the template – even those you have already discarded in the team. Show that you have thought of the other options and give reasons why they were discarded. Then you have a good chance of spending the time in the steering board having a substantive discussion on the remaining options and perhaps taking a decision directly with you. Otherwise, you are more concerned with answering the question “and did you also think of…?”.

Don’t underestimate that steering board members also want to think and are occasionally frustrated that they can’t also intervene operationally. And don’t take the questions personally – it is not always about whether you are also competent, but about the diligence to have all around all relevant factors for the decision in the project on the radar.


If you choose transparency, you can communicate openly – that in itself is a blessing, because you have to think much less about who you sold what to and when. Above all, you show that you are capable of solving problems and speak at eye level with the participants in the steering committee. This gives you the best chance of getting the support you need even in critical situations in the project.



If you are interested in other useful practices that will help you get closer to your project goals, please contact Angelika Collisi.

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Angelika Collisi has published another article on the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: Spontaneous role clarification

Spontaneous role clarification

Angelika Collisi

Angelika Collisi

Angelika Collisi coaches managers, project leaders and their teams. She accompanies them on their way to successful projects, good cooperation and happy customers – without permanent stress and burnout. She is a psychologist (M.A.) and has completed training in holistic healing. She is a certified trainer, project manager and business analyst and holds a lectureship in social psychology at the Hamburger Fern-Hochschule.

For more than 15 years, she has supported her clients in ambitious projects ranging from SAP implementations to global pricing software rollouts, from fast-growing tech start-ups to nationwide telemedicine projects. Before starting her own business in 2008, she held various roles in project and change management at TechData Corporation. Since 2016, she has been the managing partner of Pampiloxa GmbH.