I started in the work world a programmer. I thought the rest of my career I would be left alone to do my work while somebody occasionally slid pizza under the door.
As my responsibilities grew and I took on larger projects, more and more of my work got done through other people. Eventually I noticed who the best project and program leaders where – the ones that got the best out of their teams, their stakeholders and project sponsors. They listened without leaping to a solution, they asked questions, they prepared and did their own homework. They got their information from more than one source. They regularly communicated with the appropriate level of detail to the right people. They had network of contacts and support. They scratched backs, and in return knew where to turn to when they needed help.
When they needed to influence a stakeholder or sponsor they were heard. They established a relationship before they need it. They did this through regular communications over time. They picked their battles, and dealt with issues calmly and without drama. Usually they were able influence the customer, stakeholder, or sponsor. Even when they weren’t able to change minds or prevent scope changes, they did their best to deal with it professionally. It usually wasn’t a surprise because of the constant communication and relationship building.
The lesson from this: identify your critical relationships. Upwards to the stakeholders, across to your peers, downwards to your team. Establish, manage, and maintain those relationships deliberately before the crisis hits.