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Becoming the Trusted Advisor

A couple of months ago I wrote on the value of the business analyst being a trusted adviser to many people on the project team and within the organization.  Read The Value of Business Analysis: The Trusted Advisor to see that discussion. 

I conveyed the business value of becoming that trusted advisor, but I didn’t tell you how to get there.  So if you read that article and thought to yourself “well that is all fine and dandy, but how do I become the trusted advisor to everyone within my company?”  Well, read on.

Set Expectations

Let your stakeholders know what is coming up next.  You shouldn’t leave anyone questioning next steps or action items; always call those out for both yourself and other team members.  When you take ownership of action items, that is called making a commitment.  It shows a willingness to be held accountable to complete the action item on time.  It does not guarantee completion on time, just shows your willingness to accept the responsibility.  There are many things that can crop up that get in the way of meeting commitments once they are made but never shy away from accepting the responsibility. This is a major way to earn respect.

When action items are assigned to other stakeholders on the team, especially when they intersect with action items assigned to you, check on their progress from time to time.  Your items may have a dependency on other’s action items or vice versa.  In the latter case, stay in contact with that team member and let them know your progress so that they may plan out their work on their action items.  When monitoring the progress of others, do it in a very non-intrusive and non-authoritative way.  Typically, you won’t have authority over someone else’s work so approach this from a co-worker checking on a friend or offering a helping hand.


Now that you have made the commitment to take responsibility for an action item or task deliver on it.  Always work to finish your assigned tasks ahead of schedule so when those inevitable items pop up that take your time away from these tasks, you still have time to get back to it and deliver on time.  In this way your team members don’t see all your tasks slipping behind schedule. This is a major way to lose trust.  Be creative when the situation calls for it to complete task assignments.

I was always astounded by my children who always looked like they were trying to get a “C” in every class in school.  A “C” is a passing grade right…the problem was that far too many times they missed that “C”, and sometimes by a lot; so what did they end up with…a “D” or “F”.  When I was in school I always tried for an “A” in every class, whether I liked the subject or not.  So when I didn’t meet expectations what did I end up with….a higher GPA than my kids did.


You know the old adage…communicate early, communicate often.  This ties back to setting expectations.  Let your team members know what to expect from you, so they can know how to work with you.  When new issues or risks pop up, identify and communicate them early so they can be properly managed.  Raise those red flags early.

Communicate bad news early.  When the project is behind schedule, when it needs more resources, or when lack of stakeholder engagement is slowing the project, address the issue with the project manager and/or project sponsor.  Be prepared with information and examples, and possibly a plan of action to get back on track.  This again ties back to setting expectations, are things slipping behind because expectations weren’t properly set or communicated?

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Provide frequent updates to the project manager, project sponsor or other stakeholders on your work or the project solution.  Survey your stakeholders to determine the right level and frequency of communication.

Be Consistent

Be consistent in your setting of expectations, making commitments, communication, and interactions with your stakeholders.  Consistency is at the heart of integrity.  Inconsistency tends to build walls between people and inhibit collaboration.  When people don’t know how you will act or react, they may shy away from approaching or engaging you.  As a business analyst you need information, and when your stakeholders do not wish to interact with you or discuss issues in an open way, this impedes your ability to get the information you need to be effective.

Have the Courage to Challenge Appropriately

I will combine lessons from Elizabeth Larson, Rich Larson and Bob (BobtheBA) Prentiss to say have the courage to challenge appropriately.  It takes courage to deliver bad news or just say “No” to someone.  You may see how a simple “No” won’t go very far; people  will find other avenues to get what they want if they see you as a roadblock.  So be prepared to back up that “No” with solid evidence, data and/or facts.  As Elizabeth says ”Courage without preparation is foolish.”

You will not challenge every idea that others have; that  is truly foolish.  Make sure you take the time to understand fully the idea and reasoning behind it.  Determine if the idea has value and feasibility.  Take a structured approach to determining when it is time to challenge an idea.  When you do challenge, make sure you do it with respect to everyone including those that presented the idea to the group.  Make sure your challenge isn’t perceived as offensive or confrontational.  This is another good way to destroy trust.

To Gain Respect, Show Respect

This should go without saying, if you want respect you have to earn it.  One of the best ways to earn respect is to show it to others.  Respect every stakeholder’s expertise in their subject matter or domain.  Respect and acknowledge everyone’s contribution toward the common goal.  Respect their role within the team and organization.

Also, remember that your role within the organization is one of the newest, and not everyone has worked with a business analyst before or knows how to interact with that role.  So some education of your role within the team and organization may be in order.  Take a coaching approach to this opportunity and don’t make any feel dumb because they don’t know this yet.

Be Proactive

Anticipate the needs of others.  Not only your project manager and business stakeholders but your technical resources as well.  When preparing a presentation to management or your project team, anticipate questions you will get and be prepared to answer them.  Have adequate examples and models prepared to demonstrate an idea or concept.

When issues or risks arise, identify and communicate them early.  Possibly prepare an action or risk mitigation plan for it.  Don’t allow tasks to slip so far behind that it affects the project schedule and is noticeable by everyone, communicate roadblocks and other commitments, so team members understand the conflicts and pressures. In this way they understand that slippage isn’t because you are lazy; communicate the situation.

Take responsibility for action items and tasks quickly; ask for them, don’t wait for them to be assigned to you.

Be Authentic

Being authentic is simply being yourself.  Be sincere, speak from the heart, be respectful and be empathetic. Don’t mix your words in a cloud of ambiguity; say what you mean and mean what you say. Take the time to build relationships with your team members and stakeholders.  Be interested in their situation and ideas.  Understand their perspective, motivations and attitudes.  If you are not truly interested in their perspective, motivations and ideas; then don’t pretend that you are.  However, you will find how much harder it is to work as a business analyst when you don’t understand your stakeholders.

If you are able to master these skills and competencies, you will gain the trust and respect of your stakeholders.  Remember, that it takes much longer to regain respect and trust once destroyed then it does to earn it in the first place.  So take the easy road and earn that trust from the first encounter with every stakeholder and work vigorously to keep that trust.  Respect each stakeholder’s role in the project and organization, show your capabilities and you will earn their trust.

If you would like some additional reading on this topic, I suggest you take a look at:

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey (2013)
  • The Influencing Formula: How to Become a Trusted Advisor and Influence Without Authority by Elizabeth Larson and Richard Larson of Watermark Learning (2012)
  • The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything by Stephen M. R. Covey (2008)
  • Influence Without Authority by Allan R. Cohen  and David L. Bradford (2005)
  • The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford (2001)

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