Make sure stakeholders hear about risks from you first

Your stakeholders will trust you more if they hear about any risks of your plans from you, rather than the grapevine.

When you're trying to get any new infrastructure built these days, having the trust of your stakeholders is key - and that's especially so in the case of controversial developments.

The trouble is that it's all too easy to lose it very quickly (assuming you've managed to obtain it at all) if information about your plans starts to get into the public domain not from you, but from others. And if it looks even remotely like you've tried to prevent that information coming to the attention of your stakeholders, then you may never recover from that loss of trust.

This is particularly important to consider in the context of risk.

If your proposal carriers with it a perceived risk to the health, safety and wellbeing of local residents and neighbouring businesses, no matter how small that risk may be, then they absolutely must hear about it from you. If the details emerge any other way, from any other source, your stakeholders will be tempted to believe that you're either:

- covering something up

- not taking risks seriously

Not only that, but it could easily give rise to the belief that you don't understand the risks - given that people are predisposed to fearing the things that they don't understand, if they think you don't understand it either, their fears will be amplified.

There are a number of reasons why you might not feel inclined to talk openly about risks inherent in your project: firstly, because you're worried about how what you say could be twisted in the media by individuals and groups opposed to your plans (as we note in this blog about stakeholder engagement pitfalls to try and avoid); secondly, because you could be worried about making an issue out of something unnecessarily; and, thirdly, because you're so accustomed to dealing with these risks daily, you don't appreciate how others might perceive them.

Whatever the reason, it really is a mistake not to communicate transparently about risk because people will find out eventually, and when they do, they'll be angry that they didn't hear it from you. 

It also helps to communicate the details very early on, before your relevant audiences have made up their minds about your business and its proposals. In doing so, it's important to explain the steps taken to reduce risks, and to put those risks into context for people that might not be as familiar with them as you. 

If you remain silent, you run the risk of organised opposition groups revealing the details for you, and possibly also exaggerating them, which will only help to harden public opinion against you. Not only that, but as we've discussed here previously, once people have developed strongly held negative perceptions about your proposals, you’re going to find it difficult to change those perceptions with reason alone.

The bottom line is this: if your development proposals come with inherent risks, no matter how trivial they may be, make sure you communicate them to your stakeholders first and do so early in order to build trust.