December 14, 2020

Who should be on a steering committee?

Steering committee members have influence over project success. Here are some best practices to ensure you’re choosing the right participants.

When there is a need to execute a critical project with a significant impact on business operations, who can you trust to manage it? Finding an unbiased but capable group of leaders that will prioritize your organization’s goals through deliberation, decision making, and action all the way through successful completion may seem impossible. In the life science industry, this is where steering committees come into play.

Organizing a steering committee can offer a chance to gain expert feedback and guidance throughout the life of a project and ensure the critical project outcomes are achieved. Technology can make the success of such projects even more likely – with the help of a virtual engagement platform, global life science companies find it easier than ever to organize projects, connect with stakeholders, and gain valuable insights from committee members 24/7.

The role of steering committees

So, what is a steering committee, exactly, and what is its primary role? A steering committee is assembled when the success of a complex project is essential to achieving team or organizational goals. The committee’s role is to provide the following:

  • Consistent support
  • Reliable feedback
  • Oversight to the project team

The steering committee provides empowerment and support for the project team and project manager through decision-making and action. The members of the team are not there to execute or manage. Instead, committee members add value to the project by identifying and removing any obstacles while serving as a resource to the project team.

What makes a good steering committee?

A steering committee is most successful when they have clearly defined requirements for the job. Key factors, like scope and deliverables, will determine the job description and the type of individuals your committee should be composed of. Therefore, getting clear on the business and project goals needs should be the first step prior to assembling the committee members. Establishing steering committee best practices for the group will also help them to be productive throughout the course of the project.

Steering committee members will vary depending on the project scope, authority, level of difficulty, and deliverables. All of these factors should be considered when determining who will be a good fit for the project’s committee.

How are steering committee members selected?

First, consider the project itself. Is it a single project or a portfolio? Who should have the final authority and decision-making power? An ideal steering committee represents as many relevant perspectives and experiences as possible. In the life science industry, having a mix of executive leaders and practitioners is important to provide a well-rounded perspective.

How many people should be on a steering committee?

Most committees are between four and seven people but can be larger to adequately represent all relevant stakeholders. This will depend on:

  • The level of difficulty
  • Subject matter
  • Project deliverables

Finding the sweet spot for the size of your committee can be difficult as there are pros and cons to both too small and too large of a group.

If the group is too small, it may not be fully representative of the experiences and perspectives required to make the project truly successful. For example, if you have a small committee composed of executive leaders, this only represents one perspective. There are also logistical considerations with this group of stakeholders, as they may not have enough time and attention to give for the demands of the project. Large groups of ten or more can be the most effective if the meetings are extremely organized and well planned. Alternatively, they are more difficult to schedule and if they are not organized, they can lose effectiveness and ultimately put the success of the project at risk.

What to look for in steering committee members

Forming and engaging with a steering committee provides the opportunity to gather unique insights from a wide variety of industry leaders. Within3 helps organizations engage a more diverse pool of potential stakeholders from around the world by offering a more convenient way to hold discussions and solicit feedback. Typically, the larger the committee, the more logistics, personalities, and interests there are to manage. Using asynchronous virtual engagement – which allows steering committee members to log in on their own time, from anywhere in the world – to overcome scheduling roadblocks and language barriers invites an array of relevant perspectives and experiences on your committee to ultimately contribute to more successful outcomes.

Structuring a steering committee

Once you have your committee members selected, it’s important to identify the right leadership structure based on the personalities involved. That can mean identifying anywhere from one to three people as co-leads on the committee. Above all, finding truly unbiased leaders that have a vested interest in the success of the project and your organization, is the main priority.

A strong steering committee will include people who:

  • Have a vested interest in the success of the project outcomes and business
  • Are willing and able to actively participate and accept the responsibilities of the job
  • Have a clear line of authority over the project team
  • Can steer and support the project manager and team without micromanaging
  • Are able to collaborate and work well with the other members of the steering committee
  • Have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the organization they represent

Identifying leaders and decision-makers

Learning how to run a steering committee meeting has everything to do with your steering committee structure. There will be many perspectives and personalities to manage within a steering committee – such groups need strong leaders who are not overpowering. Every member was brought in for their own unique perspective and experience, but when one leader’s personality is stronger than the rest, it can overshadow the other members’ valuable input.

When this begins to happen, one of two things occurs: the committee will ultimately become more biased towards one agenda, damaging the integrity of the committee; or other members will begin to feel a lack of motivation to contribute. To avoid either of these scenarios, it’s important to identify someone or multiple people as committee leaders who have the final decision-making power.

In the life science industry, steering committee decisions have an impact on important decisions, and ultimately, patient lives. Taking every step to select the right participants and ensure focused participation is an important part of ensuring better outcomes for clinical trials, publications, patient education, and other critical activities. To learn how asynchronous engagement can improve steering committee interactions and results, read our customer success story.