Purpose of A Steering Committee

Oh no! You’ve been asked to serve on another project steering committee.  You’re envisioning hours of wasted time in pointless meetings, hundreds of emails and documents to read, and real work piling up on your desk.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  An good steering committee for public sector projects is productive and fun.  The first step in forming a good steering committee is to have a clear purpose .  Regardless of the type of project, a “good” steering committee:

  • Sets the tone for cooperation.  Often project participants do not freely cooperate.  In some cases agencies compete for the same funding resources.  It is the purpose of the steering committee to rise above this competition and make sure agencies cooperate in completing the shared vision and goals.
  • Gives “authority” to matrix organizations.  In multi agency projects (and even projects within an agency) there are rarely direct lines of authority between cooperating entities or agencies.  It is the role of  the steering committee to ensure the means and mechanisms are in place to get things done.
  • Represents stakeholders that do not directly sit on the steering committee.  A steering committee can only have a limited number of members.  It is the job of the steering committee to represent those that do not have a direct representative in the governance structure.
  • Ensures equality in decision-making.  The steering committee must make sure the project meets the needs of as many participants as possible.  This means it must fairly weigh all requests and act impartially to do the most good with the resources it has available.
  • Acts as the ultimate decision maker in handling political, legal, organizational, technical, cost, management, cultural and personnel issues.  There has to be a forum for making final, and sometimes difficult, decisions.  This is the main purpose of the steering committee.

Now you know the purpose a steering committee serves (why it exists).  We’ll finish this topic in a second post next week discussing the roles and responsibilities of a steering committee does (what it does).

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