Steering Committee: Definition, Roles & Meeting Tips


You’ve been tasked to lead a project and create a project plan only to learn that it’ll be reviewed by a steering committee. Or maybe you don’t currently have a steering committee for your business but you’re interested in assembling one. If you’re not sure what a steering committee is or what it does, don’t panic.

Let’s explore what a steering committee is, how it relates to project management and what steering committees do. You’ll also learn about the roles on a steering committee, how to run a steering committee meeting and how project management software can help.

What Is a Steering Committee?

A steering committee is an advisory board that has governance over a company, campaign or anything in between. Whatever the committee is in charge of steering determines who its members are. In other words, steering committees are composed of experts, authority figures and senior stakeholders.

The key concern of a steering committee focuses on the direction, scope, budget, timeline and methods used by an organization. Steering committees will meet from time to time and discuss those topics to see where they are and where they want to be in the future. They also reset any topics if necessary to stay on track.

Project management software connects projects and steering committees for better analysis and better outcomes. ProjectManager is cloud-based project management software that has real-time dashboards that deliver live data on project metrics. It requires no setup and tracks everything from cost to workload and health to tasks, providing a high-level view of the project’s progress and performance. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's dashboard
ProjectManager has real-time dashboards to deliver timely data to the steering committee. Learn more.

Project Steering Committee Definition

The definition of a project steering committee is not significantly different from that of a steering committee, but it’s made up of managers who are tasked with overseeing and supporting a project. This is done from a higher level than the day-to-day activities of that project but instead from a managerial perspective.

In terms of who is selected for the committee, it’s usually based on their stake in the project. These stakeholders can include customers, contractors or even other departments in the organization that will be most affected by the project.

The people on the steering committee aren’t always working on the project; that role belongs to the project manager and their team. The steering committee is made up of more C-level executives, but because they aren’t intimate with the details of a project, they need to have clear communications to allow them to do their jobs.

What Does a Steering Committee Do?

As its name implies, the steering committee has one job: to steer a project. Just as you steer your car, a steering committee is a tool that keeps you on the road and moving in the right direction. They are there for the big decisions such as how a company will run its processes or how teams work together.

Let’s take a step back and think about the functions of a steering committee. What does it have authority to do and how does it exercise its governance over a project? That leads us to define the purpose of a steering committee.

1. Support the Project

It’s hard to manage a team and even harder when you’re managing cross-functional project teams. Of course, the project manager is the person responsible for the daily management of the team, but when they need help, the steering committee is there. Often members of the steering committee come from the heads of the various departments that have teams who are engaged in the project and might have more pull or a better rapport with them.

2. Make Decisions

We briefly touched on how a steering committee can help direct the project and make big decisions. Sometimes those decisions involve conflict resolution or resolving issues, but often, there are decisions larger than the individual project. There are times when a choice must be made about new business models or how business processes are being handled. These aren’t part of a project manager’s responsibilities and the steering committee is designed to respond more appropriately to these decisions.

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3. Resolve Issues

Project managers are usually the ones who step in if there’s a conflict or bottleneck. They can smooth out the differences between parties or reallocate resources accordingly. But there can be issues that come up that the project manager and their team can’t resolve on their own. The steering committee is there to support the project and can be called on when needed to resolve these issues.

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4. Approve the Project Budget

The project manager creates the budget and speaks to experts and their teams to determine the number of funds necessary to complete all tasks within the necessary timeframe. The project manager then presents the project budget to the steering committee who has final approval. Additionally, if a project manager wants to add to the budget during the execution of the project, the steering committee is responsible for approving it.

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5. Get Status Updates

In order to fulfill its purpose, the steering committee has to know what’s going on in a project. That doesn’t mean they need to know the minutia of the project, but they have to be regularly updated with its status. The project manager is usually the one on the project team who will present the status update to the stakeholders.

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6. Encourage the Project Manager

The project manager is the most likely team member to engage with the steering committee as they need to have a good relationship to ensure the success of the project. This means that sometimes the steering committee has the project manager’s back if they need encouragement or if the project manager needs a sympathetic ear to vent.

Roles on a Steering Committee

A steering committee lives or dies on the productive involvement of its members—everyone is important and needs to participate. Roles can vary depending on the steering committee, organization and project, but in general, there are some common roles among all steering committees.

  • Business Manager: This person is responsible for the project manager and the owner of the business case. They look at the project through the lens of business and determine if it’s meeting the business objectives and interests as well as if the costs are justified against the benefits of the project.
  • Senior Users: This part of the steering committee represent the group for which the project is being done. Think of them as end-users of a product or service. This ensures that the project deliverables align with the user requirements.
  • Senior Supplier: This role provides the manpower, budget and services for the project. They make sure design, product and other standards are being met. The feasibility of the product or service under the constraints of the budget and project plan is their responsibility. This role might be someone from IT or even an external stakeholder.

How to Run a Steering Committee Meeting

A steering committee meeting covers different specifics versus other types of meetings, but in terms of how they’re run, the rules are similar. With any meeting, you don’t want to go in without an agenda as an agenda means you don’t waste anyone’s time.

Along those lines, you don’t want to get bogged down in details. The steering committee has a different view of the project than the project team and they don’t have to know about each task and whether it’s on schedule. Again, that responsibility falls under the project manager. Instead, the steering committee is there for the bigger picture and helps the project manager with decisions beyond their job description.

Someone should be taking notes during the meeting that cover broad strokes of what was discussed and any decisions that were made during the meeting. Before adjourning, review those notes and ensure everyone in attendance signs off on them to avoid problems down the road.

If you’re running the meeting, one final thought: know the people you’re working with. Having an understanding of each committee member’s personality is going to help you better communicate with them and manage them during the meeting. Knowing who you’re working with is always the way to work more productively.

How ProjectManager Helps Steering Committees

Whether you’re on steering committing or reporting to one, you need tools that can deliver real-time data in order to know what’s happening in the project and make more insightful decisions to ensure its success. ProjectManager is work and project management software that has features that allow you to manage projects and keep the steering committee updated.

Get Detailed Reports With One Click

When presenting to the steering committee, you have to come up with project metrics without getting lost in the weeds. Our one-click reporting features allow you to generate project status and portfolio status reports or more detailed reports on time, costs and more. All the reports can be filtered to show only what the steering committee wants to see. Plus, they’re easy to share as PDFs or print out if that’s preferred.

ProjectManager's status report filter
Share Plans on Interactive Gantt Charts

While the steering committee doesn’t want to get bogged down in the details, they do want to see the project plan. You can organize tasks, link dependencies and create milestones on the Gantt chart while filtering for the critical path and setting a baseline to track project variance. Share Gantt charts with the project team and the steering committee to keep everyone updated on progress. If the steering committee is responsible for more than one project, there’s a roadmap that can give them an overview of the whole portfolio.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart

Of course, the steering committee wants the project to succeed, and so does ProjectManager. That’s why there are task management and resource management features to keep teams working at capacity. Collaborative to the core, our software connects hybrid teams and lets them share files and collaborate, all to foster a more productive working environment. The steering committee is going to like that.

Related Content on Steering Committees

ProjectManager is award-winning work and project management software that connects hybrid teams, no matter where, how or when they work. Real-time data ensures a single source of truth so everyone is always working on the most current information. Built on a collaborative-to-the-core platform, our software helps you plan, monitor and track progress and performance in real time. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.