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January 19, 2022

What is a steering committee?

Steering committees are a fact of life in pharma and medical devices – here’s an overview of the basics, plus best practices for more successful meetings.
what is a steering committee

Steering committees play essential roles in many phases of the pharmaceutical and medtech product lifecycle. They’re often used year-round to generate guidance on various important projects and decision-making. Establishing steering committees and panels ensures that all key senior stakeholders’ opinions are considered and that the project team and task forces are set to complete projects on time, budgets are aligned, and established project goals and outcomes are fulfilled.

But what differentiates different types of steering committees, and what are the keys to how to run a steering committee successfully?

What is a steering committee? Typically, a steering committee comprises senior executives, external stakeholders, and experts guiding a project’s management. Steering committees are concerned with the project’s strategic direction, definition, budget, marketing, and process. They have a regularly scheduled committee meeting to discuss and coordinate key aspects of the project they were formed to direct.

What is the structure of a steering committee?

Steering committees will differ from organization to organization and from project to project, but each steering committee structure will be similar. People who should be on a steering committee may serve in the following roles:

  • Chairman or committee chairs
  • Board members
  • Executive director or senior stakeholders
  • Subject matter experts
  • Principal investigators (for trial steering committees)
  • Key stakeholders from external groups and organizations
  • Patients or patient advocates
  • Invited observers, such as agency partners

What are the primary responsibilities of steering committees?

A steering committee has several responsibilities to uphold while launching a project. They are the bridge of communication between the project team and fellow steering committee representatives in different fields. Their primary responsibilities include:

  • Provide advice and guidance: This is a steering committee’s major responsibility and the primary reason they are formed. They provide insight to the working group and influence strategic decisions throughout a project’s lifetime – from start to finish. This includes defining the aims and objectives, providing strategic oversight over their accomplishment, and assessing project and interim deliverables. A steering committee’s ability to do these effectively is impacted by how fast they can access accurate, detailed data and understand the priorities of the project stakeholders. For this reason, steering committees often meet monthly or quarterly.
  • Resolve conflict: Often, many different parties are stakeholders in a project, and their priorities and methods can vary greatly. It’s the duty of the steering committee members to prevent conflict, and if conflicts do arise, resolve them. This ensures that the project stays on track time-wise, and is managed to the satisfaction of all parties involved as much as possible.
  • Project advocacy: Steering committees advocate for their assigned projects across the larger organization and in external spaces as well.
  • Reduce deviations and risks: Steering committees ensure that projects are managed in conformity with the defined company and project-specific protocol and best practices. They also analyze deviations and changes to the project scope that significantly affect the original budget or pose risks to their completion.
  • Supervise project management: Project managers are expected to report to steering committees, keeping them abreast of the project’s progress and success. Steering committees define the content, direction, and scope of progress reports the project manager delivers. They also monitor the implementation of the project plan.

Other responsibilities of steering committees include serving on expert panel meetings and upcoming events, prioritizing project deliverables and interim deliverables, assessing and approving plans, and establishing KPIs and outcome measurement mechanisms.

What are some different types of steering committees?

Even within the life science industry, there are many different types of steering committees. Here are a few typical examples:

  • Project steering committees: A project steering committee is created for a single project, making its existence temporary and limited to the project’s completion. An example of one is a trial steering committee whose activities are centered on the particular trial they were set up to oversee.  Another example is a publication steering committee, typically formed to supervise the developing, publishing, and disseminating of publications from a clinical study and engage with KOLs in clinical research, medical affairs, and other areas. A publication steering committee can also be part of a larger trial steering committee, focusing solely on data dissemination. Others include market access steering committees and commercial steering committees.
  • Portfolio steering committees: These types of steering committees are permanent. They are set up to oversee an entire portfolio of projects. Portfolio steering committees decide what projects the pharmaceutical organization’s sector undertakes and the priorities they take. Sometimes, a portfolio steering committee provides guidance on all drug products in development; other times, sub-steering committees are formed to oversee individual projects.

What is the best way to conduct steering committee activities?

Because steering committees often meet by nature, conducting project meetings in person can be disruptive and expensive. Holding real-time video committee meetings can be convenient but relies on participants in compatible time zones.

Hybrid virtual engagement involves using live web meetings in addition to asynchronous engagement, a combination of real-time online interactions and overtime sessions. Hybrid virtual engagement is ideal for steering committee members because it enables groups to meet more frequently regardless of geographic distance.

On the Within3 platform, language translation allows global participants to take part using whatever language is most comfortable to them. And the asynchronous format is accessible anytime, from anywhere – allowing for a deeper focus on critical topics to ensure project success.

Some Within3 clients also use online resource centers and collaborative communities in tandem with asynchronous sessions. This allows pharma and medtech teams to stand up expert panels on short notice and disseminate announcements and materials to maintain continuous contact and engagement with each other.

To learn more about how steering committees can be more efficient with hybrid virtual engagement, read our customer success story.


Law and Justice Foundation. Implementing a project: the role of a steering committee.$file/SteeringCommittee.pdf
247 Meeting. Steering committees: what are they and what do I need to know?

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