10 Tips to manage stakeholders

For many of us stakeholder management is a fact of contemporary working life – we’re usually dealing with different people or groups, with differing interests, in the process of getting stuff done. (I should say upfront that I’m not a global-sized engineering projects guru; if that’s what you seek The Association for Project Management is what you need).

When I get asked about stakeholder management, it’s usually around teams and communication. Beware simply ‘getting on with the job’ and not pausing for thought on HOW you’re doing what you’re doing, and how that impacts WHO you do that with.

  1. Who’s who? How many different stakeholders, or groups of them, are there? Lucky you if you’re only managing three or four senior managers and a similar number of peers in other departments. Working at scale, stakeholders can be within and beyond the organisation. There may be employee representatives, consumer groups, distributors and vendors – and of course end-users. Map out the different stakeholders like the example here.

    Image by dizanna / Deposit Photos
  2. What’s at stake? That may sound obvious, but it can be all too easy to overlook. What does each stakeholder stand to gain or lose through this project? What risks are they taking? Are there any potential conflicts of interest between stakeholder groups? Build up pen portraits for each group represented on your map.
  3. Take time at the beginning of a project to discuss stakeholder management with your team-mates and agree some essentials. How will you keep your stakeholders happy? How will you communicate with them?
  4. Unsure how a particular senior stakeholder prefers to be kept informed? If in doubt ask them. Chances are they won’t want to be cc’d in on everything, or present at every single meeting. So how and when do they want to be kept informed?
  5. Tailor how you communicate with stakeholders according to the message and its recipients. Maybe a quick video call is all that’s needed, or a live online chat; you can try a brief ‘pulse’ meeting, held standing up.
  6. As a general rule, senior stakeholders prefer brief and clear communication. So start with the headlines; what they really need to know and what they really need to do. Then back this up with reasons why. If communicating via email, assume they’ll skim read. If face-to-face, be prepared for questions.
  7. What to do if something’s veering off track? Stakeholders don’t like nasty surprises so keep them informed. Give them a heads up and tell them what’s being done to remedy the situation, by whom and by when.
  8. Watch out for unsupportive stakeholders, or saboteurs. Check in with your team-mates to see if it’s just you – and your way of working – that’s the issue, or if there is something that needs to be done. It may be the person is overwhelmed with work and has no more capacity, or is threatened by an aspect of the project, such as new technology or process. They may have ‘turned rogue’ due to an unwanted change to their role.
  9. Anyone you’ve missed? Often the people who are critical to implementing projects on a day-in, month-out basis are less senior stakeholders. Remember to thank them for their efforts, both during the project and at the end.
  10. At the end of the project, include stakeholder management as an agenda item in your wrap-up (of course you have wrap-ups – don’t you?) How well did the stakeholders support the project? How engaged were they? What can we apply – and what can we do differently – next time?

You may find this blog post useful ‘7 steps to better collaboration’.

Got a question? Drop Dawn a line on Twitter:

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

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