Who (And What) Are ‘Stakeholders’?

Even the word can provoke anxiety attacks in some quarters; in others it may be met with a slightly baffled, “Don’t have ‘em round here”. Or maybe the term seems somewhat quaint, officialese, and ‘big organisation’ to you. Fact is that whatever sector you’re working in, size and shape of organisation, and yes, even if you’re a lone ranger freelance, you deal with stakeholders. So it’s worth getting to know who and what they are, as they have a profound effect on how well our project goes – or not.

Stakeholders are people who have influence

They may be senior people with lots of experience in their role, and power in the organisation. People tend to (have to) listen to what they have to say. They can give our project a high profile in the organisation, help us get the resources we need (people, skills, space, budget and so on) to ensure we deliver the project well. They have a lot to gain (and a lot to lose) if our project succeeds (or fails).

Stakeholders are people who have impact

These people are often the ones who pull rabbits out of the hat right on the edge of the project’s delivery deadline. They can be unsung heroes, who go un-thanked at the project’s end – big mistake. Impactful stakeholders usually have a very specific, skilful and/or knowledgeable contribution to make to the project. At one of my clients, the people who maintain the building were included in this group, and quite rightly so.

Stakholders are people who have interest

So you get drafted out of your day job and put on a high-profile pitch project. Lucky you. Just remember that your boss back in the day job has a high interest in what you’re doing, and specifically, how much of your time it’s taking. Remember too that it’s not just a question of you dutifully fulfilling such day job obligations as you still have, and keeping your boss in the loop. Your day job boss can also be a terrific sounding board and wise counsel as you learn the ropes with a totally different team.

Can you have stakeholders who are all three – who have influence, impact and interest?  Yes, although they will be in the minority on your project team.  Most people will fall into one of the above areas. So what?  This means that you will need to interact with, and manage them, very differently. 

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